Burundi: curbs on free expression ahead of elections draw concern of senior UN rights official

Expressing deep concern about growing restrictions on freedom of expression in Burundi, a senior United Nations rights official today called on the authorities there to ensure that human rights are fully protected ahead of next year’s presidential elections.

“Special attention must be paid to the full respect for freedom of expression, including for journalists and human rights defenders,” Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonovic, said in the Burundian capital, Bujumbura, as he wrapped up a three-day visit.

He added that: “Violence linked to the electoral process must be prevented and harassment against perceived political adversaries must not be tolerated. All these are preconditions for free and fair elections in 2015 and for its results to be accepted by everyone.”

Mr. Šimonovic was in Burund to assess the country’s human rights situation. During his visit, he met with Burundian officials, with representatives of the international community, civil society groups, and visited Bujumbura’s Mpimba prison, according to a press release form the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR).

In his meetings, Mr. Šimonovic congratulated Burundi for the country’s successes since the signing of the Arusha peace Accord in 2000, including the recent unanimous adoption by the National Assembly of the new electoral code for the 2015 elections as well as the signing by Government and political parties and actors of the General Principles for the elections.

Yet, he also noted his deep concern regarding recent developments, including the growing restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, and peaceful assembly and association.

Mr. Šimonovic expressed particular concern at the fact that the number of politically motivated incidents involving the Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the ruling party, against perceived political adversaries, has more than doubled compared to the same period last year. He called on the Government ensure that perpetrators of political violence are held accountable.

The Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights added that many donors consider that a continued assessment of the human rights situation is important to extend their support to the country.

In addition to his other meetings, Mr. Šimonovic discussed with the Government the modalities of continued cooperation between the UN and Burundi in the area of human rights after the expiration of the mandate of the UN Office in Burundi (BNUB).

The Office of the High-Commissioner for Human Rights stands ready to support the Government and the people of Burundi, Mr. Šimonovic concluded.

27 June 2014

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