Burundi: UN independent expert welcomes appointments to new Human Rights Commission

GENEVA (23 May 2011) – The United Nations Independent Expert on the human rights situation in Burundi, Fatsah Ouguergouz, welcomed several positive human rights developments during his second mission to the country from 16 to 20 May.

These include the initial steps taken by the Government towards establishing transitional justice mechanisms, the effective start of investigations on extrajudicial killings by an adhoc Commission, and the appointment last week of the seven members of the newly established National Independent Human Rights Commission.

“I met with most of the new members during my visit last week and reminded them that this long-awaited Human Rights Commission was granted with a broad mandate to investigate human rights violations and that people of Burundi and the International Community were keen to see this Commission play a key role in promoting and protecting human rights in the country,” said Mr. Ouguergouz, who commended the authorities for the appointments.

He also welcomed the release on Monday 16 May of Jean-Claude Kavumbagu a journalist and human rights defender detained since July 2010 and expressed hope that this would lead to a decrease of pressures and intimidations against journalists and human rights defenders.

However, the expert also drew special attention on several documented cases of extrajudicial executions, torture and politically motivated arrests. “I stressed my concerns at the recent increase of alleged extrajudicial killings and urged the authorities to investigate all human rights violations without delay,” he said. “The Government has to demonstrate its commitment to fight against impunity.”

In addition to his meetings with national authorities and representatives of the civil society in Bujumbura, the UN Independent Expert visited prison facilities in Ngozi, where he raised his concern at the prolonged preventive detention for many inmates and at the poor prison conditions. “In spite of a slight improvement in pre-trial detention, more than 55% of detainees are still waiting to be heard by a Court,” he noted.

“In light of fact that prisons are dramatically overpopulated and that detainees are held in sometimes degrading conditions, I called on the authorities to take all necessary measures to remedy this situation, including avoiding the detention of individuals that do not present a danger to society,” Mr. Ouguergouz said.

The UN Independent Expert will report on his findings at the next session of the Human Rights Council in June and will participate in an interactive dialogue on the human rights situation in Burundi.

The Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Burundi, Fatsah Ouguergouz (Algeria), started his mandate on 1 August 2010. He is currently a judge at the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights in Arusha, Tanzania. He has worked at the International Court of Justice and the UN Office of Legal Affairs.

Learn about the mandate and work of the Independent Expert on Burundi: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/countries/bi/mandate/index.htm

OHCHR Country Page – Burundi: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AfricaRegion/Pages/BIIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact Julie Tetard in Geneva (Tel.:+ 41 22 928 93 01 / e-mail: jtetard@ohchr.org)