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Human Rights Council holds an interactive dialogue with the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation in Burundi

AFTERNOON

Hears Countries Speak in Right of Reply in Response to Statements made during the General Debate on the Oral Update of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

GENEVA (11 September 2018) - The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an interactive dialogue with the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation in Burundi.

Kate Gilmore, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, recalled that as part of resolution 36/2, three international experts had been deployed to Burundi to collect information concerning human rights violations and to forward that information to the national judicial authorities to ensure accountability.  Regrettably, the High Commissioner was unable to provide a final report as Burundi did not follow up with its obligations.  Ms. Gilmore presented a note on the human rights situation in Burundi which reviewed the Burundian authorities’ decision to revoke the experts’ visas in April 2018.  To date, the Government of Burundi had not responded to communications sent by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Speaking as the concerned country, Burundi regretted the pessimism enshrined in the note and the fact that it twisted the truth by saying there was a lack of cooperation from the Burundian side.  Clarifying the situation with the visas for the international experts, it explained that the previous High Commissioner had initially asked Burundi to grant visas for one month to civil servants, not mentioning resolution 36/2.  When experts changed their mission while in Burundi, migration services decided it was wise to seek more clarification on the true nature of the stay.  The new High Commissioner was invited to re-engage with Burundi on a clear slate.  The situation in the country was normal.  Following the referendum process, Burundi was preparing for elections in 2020.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers regretted Burundi’s refusal to cooperate with the Council’s mechanisms.  They called on Burundi to restore cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner, noting that there would be no solution to the political crisis unless vigorous measures to combat impunity were taken.  Other speakers noted the efforts taken by the Government of Burundi to cooperate with the international community and to implement the suggested measures.  

Speaking in the interactive dialogue were European Union, Egypt, France, Netherlands, China and Ireland.  

Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations: Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l'homme, International Organization for the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (EAFORD), East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, Health and Environment Program (HEP) and ICRID (Independent Centre for Research and Initiative for the Dialogue).

Tanzania, United Arab Emirates, Cambodia, Maldives, Philippines, India, Morocco, Azerbaijan, Venezuela, Qatar, Pakistan, Peru, and Mexico spoke in right of reply in response to the general debate on the High Commissioner’s oral update held earlier in the day.  A summary of the general debate can be found here.

The Council will resume its work at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, 12 September when it will hold a clustered interactive dialogue with the Working Group on enforced disappearances and the Working Group on arbitrary detention.  It will then hold a clustered interactive dialogue with the Working Group on the use of mercenaries and with the Special Rapporteur on hazardous wastes.

Documentation

The Council has before it a Note on the human rights situation in Burundi (A/HRC/39/40).

Statement by the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights

KATE GILMORE, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, recalled that as part of resolution 36/2, three experts had been deployed to Burundi to collect information concerning human rights violations and to forward that information to the national judicial authorities to ensure accountability.  The team had also been mandated to provide the Government with recommendations for technical assistance and capacity building that would help combat impunity and uphold human rights.  Regrettably, the High Commissioner was unable to provide a final report as Burundi did not follow up with its obligations.  

Ms. Gilmore presented a note on the human rights situation in Burundi which reviewed the Burundian authorities’ decision to revoke the visas of the experts in April 2018, some three weeks after their arrival in the country.  The usual protocol when deploying a team of experts was that the deployment of United Nations technical staff in the field was not the subject of a prior announcement, thus, the issuance of an entry visa was taken as the equivalent to the agreement of the State concerned.  After their arrival in Burundi, the team of experts had not embarked on any substantive activity as they waited to be officially received by the Burundian authorities.  To date, the Government of Burundi had not responded to communications sent by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
It was a matter of concern that Burundi had prevented the implementation of the Council’s resolution and the mandated work of the team of experts.  Ms. Gilmore called on Burundi to fully resume its engagement with all international human rights bodies.  

Statement by Burundi as the Concerned Country

Burundi, speaking as the concerned country, welcomed the new High Commissioner, expressing hope for success of her mandate.  Burundi regretted the pessimism enshrined in the note and the fact that the note twisted the truth by saying there was a lack of cooperation from the Burundian side.  Clarifying the situation with the visas, it was explained that the previous High Commissioner had initially asked Burundi to grant visas for one month to civil servants, not mentioning resolution 36/2.  When experts changed their mission while in Burundi, migration services decided it was wise to seek more clarification on the true nature of the stay.  The new High Commissioner was invited to re-engage with Burundi on a clear slate.  During the Universal Periodic Review, Burundi had demonstrated its willingness to cooperate.  The situation in the country was normal.  Following the referendum process, Burundi was preparing for elections in 2020.  All stakeholders were invited to re-engage with Burundi.

Interactive Dialogue

European Union regretted Burundi’s refusal to cooperate with the Council’s mechanisms, preventing them from producing a report to the Human Rights Council.  The European Union asked the Government of Burundi to open independent investigations into violations of human rights since the start of the political crisis in April 2015.  Egypt noted the efforts carried out by the Government of Burundi to cooperate with the international community and to implement the suggested measures.  It acknowledged Burundi’s readiness to consider the situation of human rights and improve its compliance.  France called on Burundi to restore its cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner.  France voiced its concern over the human rights situation in Burundi and stated that there could be no solution to the political crisis unless vigorous measures to combat impunity were taken.

