ABOUT 90 African and international civil society organisations have expressed concern about the situation of human rights defenders in detention in Burundi.
They expressed their worries in an open letter to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, the Special Rapporteur on Prisons, Conditions of Detention and Policing in Africa, and the UN.
The organisations urged the human rights bodies ‘to take necessary measures to engage in dialogue and raise this issue with the Burundian government’.
They called for ‘the immediate and unconditional release of all human rights defenders currently unjustly detained, as a sign of goodwill and reconciliation by President [Evariste] Ndayishimiye’.
The cases involve Burundian human right activists Germain Rukuki and Nestor Nibitanga, and four journalists working for Iwacu, one of the few remaining independent media houses in the country.
‘They should never have been arrested, and their detentions violate the principles and guidelines on the right to a fair trial and legal assistance in Africa, proclaimed by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights according to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights’, the open letter said.
The activists called on the Burundian government to ‘reinforce [its] commitment to the independence of the justice system’ as agreed in 2018.
They said the government should ‘ensure fairness of Germain Rukuki’s new appeal hearing proceedings in open trial and to allow trial monitoring and observation by physical presence’.
They called for the release of all those ‘who have been arbitrarily detained, in particular human rights defenders, including by strictly respecting the relevant applicable procedures’.
They urged the government to cooperate with the AU, the East African Community and the UN, in the ‘search for a peaceful and human rights responsive solution to the crisis situation in Burundi’.
Since the death in June this year of President Pierre Nkurunziza, who ran for a third term in 2015 in a move deemed by the opposition as unconstitutional, UN-appointed human rights investigators have warned that there has been ‘little’ in the way of ‘positive changes’ since Ndayishimiye took over.
A report by the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi in September warned about ongoing rights violations and impunity in Burundi since Nkurunziza died.
Commission of Inquiry member Francoise Hampson described evidence of serious human rights violations during this year’s elections, including summary executions, torture and sexual violence.
She said then: ‘In recent weeks there have continued to be killings, there have continued to be arbitrary detentions and there have continued to be disappearances.
‘So, it’s slightly surprising that it is continuing as it was even though elections have finished. ‘And that is a matter of very grave concern.’