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Majority of States deny need to renew mandate of the Independent Expert on Burundi
Friday, 22 July 2011 14:46

 

On 16 June 2011, the Human Rights Council (the Council) held an interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Burundi. The special procedure on Burundi comes to an end with the establishment of the Independent National Commission of Human Rights (INCHR) in Burundi, in accordance with Council resolution 9/19 which established the mandate. Mr Fatsah Ouguergouz, the Independent Expert on human rights in Burundi, presented a statement on the institutional improvements in the country, such as the establishment of an ombudsman’s office, along with the INCHR. A transitional justice mechanism has now been established, and the Independent Expert urged the wide participation of civil society actors in its operation. He also highlighted the remaining issues faced by Burundi and noted that they need to be tackled by collaborative efforts involving the UN, its agencies, and civil society. States strongly supported the progress made in Burundi in promoting human rights, and the role that the Independent Expert had played in this. However, the majority of States also emphasised problems with corruption, lack of good governance, and a weak justice system, and urged Burundi to build a dialogue with civil society as an essential means of addressing these problems.

 

The Independent Expert emphasised the progress made in the social sphere, especially the provision of free compulsory education for children in primary schools and free medical care for women, children and vulnerable groups. Moreover, Ms Immaculee Nahayo, Minister of Solidarity, Human Rights and Gender of Burundi, speaking as the concerned country, pointed to the increase in employment opportunities, and protection for internally displaced persons (IDPs). However, both speakers also drew attention to ongoing problems and the urgent need to fight impunity, corruption and promote good governance in Burundi.

 

Similar concerns were shared by States, in particular Switzerland and Canada who asserted that prison conditions need to be urgently improved, and a solution found to land disputes for returning refugees. Additionally, Norway recommended strengthening court systems in order to fight impunity because the current institutional arrangements are relatively weak. Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of States agreed that there is no need to extend the mandate of the Independent Expert as it was felt that the mechanisms established by Burundi, including the INCHR, the ombudsman, and the transitional justice mechanism, are sufficient. 

 

On the other hand, NGOs argued strongly in favor of extending the mandate of the Independent Expert and ensuring ongoing monitoring of human rights. In particular, Human Rights Watch identified the lack of protection for civil society activists and journalists working in Burundi. Moreover, Amnesty International also urged Burundi to establish a special tribunal to investigate torture cases and violence against human rights defenders.

 

In his concluding remarks, Mr Ouguergouz agreed on the urgent need to re-structure the judicial system and review the membership of the transitional justice mechanism to ensure it included civil society actors.

 

In the same session, Michel Forst, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Haiti, presented his report to the council. Mr Forst outlined the following priority areas of his mandate: strengthening the place of human rights within the response to the humanitarian crisis, in particular economic and social rights; and advising on the implementation of reforms in the area of the rule of law to ensure that public institutions work to enable the full realisation of economic and social rights for the Haitian people.

 

Although the humanitarian situation in the country has improved since the catastrophic earthquake in January 2010, Mr Forst pointed out that the crisis in Haiti remains, as many men, women, and children continue to live in destitute conditions. Further, Mr Forst noted that certain human rights violations have escalated since the earthquake. According to UNICEF, 173,000 restavek[1] children are victims of human trafficking which Mr Forst said was “comparable to modern slavery”. Other issues persist such as the problem of street children, limited access to sanitary drinking water, forced evictions, lynchings, forcible return of potential migrants, and one of the most worrisome concerns of all, the recent cholera outbreak in the country which has infected over 300,000 people, leaving 5,400 dead.

 

Mr Forst noted progress made in Haiti with regards to rule of law, one of the main priorities of newly elected Haitian President Mr Michel Martelly. Haiti’s decision to establish the appointment of a President of the Court of Cassation[2] was a welcome sign according to Mr Forst because it sends “the long-awaited signal of the separation of the power of the executive and the judiciary”, a step that may potentially reduce corruption and enhance the human rights situation in the country.

 

A call was made by Mr Forst for efforts to be made to help strengthen Haiti’s national human rights institution which is represented by the Office de la Protection du Citoyen (OPC)[3]. Additional help is needed to supplement the work already done by OHCHR, UNDP and the International Organisation of the Francophonie in promoting capacity building and the development program for the OPC with the hope of Haiti eventually being able to implement the full protection of its citizens itself in the near future.

 

Finally, Mr Forst reiterated his concern about Haiti’s reconstruction, particularly that the role of human rights in the reconstruction process has not been visible enough and that we must change the message being sent to the Haitian people so that they understand that “the construction of buildings, roads and bridges are not an end in themselves, but a means to contribute to the progressive realisation of rights”.

 

The Haitian delegation reiterated the enormity of the catastrophic impact of last year’s earthquake and highlighted a number of public safety concerns that continue to trouble the country’s citizens such as domestic violence, particularly against women. Most States focused their comments on Haiti’s humanitarian challenges and they generally agreed that Haiti required further international assistance to help rebuild the country. While the discussion did not focus much on improving the human rights situation in Haiti, several recommendations were passed along by States. The US called on Haiti to improve accessibility services for the disabled as well as improve the protection of LGBTI peoples, and women and children. Chile recommended that the new Haitian government promote a human rights based approach where rule of law was respected and human rights institutions and organisations were actively engaged. The European Union called for the strengthening of civil society engagement in the rebuilding process.

 

Several NGOs expressed concern over the cholera outbreak and over what appears to be a dire security situation in the country. High crime in the country has put vulnerable people, particularly women and children, in danger. In his closing remarks, Mr Forst said that the main priority at the moment should be on rebuilding Haiti with the ultimate goal being a developed country that respects civil, political and cultural rights. Mr Forst called on civil society to keep a close eye on the situation in order to monitor the implementation of his recommendations. 



[1] Haitian children sent by their parents to work as domestic servants for host families

[2] The highest court in Haiti; equivalent of Supreme Court

Last Updated on Friday, 22 July 2011 14:47
 
© by The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) 2018