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UPR submission highlights Burundi's "markedly worsening situation" for free expression

A protest held on 26 April 2016 outside U.N. headquarters in New York, calling for an end to political atrocities and human rights violations unfolding in Burundi
A protest held on 26 April 2016 outside U.N. headquarters in New York, calling for an end to political atrocities and human rights violations unfolding in Burundi

AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews

This statement was originally published on article19.org on 29 June 2017.

ARTICLE 19, the Collaboration on ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), the East Africa Law Society, the Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU), and the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (Defend Defenders) have made a joint submission to the third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Burundi in advance of its review in January 2018.

Our submission addresses a markedly worsening situation for freedom of expression and freedom of association in Burundi since its last UPR, focusing on issues relating to:

- Legal framework relating to freedom of expression;
- Restrictions on media freedom;
- Restrictions on freedom of expression online;
- Restrictions on the rights to freedom of assembly and association
- Right to information.

Overall, we find that the situation in Burundi in these areas has not improved. Not only has Burundi failed to improve legal protection for the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association, but in 2013 and 2015, it also enacted two repressive press laws and a restrictive law on assemblies and association. Media freedom and civic space have deteriorated to unprecedented levels, following President Pierre Nkuruziza's March 2014 decision to seek Constitutional amendments to enable him to run for a third term in the April 2015 presidential elections. The situation was aggravated by the subsequent failed coup d'état of 13 May 2015, with various independent media houses destroyed for their alleged role in the coup.

Journalists, media workers, human rights defenders and others critical of the re-election bid have been facing harsh treatment from the authorities and many have been forced to flee the country for fear of reprisals. Several independent media houses have been closed; and those critical of the ruling party have been increasingly targets of physical attacks and death threats from police and the Imbonerakure (the youth wing of the ruling party). Already severely restricted, civic space has shrunk further, and more restrictions on protests have been introduced, including a total ban on peaceful demonstrations.

We call on UN Member States to make the following recommendations to the government of Burundi:

- Reform and repeal restrictive provisions of the Penal Code, the 2015 Press Law and all legislation affecting freedom of expression with the full and effective participation of all stakeholders including civil society, and bring it to full compliance with international standards;
- Re-open closed radio stations and create and maintain an enabling environment for media freedom where journalists and media workers can operate freely and unhindered;
- Refrain from any attacks against journalists and other critics, seek the support and assistance of international and regional human rights experts and mechanisms to establish an independent body to conduct prompt, impartial and thorough investigations into crimes of violence against journalists and media workers and opposition leaders; and ensure those responsible are held accountable and that redress is provided to the victims of those crimes or their next to kin;
- Cease legal harassment of journalists and media workers in exile and ensure that those responsible for the harassment are held into account;
- Establish an independent regulator for broadcast media in accordance with international and regional freedom of expression standards;
- Refrain from blocking access to social media platforms;
- Repeal the legislation on SIM card registration;
- Fully respect and protect the right to freedom of assembly and association. In particular, it should reform the legislation on freedom of assembly and association (including the Law 1/28 of December 2013 to conform to regional and international human rights standards. Burundi should also ensure that all its legislation, policies and practices comply with international and regional standards on police use of force, specifically the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials and the African Commission on Human andPeoples' Rights' Guidelines on the Conditions of Arrest, Police Custody and Pre-Trial Detention in Africa;
- Enact legislation to guarantee a right to access government-held information, in line with international human rights standards.

Read the full submission [ENG]

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