Experts of the Committee against Torture Commend Burundi on Efforts to Repatriate Burundian Refugees, Ask about Acts of Torture Committed by the Burundian Police Force and Security Forces and about the Role of the Imbonerakure
Experts of the Committee against Torture Commend Burundi on Efforts to Repatriate Burundian Refugees, Ask about Acts of Torture Committed by the Burundian Police Force and Security Forces and about the Role of the Imbonerakure
The Committee against Torture this afternoon concluded its consideration of the third periodic report of Burundi on its efforts to implement the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, with Committee Experts commending the State on efforts taken to repatriate Burundian refugees, while asking questions about acts of torture committed by the Burundian police force and security forces, and the role of the Imbonerakure within the State.
Rouwane Abderrazak, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, commended the efforts made to repatriate Burundian refugees through tripartite agreements signed with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Tanzania. The hospitality of Burundi as a country hosting refugees, estimated at 20,000, was also to be commended.
Sébastien Touze, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Country Co-Rapporteur, said information suggested that the practice of torture was widespread within the Burundian police and security forces, in particular within the National Intelligence Service. Was it possible to open cases or proceedings against members of the National Intelligence Service accused of committing acts of torture? Had cases already been opened? If not, did the State intend to open proceedings pending inquiries?
Mr. Touze said it was hard to accept that the Imbonerakure were separate from the State. Findings indicated their systematic involvement in numerous situations that highlighted violations of the Convention. Several sources referred to the Imbonerakure as a militia. The nature of this group was unclear and its actions were particularly disturbing. What was the structure of this group? How did they operate? How were they equipped? Did they work alongside the legal authorities? Were they trained by the Burundian authorities?
Responding to the questions, the delegation of Burundi categorically rejected allegations of killings at the hands of State authorities. Each person was held responsible under the Criminal Code. If someone was involved in a killing, they were held accountable for their acts. It was important to abstain from putting everyone in the same boat. The killing of a woman on 15 July 2023 had been transferred to the courts, and the alleged perpetrators had been arrested, including police officials. State agents could not invoke orders from a superior to justify acts of torture. Cases of torture which had been identified, where the perpetrators were from the police force and intelligence services, had been handed over to the courts. Notably, the cases of a provincial official from the intelligence services and a provincial police officer were now before the courts.
The delegation said it was hoped that after this session, there would no longer be any confusion within the Committee about the youth party, the Imbonerakure. This group was comprised of young people, below the age of 39, affiliated to the ruling party. These young people were represented from the national level down to the local level, with appropriate support and oversight. The young Imbonerakure were armed and conducted military training. The leaders of the Imbonerakure in certain provinces had been punished due to the crimes they had committed. Some people wished to demonise the Imbonerakure by associating them as a militia that committed acts of torture, sexual and gender-based violence and enforced disappearances. Statements such as these were tantamount to discrimination against the ruling party and its youth party.
Imelde Sabushimike, Minister of National Solidarity, Social Affairs, Human Rights and Gender of Burundi and head of the delegation, presenting the report, said since the presentation of the second periodic report in 2014, Burundi had made significant progress in the implementation of the Convention, despite the situation of insecurity in the country, due to the failed coup in 2015. Burundi had established an Ombudsman, a National Independent Commission on Human Rights, a National Observatory for the Prevention of Genocide, and a Council for National Unity, among other institutions. The Independent Human Rights Commission was accredited with A status. There were no secret detention sites in Burundi. Inspections were organised in the various places of deprivation of liberty, and such visits were carried out by the National Independent Commission on Human Rights and by non-governmental organizations that worked in the human rights sector.
In concluding remarks, Ms. Sabushimike hoped the discussion today had helped appease the Co-Rapporteur’s concerns. Burundi would consider the need to establish a national preventative mechanism. The majority of the treaties to which Burundi was a party had been ratified. Burundi thanked the Committee and Mr. Touze.
Mr. Touze said the Committee was very satisfied to bring the dialogue to the close. There were some issues which required clarity and Burundi would receive recommendations in the concluding observations. Mr. Touze thanked the delegation warmly and wished them a safe return home.
The delegation of Burundi consisted of members of the Ministry of National Solidarity, Social Affairs, Human Rights and Gender; the Ministry of Justice; the Ministry of National Solidarity and Social Assistance; the Ministry of Human Rights, Education for Peace, and National Reconciliation; the Ministry of Promoting Women and Gender Equality; the Prosecutor General; the National Police; the National Defence Force; Penitentiary Affairs; and the Permanent Mission of Burundi to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
Summaries of the public meetings of the Committee can be found here, while webcasts of the public meetings can be found here. The programme of work of the Committee’s seventy-eighth session and other documents related to the session can be found here.
The Committee will next meet at 3 p.m. on Thursday, 2 November to conclude the consideration of the third periodic report of Costa Rica (CAT/C/CRI/3).