Netherlands regretted Burundi’s non-cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  They reminded Burundi of its membership to the Council and reproached it for having actively prevented the Council from pursuing its mandate.  China supported the idea that the parties in Burundi pursue a dialogue to address their issues on their own.  China respected the sovereignty of Burundi in taking the decision.  Ireland regretted Burundi’s decision and added their alarm concerning reports of the human rights violations by the militia in Burundi.  They asked Burundi to grant immediate access to the Office and re-engage with the Council, of which it was a member.    

Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l’homme noted that the situation in Burundi had not changed with the establishment of a commission of inquiry.  Discussions between the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the African Union had not brought about solutions, which showed that the Government of Burundi did not want to implement the resolution.  International Organization for the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (EAFORD) said that the allocation of resources did not appear to satisfy the needs of the population of Burundi.  The Government had instead directed resources towards military expenditure, and the organization called for the immediate initiation of peace talks.  East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project stated that the Government of Burundi had shown bad faith in implementing the resolution.  The fact that it had refused access to experts mandated under the resolution should be seen for what it was.  International Federation for Human Rights Leagues drew attention to relentless human rights violations in Burundi and the recent killing of dozens of people, as well as torture, arbitrary arrests, and gender-based sexual violence ordered by the highest State authorities.  The lack of cooperation with international experts was part of the strategy to hide the committed crimes.  

Health and Environment Programme stressed that Burundi should allow international experts to carry out their work and document the committed crimes.  Victims of human rights violations needed to have access to health and basic medicines.  ICRID (Independent Centre for Research and Initiative for the Dialogue) recalled that the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General had announced that 73 per cent of the Burundian population had voted in favour of the new Constitution.  What remained to be focused on currently was building capacity in the areas of monitoring and reporting on human rights in national institutions.

Concluding Remarks

KATE GILMORE, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, recalled that there were three pending opportunities for Burundi to demonstrate its good faith and fulfilment of its obligations to the Human Rights Council as a Member of the Council.  First, there was the memorandum of understanding with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to enable the Office’s continued presence in Burundi.  The memorandum of understanding awaited the cooperation of the Government of Burundi.  The second opportunity concerned the commission of inquiry established by the resolution.  Again, the commission of inquiry into the human rights situation in Burundi awaited the cooperation of the Government.  The third opportunity was the cooperation with the team of international experts as asked for by the resolution.

The Deputy High Commissioner appreciated Member States’ statements as to the inappropriateness of the actions of Burundi in not welcoming the Office of the High Commissioner.  She highlighted the frustrations about the failed chance for the Office to provide an objective evaluation of the human rights situation in Burundi.  None of that would be possible without the good faith engagement of the Government of Burundi.  Recalling the language of the resolution, talking about deplorable crimes, she did commend the Government of Burundi for increased political security.  However, there would be no democratic future unless those who had suffered human rights violations were offered the promise of justice.  

The representative of China had rightly referred to the sovereignty of Member States, and it was in respect of that principle that the Office had not proceeded with its work.  It had to wait for the permission of the Government of Burundi to deploy experts.  Nevertheless, in that regard Ms. Gilmore stressed two things.  First, there were standard procedures and protocols, including diplomatic immunities agreed with the United Nations and signed on to by the Government of Burundi, that the Government not impose any undue interference or disturbance.  Secondly, there was no version of sovereignty that drew a veil over human rights violations that potentially amounted to violations of international law.  It was thus the business of the Council and of mandated experts to establish the facts of the matter justly and impartially.  The High Commissioner reiterated her commitment to work collaboratively and within the rules with the Government of Burundi.  Ms. Gilmore thanked the Council for its continued support to ensure that the right to truth, facts and justice be upheld for the people of Burundi.  She also thanked Burundi for its cooperation in allowing the Office to remain open.  

Right of Reply in Response to the General Debate on the High Commissioner’s Oral Update

Tanzania, speaking in a right of reply, stated the importance of its relationship with the European Union.  However, an exception was made with the statement made by the European Union regarding Tanzania.  Tanzania had always been governed by the rule of law and always appreciated the importance of human rights.  Tanzania asserted that no civil society member had been held without justification. It stated the shared responsibility in the mission of assisting refugees.  It said that no country had ever had a perfect human right record and Tanzania was striving to improve its own record in that regard.

United Arab Emirates, speaking in a right of reply, contested the idea that Qatar’s action was justified by their sovereign rights.  It stated that the present policies would move forward once Qatar stopped supporting terrorism.  In order to preserve stability in the region, Qatar must open dialogue with countries of the region, including Kuwait.  The Council must engage collectively to preserve human rights and it should not be used to tackle issues that had nothing to do with the Council.

