U.N. investigators are accusing Burundi’s government of hiding widespread rights violations and repressive measures behind a façade of democracy. The charge comes in a report by the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi submitted to the U.N Human Rights Council.
The commission on inquiry says encouraging signs that Burundi might be moving toward a more democratic society following the election of President Evariste Ndayishimiye have proven to be an illusion.
Despite initial improvements in human rights at the end of the electoral process in 2020, Commission Chair Doudou Diene notes a significant increase in violations as of June this year.
“To date, only symbolic gestures, though welcome, and often controversial decisions, have been made so far. These are neither sufficient nor adequate to have a sustainable and profound impact on the human rights situation. The façade of normalization hides a very concerning human rights situation,” Diene said, speaking through an interpreter.
The report finds most violations occur in the context of the fight against armed groups allegedly responsible for attacks throughout the country since August of last year.
However, Diene said the Commission believes these armed attacks have been used as an excuse to pursue political opponents in violation of their human rights.
He said Burundian authorities are tightening their grip over the activities of civil society and denying people their right to freedom of expression and association. He said the government has cracked down on a free media and has suspended some media outlets.
He said journalists who dare to question or criticize the government are vilified, intimidated, or threatened.
“It is clear that the Burundian authorities consider that civil society’s sole purpose is to assist them and to support government projects, thereby denying the very principle of freedom of association. In particular, it seeks to control the operating costs of NGO’s and the salaries of expatriates,” Diene said.
In his rebuttal, Burundi’s ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Renovat Tabu, ignored all criticisms raised by the Commission. He cited the many improvements he said his government made in the fight against injustice, in furthering freedom of opinion and of the press, in education and a wide range of other human rights.
He said Burundi had several institutions engaged in the promotion and protection of human rights. He added that Burundi’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission was operational and doing an excellent job in cementing national reconciliation.