The Committee has before it the third periodic report of Burundi (CAT/C/BDI/3).
Presentation of Report
IMELDE SABUSHIMIKE, Minister of National Solidarity, Social Affairs, Human Rights and Gender of Burundi and head of the delegation, said the Government of Burundi had made many achievements in human rights and the fight against torture, cruel and degrading treatment. Since the presentation of the second periodic report in 2014, Burundi had made significant progress in the implementation of the Convention, despite the situation of insecurity in the country, due to the failed coup in 2015. Awareness raising sessions on human rights and combatting torture had been organised for magistrates, the police, administrative staff, detainees, members of political parties and health officials. Burundi had taken all measures necessary to combat torture, including through the 2018 Constitution which specifically prohibited torture. The Penal Code was amended in 2017 to provide severe sanctions for those who committed torture, from 10 years up to life imprisonment. State officials could not invoke the chain of command to justify acts of torture. Burundi had established an Ombudsman, a National Independent Commission on Human Rights, a National Observatory for the Prevention of Genocide, and a Council for National Unity, among other institutions. The Independent Human Rights Commission was accredited with A status. Efforts had been made to ensure the judiciary was fully impartial.
There were no secret detention sites in Burundi. Inspections were organised in the various places of deprivation of liberty, and such visits were carried out by the National Independent Commission on Human Rights and by non-governmental organizations that worked in the human rights sector. The Government had made significant efforts to improve prison conditions and reduce the number of prisoners, including through bail, conditional release and presidential pardons. Since 2022, Burundi had also started to implement alternative measures to imprisonment. The State had established a national gender policy covering 2012-2025, aiming to bring about women’s empowerment. Penal Code provisions relating to domestic violence were also implemented, including a law which allowed further protection of women from reprisals. A child’s police unit and vice squad had also been established, and local and neighbourhood committees had been created to combat gender-based violence. Centres had been established for victims of gender-based violence which provided free legal aid and medical and psychosocial assistance. Special courts had been established for children in conflict with the law. Burundi was firmly committed to the Convention and was committed to the promotion and protection of human rights, social justice, dignity and equality between men and women.
Questions by Committee Experts
SÉBASTIEN TOUZE, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Country Co-Rapporteur, said in 2016 he had submitted his first report on Burundi and he was submitting his second today. The work had come with a feeling of bitterness. The first reason for this was that during the 2016 dialogue, it was not really a dialogue as the delegation refused to return to the second meeting to provide answers to the questions asked at the first meeting. Also, the Committee’s recommendations were not followed by the State. Burundi had also refuted the legitimacy of the Commission of Inquiry. The Commission had stated that acts of torture were being committed in various provinces by different perpetrators, with the objective of weakening the opposition.
In June 2022, Burundi's Ambassador reiterated before the Human Rights Council that "Burundi would not accept any mechanism or political attempt to interfere with the internal affairs of sovereign States". The Government of Burundi had reacted violently to the Special Rapporteur’s report and denounced the Special Rapporteur's "intense attitude" against the ruling party. Why did Burundi reject any form of cooperation with United Nations mechanisms? Furthermore, Burundi’s head of delegation, who was the Minister of Justice, at the end the first meeting in 2016, requested that retaliatory measures be adopted against several representatives of civil society present in Geneva. The result was dramatic, and now many of these people were unable to return to the country and were in exile.
Burundi’s attitude towards the Committee was also a cause for bitterness; despite recognition of the Committee’s competency, the Committee received no replies to requests and recommendations, which was very concerning. Furthermore, the report submitted to the Committee this year was almost a cut and paste job of the report created in 2014, which dated back to 2012, and did not take into account any of the concluding observations adopted by the Committee. Finally, the situation in Burundi showed that despite appeals by the international community and civil society, nothing had changed and causes for concern had worsened, showing the State’s disregard for the Convention. It was evident that States such as Burundi had very little belief in the Convention and the human rights system. Mr. Touze hoped a dialogue could begin today and that there would be objective answers tomorrow.
Burundi had incorporated certain articles of the Convention into its domestic law, had revised the Penal Code, and had incorporated the definition of torture in the Convention, which was a step forward. However, despite the reform of the Penal Code in 2017, legal obstacles remained to effectively prevent the practice of torture and prevent it from occurring. There was no statute of limitations against crimes of genocide and war crimes. Burundi mentioned a compensation fund in the report, but it had never existed. How did the State intend to share the benefits of this fund when it was not operational? How was the Convention invoked in national courts? Numerous reports showed the Committee that the Government or its agents, including the police, the National Intelligence Service, elements of the Imbonerakure, and military personnel, had committed killings, often against perceived supporters of opposition parties or those exercising their legal rights.