Cambodia, speaking in a right of reply, was disappointed that the High Commissioner and her Office had ignored the situation of human rights in Cambodia.  Several political parties now existed in Cambodia and democratic elections had already taken place.  The electoral process had been carried out peacefully, showing that democratic values were deeply anchored in the country.  To those who said that freedom of expression had been muffled in Cambodia, the delegation said that citizens were equal before the law, and were prosecuted for their offences.

Maldives, speaking in a right of reply, remained committed to the rule of law, including the division of the three branches of power: legislative, executive and judicial.  The election commission of Maldives was making all the necessary preparations for the elections in September, ensuring that all complied with the law.  The campaign for the elections was progressing smoothly with two candidates organizing rallies across the country on an equal basis.  Maldives welcomed scrutiny and invited international observers to attend.  Since 2008, all elections held in Maldives had been declared free, fair and credible by international observers and there was no reason to believe this time would be any different.

Philippines, speaking in a right of reply, reiterated that the campaign against drugs was being conducted in line with the rule of law, and it was necessary to preserve the rights of all of Philippine’s citizens.  It was not used to infringe on the rights of anyone.  As of May 2018, data showed that Government’s efforts were showing progress in destroying drugs.  Any deaths resulting from law enforcement interventions were being investigated.  The Philippines regretted that some delegations failed to recognize the success of the measures carried out.  At the same time, the delegation noted that the Philippines had ratified the highest number of international treaties in the region.  The Philippines was concerned about the detention of underage asylum seekers in Europe, which was against the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

India, speaking in a right of reply in response to Pakistan and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, rejected their futile attempts to politicize the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, which was an inalienable part of India.  The people of Jammu and Kashmir participated in free and fair elections at all levels.  The main challenge there was the cross-border terrorism coming from Pakistan.  Was it not ironic that a country that had protected Osama bin Laden made accusations against India?  Regional peace and security were under threat because of the terrorism coming from Pakistan.  India reminded Pakistan of the continued enforced disappearances and harassment of minorities in Baluchistan.  Pakistan should stop its instrumentalization of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

Morocco, speaking in a right of reply, countered the erroneous statements made by Algeria with respect to Western Sahara, which were unacceptable coming from a country with a deplorable human rights record.  Algeria had violated its obligations in the sphere of refugee protection as it had expelled migrants.   Algeria was thus not in a position to make allegations about human rights violations elsewhere.  Morocco had hosted a number of parliamentary representatives, civil society, and representatives of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who could witness significant development in the region of Western Sahara.

Azerbaijan, speaking in a right of reply in response to Australia, underlined that its remarks were based on false information.  There was not a single restriction on the users of social media in Azerbaijan.  Some 77 per cent of the population were users of the Internet.  

Venezuela, speaking in a right of reply, said that human rights were enjoyed in full force in Venezuela.  The Government of President Maduro effectively guaranteed all human rights.  Unilateral coercive measures and the harsh economic war were preventing citizens from purchasing goods and medicines.  Certain countries were seeking to give lessons on human rights to Venezuela, but those same countries were committing gross human rights violations, including slavery of children and indigenous people.  Other such Governments were practicing xenophobia against migrants.  As such, they had no moral or political authority to judge Venezuela.  They had a political agenda against Venezuela and were supporting illegal coercive measures.

Qatar, speaking in a right of reply, reiterated its support to dialogue to resolve the conflict, upholding its national sovereignty.  Qatar strongly rejected the embargo against it.  When the countries decided to agree on a dialogue, Qatar would be first to approach the table.  Concerning accusations of terrorism, the accusing countries were in fact those supporting terrorism.  The international community was aware that Qatar was working to combat terrorism and there were laws in place to demonstrate this.  

Pakistan, speaking in a right of reply, stated that it did not want to engage on any domestic issues in India.  The situation in Kashmir was an international dispute.  The 1947 partition agreement never stated that Jammu was a part of India.  The human rights violations in Kashmir constituted crimes against humanity.  India’s rejection of the commission’s attempt to visit the area to observe the situation in Kashmir was a testament of its crimes against the people of Kashmir.  Pakistan underlined that the people of Kashmir were not terrorists.  It invited India to allow the visit of the international experts if it had nothing to hide, in order to end its impunity regarding its actions in Kashmir.

Peru, speaking in a right of reply, reiterated the scope of the ongoing deterioration of human rights in Venezuela.  Venezuela was urged to cooperate with the international system, especially considering the acute needs for food and medicine of the Venezuelan people.  It stated that 2.3 million Venezuelans had now left the country as of this month.  Peru said the humanitarian crisis was leading many countries of the region to lend assistance to Venezuela.  The intervention by the Spokesperson of the Venezuelan Government was an attempt at discrediting this open and generous offer to help.  Peru voiced its sincere concern about the refugee flow and called on Venezuela to accept the humanitarian help.

Mexico, speaking in a right of reply, said Venezuela’s comments were not surprising as they had been only seeking to divert attention from the issue at stake.  No country had an ideal track record on human rights.  Venezuela was urged, as a member of the Council, to accept its responsibilities, cooperate with the Council and resolve the problems it was facing.

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For use of the information media; not an official record