Burundi: Democratic Space in Burundi is Shrinking - UN Panel

Street in Bujumbura

A U.N. commission of inquiry on Burundi says the government of President Pierre Nkurunziza is becoming more repressive. The three-member commission says this does not bode well for elections in 2020.

In a report presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council on Tuesday, the commission expressed regret at Burundi's recent closure of the U.N. human rights office after a 23-year presence in that country. The commission of inquiry remains the only international mechanism for monitoring Burundi's human rights situation.

The report notes that Burundi has told all foreign non-governmental organizations to re-register and submit a list of their employees, mentioning their ethnicity. This, to see if they are complying with a new quota system of 60 percent Hutu, 40 percent Tutsi and a minimum of 30 percent women.

Commission member Francoise Hampson says some NGOs have declared they would leave the country rather than comply with conditions that are contrary to their values. She speaks through an interpreter.

“This continual shrinking of the democratic space, which also effects national NGOs, human rights defenders, and independent media in Burundi is all the more of concern as it is coming in the light of the elections of 2020,” she said.

The commissioners say the political crisis that erupted in 2015 when Nkurunziz ran for a controversial third term has not been resolved. They fear this will have serious ramifications in 2020. They say they have reports that members of the opposition are being threatened, intimidated, arrested or eliminated.

Burundi’s ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Renovat Tabu, poured scorn on the members of the commission, calling them mercenary tools of the radical opposition in his country. He dismissed their report as being full of lies, liable, a mess of insults and politicized statements.

At the end of his diatribe, the president of the Human Rights Council reprimanded the ambassador, telling him to refrain from personal attacks and to speak in mutual respect.

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