Attacks on civilians by armed groups had also been reported. The non-governmental organization Iteka League, which was banned in 2017, continued to operate outside the country and documented 232 killings as of the end of August, compared to 405 the previous year. Had the Ministry of Justice called for inquiries to ensure crimes were prosecuted? The media continued to report that bodies with signs of violence were being found in public areas. According to the Iteka League, 113 bodies were found between January and August 2022 in Cibitoke. In addition, human rights organizations reported many cases of disappearances, and it was difficult to determine how many of them were cases of enforced disappearance or killings by or on behalf of the Government. In its May 2022 report, Human Rights Watch noted that National Intelligence Service agents, police, and Imbonerakure had killed, arbitrarily detained, tortured, and harassed people belonging to opposition parties or suspected of working with armed rebel groups.
Mr. Touze said that since 2010, and especially since the beginning of the 2015 crisis, numerous allegations of extrajudicial or arbitrary executions had been regularly reported. According to the Commission of Inquiry, Imbonerakure, members of the National Council for the Defence of Democracy-Forces for the Defence of Democracy, and those with administrative responsibilities and some of their family members had reportedly been deliberately killed by unidentified armed men, who were also believed to have been responsible for indiscriminate attacks resulting in the deaths of many civilians. The Commission had not been able to identify the perpetrators, due to a lack of cooperation. Dead bodies were often found tied with their arms behind their backs, sometimes mutilated, in public places. From June 2020 to August 2022, a non-governmental organization recorded 1,470 people killed, including 24 victims of extrajudicial executions, at the hands of the State. What steps had the State taken to combat impunity for extrajudicial executions? Burundi had accepted the Universal Periodic Review recommendations aimed at combatting impunity, and agreed to establish a fully transparent and fair judicial system, in accordance with international standards. What was being done to encourage victims to file complaints. Was the State in a position to implement these recommendations?
Information suggested the practice of torture was widespread within the Burundian police and security forces, in particular within the National Intelligence Service, Mr. Touze said. The Commission of Inquiry on Burundi and the Special Rapporteur stated that cases of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, including sexual violence, took place mainly at the National Intelligence Service headquarters in Bujumbura, or in official and unofficial detention centres under its supervision. The National Intelligence Service was also alleged to be complicit in the ill-treatment perpetrated by the Imbonerakure. Members of National Intelligence Service were not subject to any judicial control, and were directed by the President of the Republic. Was it possible to open cases or proceedings against members of the National Intelligence Service accused of committing acts of torture? Had cases already been opened? If not, did the State intend to open proceedings pending inquiries?
It was hard to accept that the Imbonerakure were separate from the State. Findings indicated their systematic involvement in numerous situations that highlighted violations of the Convention. Several sources referred to the Imbonerakure as a militia. The nature of this group was unclear and its actions were particularly disturbing. Questions had been asked previously on this issue, but no answers had been provided. What was the structure of this group? How did they operate? How were they equipped? Did they work alongside the legal authorities? Were they trained by the Burundian authorities? Some information suggested this might be the case. This group had committed crimes, and yet there were no court cases underway. If there were court cases underway, what prosecutions had there been against members of the Imbonerakure?
Mr. Touze said the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances had 250 open cases concerning Burundi. Unfortunately, due to the lack of access, their work was complicated. Non-governmental organizations also provided statistics. As of 30 August 2022, the Iteka League had documented 32 disappearances, compared to 56 the previous year. The National Intelligence Services and the Imbonerakure were deemed to be responsible. Could the delegation express an opinion regarding the silence and lack of response? Had investigations been carried out and what was their outcome? There were reports that Burundian security forces were utilising a disproportionate use of force in public demonstrations. Could information be provided about the 2015 and 2016 demonstrations which were repressed with the use of firearms? What was the outcome at the national level? Had steps been taken to raise awareness of the use of force within security forces?
The law expressly prohibited arbitrary arrest and detention, but the report only mentioned the legal framework. It was difficult to assess if this was happening in practice. Were there proceedings under way? What actions had been taken by those deprived of liberty who had been able to contest the conditions of their arrest? What measures had been taken regarding the proper implementation of the Convention in Burundi? The justice system in Burundi raised numerous problems. There were arbitrary arrests which were not properly assessed and considered by judges. The law provided imprisonment and a symbolic fine for anyone involved in arbitrary arrests, but there was no evidence that the law had ever been applied. A report by a non-governmental organization had documented 221 arbitrary arrests; these cases had never seen any kind of follow up.
The Committee had received numerous allegations of sexual violence against women, some during demonstrations, others during searches carried out by the security forces and the military. A 2016 report documented serious allegations against Imbonerakure who allegedly sexually abused women seeking to flee Burundi. Between April 2015 and 2016, the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights recorded 19 cases of sexual violence, including 4 cases of violence by police, military and Imbonerakure. Had there been any complaints, proceedings or outcomes since 2016? It appeared that rape, by the security forces or the Imbonerakure, was used as a weapon of repression in the context of searches and raids; could Burundi comment on these reports? Were investigations being conducted? Gender-based violence in Burundi continued to be a matter of real concern. No measures were being taken to combat domestic violence, no action was being taken to combat rape, and no steps were being taken to combat violence against women in places of detention. This was concerning as there were documented cases but no procedures implemented as a result of these cases. Could Burundi provide figures to show that cases of violence against women were being solved? What was being done to remedy these situations?
ROUWANE ABDERRAZAK, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said despite the re-accreditation of the National Independent Commission on Human Rights to A status in June 2021, given the national context, the role of the institution needed to be called into question. During the years 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022, the National Commission conducted investigations into cases of alleged torture, but no detailed information was provided. Only three cases had been opened in this regard. Could the delegation provide information on these cases? Could statistical, detailed information be provided on complaints of torture and ill-treatment? What services did the alleged perpetrators work in? What measures had the State party taken since 2014 to follow up on the recommendations of the Commission?
Mr. Abderrazak commended the efforts made to repatriate Burundian refugees through tripartite agreements signed with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Tanzania. It was estimated that since the launch of the voluntary return programme in 2017, more than 180,000 Burundian refugees had been repatriated with the assistance of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The hospitality of Burundi as a country hosting refugees, estimated at 20,000, was also to be commended.
Could Burundi comment on reports that Burundian political opponents had been tracked down among refugees and asylum seekers in Tanzania by Burundian intelligence agents and subjected to forced returns, intimidation, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances? What measures were taken to guarantee the safety and lives of Burundian refugees when they returned? What was done to investigate the allegations and prosecute such acts? What measures were being taken to ensure those who were internally displaced could return and were protected for all forms of violence? Did trafficking continue in Burundi, especially for the purposes of sexual exploitation, domestic servitude and begging? What investigations, prosecutions and punishment of perpetrators had taken place? What was the role of the mechanisms in place to identify, protect and ensure assistance and support to victims of trafficking, particularly the most vulnerable groups?
Mr. Abderrazak said the Committee had asked for information on programmes to train judges, prosecutors, forensic doctors and medical personnel working with detainees to detect and identify the physical and psychological consequences of torture? Did these programmes include a specific module on the Manual for the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel Treatment or Punishment? What efforts were being made to provide training on non-coercive investigative techniques offered to police and other law enforcement personnel? What was being done to assist the efficacy of these trainings?
Could the Committee be updated on the results of the policy on the expansion of penitentiary institutions? As of June 30, 2023, Burundi's prisons had occupation rates of 277 per cent; while it had the capacity to accommodate 4,294 inmates, it had 11,906 inmates. The prison administration's statistics for June 2023 indicated very high occupancy rates for all prisons in the country. It was reported that overcrowding was due to a trend towards the systematisation of the use of detention, including for minor offences. Other reports during 2020 and 2021 raised the responsibility of members of the Imbonerakure militia as the perpetrators of these arbitrary arrests. As of 30 June 2023, the number of people awaiting trial was estimated at 46 per cent of the prison population across the country.
The Committee had been informed of a critical shortage of food in prisons since 2022, and was informed of the death of a detainee in Bubanza prison which illustrated the serious consequences of a lack of food in prison. Some prisoners even sold their clothes to buy food. Burundian law provided that the prison administration should provide health care for detainees in each establishment; and that a doctor appointed by the Ministry of Public Health ensure regular monitoring of the functioning of the health service. But in practice, many acts of negligence were documented. The unsanitary conditions of prisons due to overcrowding encouraged the emergence and spread of diseases. There had been reports of seriously ill prisoners, who lost their lives due to lack of care. The Committee would like to be informed on measures taken to ensure solitary confinement was restricted and used as a measure of last resort? What measures had been taken to prevent contracting COVID-19 in prisons? Regarding deaths in police custody, the figure of 48 cases was provided, but with no other information. What were the procedures and mechanisms set up which allowed prisoners to lodge complaints? What were the number of complaints lodged to date?
Mr. Abderrazak said the Committee appreciated information provided concerning the visits carried out by the Ministry of Human Rights and especially by the national human rights institution, which had risen significantly between the years 2019 and 2022. How did public authorities interact with other bodies, particularly in terms of follow up recommendations? Burundi had agreed to allow the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture to visit the country, which had not yet been done. Why was this? Why was there a considerable delay in respecting the State’s obligations under the Optional Protocol, which promised the establishment of a national preventative mechanism? If this was underway, what was the mechanism’s legislative basis, and the human and financial resources that would be allocated to it? Had a timeline been established? Would civil society organizations be able to conduct visits? What measures of reparation and compensation, called for by courts, had been granted to victims of acts of torture or their families? What ongoing rehabilitation programmes were underway?
According to several reports, corporal punishment could not be criminally punished, and still occurred in the family environment. In 2014, the Human Rights Committee recommended that Burundi take legislative measures to end corporal punishment, including within the family. What measures had been taken since then to protect children from all forms of violence, including sexual exploitation. What measures had been taken to prevent ritual killings of children with albinism? What investigations had been carried out into such cases and what were the results of the prosecution of those responsible for such violence? What were the results of the measures adopted to reform the juvenile justice system?
On the occasion of its third Universal Periodic Review, Burundi agreed to ensure that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission properly discharged its mandate. What steps were being taken to refer complaints of serious human rights violations received by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to an independent investigative authority, to be investigated promptly, thoroughly and impartially? How was it ensured that all perpetrators of serious human rights violations committed were sentenced to penalties commensurate with the gravity of their acts? How were victims ensured fair reparation and compensation? How was the independence of the Commission ensued? Would it not be wise to review the mandate of the Commission once again to include the serious violations committed since 2015?
A Committee Expert expressed hope that the dialogue today would be constructive. Reports had been received that the number of women held in pre-trial detention was high. The conditions of detention were concerning, particularly overpopulation, overcrowding, the lack of separation of male and female inmates, and inadequate health care. The Committee was also concerned at the number of women detained with children. What regimes for women and girls and convicted mothers with children were available? What measures had been taken by the Government to improve the conditions in facilities for women and girls? Was there a mechanism to challenge decisions for those placed in residential institutions? Which authority had the right to investigate such complaints? Which authorities had the right to conduct monitoring visits to psychiatric hospitals?
Another Expert said Burundi made a modest but significant contribution to United Nations peacekeeping operations. However, Burundian peacekeepers had allegedly been involved in misconduct, including sexual abuse, particularly on a mission in the Central African Republic. Had there been any internal inquiry, investigation or lessons learned, and how did these affect the training Burundi was deploying nationally? Were units being deployed internationally provided with legal advisors to advise commanders on matters of international legal standards? Burundi abolished the death penalty in 2009 by legislation, however, the State was not a party to the second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, directed at gradual abolition of the death penalty. Could Burundi explain this position?
A Committee Expert asked if there was a specific provision which affirmed that persons who failed to take steps to prevent and punish torture were criminally liable?
Responses by the Delegation
IMELDE SABUSHIMIKE, Minister of National Solidarity, Social Affairs, Human Rights and Gender of Burundi and head of the delegation, said Burundi had been striving to promote and protect human rights and had ratified numerous treaties, including the Convention. The State’s presence today was testament to the respect Burundi had for the Committee. The National Independent Commission on Human Rights had been re-accredited with A status, and its compliance with the Paris Principles was evident. The configuration of the Commission allowed it to respect the requirements of independence. From 2019 to 2022, the Commission had conducted investigations into allegations of torture that had been reported. There had been regional offices established to offer services to local communities.
Burundi recognised the importance of a national preventative mechanism. The absence of a mechanism could be explained by the laudable work of the National Independent Commission on Human Rights, which worked to prevent torture and other cruel or degrading treatment. It allowed for visits to places of liberty, compiled reports, and issued recommendations to address human rights issues. Other national human rights institutions, including the Ministry for Human Rights, strove to prevent torture. Training programmes were available for State officials, judges and administrators. This was why Burundi had not yet established a national preventative mechanism. Visits to places of deprivation of liberty were conducted by the Commission and non-governmental organizations. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission had been operating since December 2014 and was mandated to investigate the veracity of human rights violations committed between 1985 and 2008. The Commission aimed to propose a programme for reparations and a programme for non-repetition, among other measures. The main task of the Commission was not to report violations; this would be done by the authorities.
The delegation said the use of force was subject to regulations in Burundi, particularly the use of firearms, which could only be used as a last resort. Force could only be used in a case of absolute necessity and in cases of grave, imminent danger. All means used needed to be in proportion with the gravity of the threat. The use of force could be legitimately used in cases of defence. Police in Burundi were trained on human rights issues. In the case of use of a firearm by members of the police, there needed to be an incident report filed. Burundi was facing an increasing threat of terrorism, which had been criminalised in the Criminal Code. The State had also created a national centre to combat terrorism. Burundi had set up a specialised unit tasked with money laundering. The Government placed a great deal of importance on freedom of religion and expression. It was the Government’s responsibility to take all steps necessary with a view to guaranteeing public order; all such regulations came under the Act of 2022 regarding regulations for religious groups. Regarding the Imbonerakure, the name persisted despite the State’s continued efforts to eradicate discrimination against a group due to their religious affiliations.
Burundi had adopted several laws which protected those in pre-trial detention. Since 2017, the Government had adopted a penitentiary policy to deal with the overcrowding in prisons to meet the needs of prisoners and improve their living conditions. There was work being done to rehabilitate the central prison. The Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Health had signed a joint agreement, allowing prisoners to benefit from medical care. Literacy, sewing, mechanics and raising livestock were among some of the trades taught to prisoners in prison. More than 30,000 prisoners had been provisionally released and more than 5,000 were released on bail. Two rehabilitation centres had been established for minor boys in conflict with the law. There were still challenges, particularly when it came to financial means. The practice of pre-trial detention was pursuant to international standards for a fair trial. Burundi had a strict approach to homosexuality and same sex relations, which were provided as an offence in the Penal Code.
IMELDE SABUSHIMIKE, Minister of National Solidarity, Social Affairs, Human Rights and Gender of Burundi and head of the delegation, said Burundi regretted hearing some of the allegations repeated by the Committee based on wrongful information, which were perpetrated by a small group of people who wanted to destabilise the country.
The delegation said with respect to cases of torture and enforced disappearances, investigations were conducted pursuant to the law. The Committee seemed to be working on the basis of reports from civil society organizations and United Nations entities which focused on events in the past. Looking at these reports, it would be assumed that the situation in Burundi was catastrophic. However, Burundi was in a new era which had been heralded by the new government in 2020. Burundi aimed to be a developed country by 2060. Anyone who committed crimes in the country was prosecuted. Eight cases of torture were being considered by the judiciary. Burundi needed expertise and judges from abroad, which were not always available. The State was trying to determine how more expertise could be gathered in this area. Twenty-seven magistrates were currently behind bars on charges of corruption.
On measures taken for capacity building and ensuring the independence of the judiciary, this was guaranteed in Burundi’s Constitution. Ongoing training was provided to judges through the justice training centre, with a focus on human rights. All judges and judiciary officials had received human rights training. Burundi had always advocated for a promotion of human rights and had therefore abolished the death penalty.
Concern had been raised that the crime of torture was still subject to a statute of limitation. This did not mean Burundi did not want to eliminate torture within the territory. The statute of limitations would not affect the presence of torture in the country. Burundi had seen that actions could lead to an incitement to torture. Compensation was prevented as the State did not have sufficient funds; this was a challenge which needed to be met. Some officials did not abide by the codes of good conduct, and sanctions were applied in these cases. Nobody was above the law in Burundi. There had been many cases of high-profile people being prosecuted and sentenced.
Burundi had implemented a special anti-trafficking law in 2014. The State had aligned itself with the international community to combat trafficking. It had ratified the United Nations Convention against Organised Transnational Crime and its Optional Protocol in 2014. A law had been created to provide protection to victims of trafficking. Burundi had put in place a committee to combat trafficking in March 2018. Special focal points had been established in the police, community and in provinces. A comprehensive action plan had been developed which enabled many activities to be carried out. There were police and magistrate training teams, and a training module had been developed. The national action plan to combat trafficking up to 2027 had been launched this year and had been translated into multiple languages. Burundi had set up bilateral agreements with countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, to better manage the conditions of Burundians living abroad.
There were 13,389 persons detained in Burundi, including more than 1,000 foreigners, 145 children, 1,002 women and 123 babies. There was an occupation rate of 311 per cent in prisons. Burundi abided by international conventions when it came to holding men and women and children separately. Women had special quarters within mixed prisons, but there was also a special women’s prison and a children’s detention unit. Burundi wanted to ensure that women had better living conditions in prison. Two centres had been established for the rehabilitation of children in conflict with the law, as well as a girls’ unit. Here children received special treatment for their re-education, including sewing and livestock rearing. Burundi was revising its strategies for children in prison with their mothers. Prison visits had not been restricted for the two journalists mentioned by the Committee.
Burundi had successfully managed COVID-19 within the prison system through distancing measures, wearing masks, and free screening and treatment. None of the 300 prisoners who had contracted COVID-19 had died. The prisoner mentioned by the Committee had not died due to lack of care; that person had received medical care at a hospital before passing away. The prisons in Burundi were overcrowded but this was not due to politics. Burundi was taking steps to try and reduce the prison population. Persons in prison had breached the country’s security. Those who referred to the issue of political prisoners were probably activists. The right of asylum was recognised within Burundi’s Constitution. Support was provided for children, persons with disabilities and elderly persons seeking asylum. Burundi was one of the countries in the region which welcomed asylum seekers without any discrimination.
Burundi categorically rejected allegations of killings at the hands of State authorities. Each person was held responsible under the Criminal Code. If someone was involved in a killing, they were held accountable for their acts. It was important to abstain from putting everyone in the same boat. The killing of a woman on 15 July 2023 had been transferred to the courts, and the alleged perpetrators had been arrested, including police officials. Those who committed terrorist offences, with the goal of spreading terror, deserved to be branded as terrorists. A Military Court had just sentenced two military personnel to a three-year prison sentence and a fine of 500,000 Burundian francs, after they were accused of sexual harassment in the Central African Republic. Soldiers were trained before deployment, including under the Convention against Torture and international humanitarian law.
State agents could not invoke orders from a superior to justify acts of torture. An illegal order should not be followed. Cases of torture that had been identified, where the perpetrators were from the police force or intelligence services, had been handed over to the courts. Notably, the cases of a provincial official from the intelligence services and a provincial police officer were now before the court.
Burundi had strong diplomatic relations with Tanzania. Would the Committee have the courage to approach Tanzanian authorities to ensure there was balanced information? There were agreements on the voluntary repatriation of Burundian refugees living in Tanzania. Burundi was a calm and stable country, and thousands of refugees had voluntarily returned. Displaced persons could return of their own free will to their homes, and were provided with support from the State, including cooking utensils and food, and were welcomed warmly by the local administration and neighbours.
In 2015, defence forces believed they were dealing with a peaceful demonstration, but in reality it was an insurrection. There had been targeted attacks against members of the defence forces and security services; 78 officers lost their lives and 179 were injured. The demonstrators had been manipulated, and the security forces needed to step in and adapt their techniques according to the situation; there had therefore not been an excessive use of force. Organised searches or raids by security forces needed to be passed by the Public Prosecutor’s Service. Women were always searched by female police officers. Raids were conducted in the presence of judicial police. The defence and security forces were governed by texts and acts which outlined the absolute rights of the person as the priority. These principles could not be undermined. The cases of two journalists were examples of mistruths, with messages circulating on social media reporting incorrect information. In cases reported to the police, investigations had been conducted and cases opened.
Burundi had set up measures to combat gender-based violence through bolstering the legal framework, to bring about stronger sanctions for certain offences. In 2021, a department was set up that was tasked with the prevention of sexual and gender-based violence and the provision of holistic support to victims. There was an early warning system on gender-based violence which provided real time updates on any incident of gender-based violence, enabling service providers to respond. Violence in the home was punishable by law.
Community meetings were held to enable communities to share challenges faced, and give people the opportunity to reach out to others. In the case of the rape committed by a police officer against a woman held in a police cell, the perpetrator was removed from the police service and handed a 12-year prison sentence. Burundi believed in women’s economic empowerment as an effective way of protecting women from gender-based violence. The State had implemented a special fund for women and had initiated a cash-transfer fund for those living in the poorest households. Legal assistance, food, counselling and support was provided to survivors of gender-based violence.
Corporal punishment was prohibited in school establishments, and the Family Code provided for the removal of parental authority in cases of abuse. The Penal Code sanctioned physical violence against a child in the domestic setting. A hotline provided assistance to children, and was available to any person to denounce any instance of violence or abuse of children, including corporal punishment. Burundi had launched a national campaign to combat violence against children, trafficking, abuse and neglect. Children themselves were involved in these efforts through the Children’s Parliament. Attacks against children with albinism were a phenomenon that came from neighbouring countries, particularly Tanzania. There had been no recent cases of murders of persons with albinism. Any alleged perpetrators had been brought before the justice system, and those who were found guilty had been sentenced.
It was hoped that after this session, there would no longer be any confusion within the Committee about the youth party, the Imbonerakure. This group was comprised of young people, below the age of 39, affiliated to the ruling party. The word Imbonerakure meant a very active, dynamic, visionary youth, that aimed to ensure a better future for tomorrow. This youth group was different from other youth groups affiliated to political groups, as it worked within the ruling party. These young people were represented from the national level down to the local level, with appropriate support and oversight. They were focused on development activities and achieving the political party’s aims.
The young Imbonerakure were armed and conducted military training. Burundi helped other nations in restoring peace and did not require external assistance. There were some acts committed, but these were individual acts, and therefore it was individual members of Imbonerakure who had to answer to these acts. The leaders of Imbonerakure in certain provinces had been punished due to the crimes they had committed. The Imbonerakure represented the majority of young people in Burundi. It was always important to identify the preparator and not focus on what group they belonged to, whether an ethnic or regional group. Some people wished to demonise the Imbonerakure by associating them as a militia that committed acts of torture, sexual and gender-based violence and enforced disappearances. Statements such as these were tantamount to discrimination against the ruling party and its youth party.
Questions by Committee Experts
SÉBASTIEN TOUZE, Vice-Chairperson and Country Co-Rapporteur, said he was very satisfied with the delegation’s answers. Why did it take Burundi seven years to bring these answers to the Committee? This heralded a new era and it was hoped the years to come would have the hallmark of the cooperation seen here today. Did Burundi intend to renew clear cooperation with all United Nations bodies, starting with the treaty bodies and the Special Rapporteur on Burundi? Could Burundi’s intent to cooperate extend to allowing the Special Rapporteur to visit the country in person? Could there be some steps taken for those political prisoners in exile to allow amnesty to be considered? Did Burundi intend to reinstate cooperation, allowing cases still pending before the Committee to be examined? Could the figures stated by Burundi be provided in writing?
Could the issue of the statute of limitations be debated again? Did judges have alternative measures to placing people in custody? Had the effectiveness of the strategies and mechanisms implemented been assessed? Regarding the Imbonerakure, the Committee had not been able to understand their role and the extent to which they were able to intervene. There had been links between this youth group and intelligence services when it came to repression. Could more details on the actions of this group be provided?
ROUWANE ABDERRAZAK, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, congratulated Burundi for the positive exchange. Burundi was obligated to set up a national preventative mechanism under the Optional Protocol it had ratified. Was there a time frame for the establishment of the mechanism? Could details be provided on specialised training on the Convention? Was there training conducted on the revised version of the Istanbul Protocol? How would the establishment of the fund for reparations incite individuals to commit acts of torture? Could further information be provided on judges who had not complied with the law? Could more information be provided on the content of the training to combat trafficking? Had there been any inquiries into the deaths in custody? Had the families been informed? Had any legal proceedings been opened? Were there mechanisms to allow prisoners to lodge complaints? What measures had been adopted to protect internally displaced persons from violence, particularly women and girls? Would legislation be revised to ensure the status of a victim?
A Committee Expert appreciated the responses of the Minister and the delegation on the death penalty and he gathered that Burundi was on its way to ratifying the second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. He asked why there were inconsistencies in the voting record of Burundi within the United Nations on the death penalty, including one instance when Burundi did not vote on a General Assembly resolution on a moratorium on the death penalty?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said those abroad who had been sentenced could return to the country, under the condition they asked for forgiveness for the offences committed. Once these conditions had been met, the President could accept to deliver the amnesty or presidential pardon for their offences. Lawyers who had been disbarred faced a specific procedure initiated by the Bar itself. There were 16 lawyers who had been subjected to this discipline. Any information or queries submitted in Geneva to the Burundian Mission would receive a response. The Government was committed to keep in communication with the Permanent Mission of Burundi in Geneva, to ensure all communications would be responded to. A module on torture had been developed by the national judicial centre on training. The State had translated the Convention into Kurundi as per the Committee’s recommendation.
The Committee had requested Burundi to provide guarantees to banish torture in the country. The Criminal Code already criminalised torture. Regarding the statute of limitations, currently there were no plans for a revision of the Penal Code. This may be something the State would consider but currently it was not deemed to be a necessity. In the Criminal Code, there were some amendments where the judge could decide not to keep an individual in detention. There were some alternatives to ensure judges did not resort to prison. It was incumbent upon the judge to determine whether detention was the only way to ensure justice was achieved. Community work was one such alternative which could be requested. Inspections were conducted to try to raise awareness so that judges did not disproportionately hand out prison sentences. The establishment of the compensation fund might have the impact of disproportionately encouraging individuals to resort to individuals and commit this crime. The Government was searching for a solution for this.
Burundi had conducted mid-term reviews of strategies to gain impact, which had been very helpful. Recently, Burundi had created a handbook to help identify victims of trafficking. Victims should not be treated as defendants to avoid double victimisation. Training had been provided on a protocol to punish trafficking in persons. Out of 1,818 judges, 584 judges were trained. Freedom of expression could not be invoked in the case of terrorism attacks.
Regarding the transfer of the two journalists, these were disciplinary measures handed out by a commission composed of prison officials and other agents. These two prisoners were transferred following a decision by the commission. Forty-four persons had died in a prison due to a fire, while four others had died of natural causes. The inspectorate acted as a complaints’ mechanism for prisoners.
IMELDE SABUSHIMIKE, Minister of National Solidarity, Social Affairs, Human Rights and Gender of Burundi and head of the delegation, clarified that Burundi actively participated in the work of the Human Rights Council and would be a member in January next year. Burundi had successfully completed the fourth cycle of the Universal Periodic Review and had taken part in an active dialogue with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Burundi had refused collaboration with the mandate imposed on the country since 2016. The position of Burundi within the Human Rights Council was not isolated, as there were many countries which opposed the politicisation of the Council. Burundi had heard the disappointment of the Co-Rapporteur and hoped the discussion today had helped appease his concerns. Burundi would consider the need to establish a national preventative mechanism. The majority of the treaties to which Burundi was a party had been ratified. Burundi thanked the Committee and Mr. Touze.
SÉBASTIEN TOUZE, Vice-Chairperson and Country Co-Rapporteur, said the Committee was very satisfied to bring the dialogue to a close. There were some issues which required clarity and Burundi would receive recommendations in the concluding observations. Mr. Touze thanked the delegation warmly and wished them a safe return home.
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