Burundi's National Assembly should address significant shortcomings in the landmark 2016 law against gender-based violence (GBV) and inconsistencies in other relevant legislation to ensure effective prevention, protection and justice for survivors, Amnesty International said today in a new briefing.
While Burundi's 2016 GBV law was a milestone achievement, it falls short of regional and international best practice.Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International's Deputy Regional Director for East and Southern Africa
"While Burundi's 2016 GBV law was a milestone achievement, it falls short of regional and international best practice. It introduced important improvements, including a consent-based definition of rape and the prohibition of harmful traditional practices. But, unfortunately, on some issues it also violates human rights such as the right to privacy and non-discrimination, fails to take a survivor-centred approach and potentially criminalizes survivors of gender-based violence," said Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International's Deputy Regional Director for East and Southern Africa.
Inconsistencies between the GBV law and the 2017 Penal Code create uncertainty on which provisions judges should apply. These inconsistencies risk negating some of the more progressive provisions in the GBV law. For example, when the Penal Code was revised in 2017 it did not use the updated definition of rape introduced in the GBV law the previous year, which focuses on the absence of consent, and rather kept the older definition that focuses on the use of force or other coercive means. Clarity on which definition should be applied - to be in line with international human rights law obligations, this would be the one contained in the GBV law - is essential to avoid confusion among judges, magistrates, police and other judicial and law enforcement officials, and will likely require legal reforms.
Giving with the right, taking away with the left
Amnesty International is calling for the repeal of provisions in the GBV law that criminalize cohabitation outside marriage and private sexual acts between consenting adults, as they violate the right to privacy, family life, equality and non-discrimination. As well as criminalizing adultery, the GBV law bans "free unions" - the practice of a couple living together while unmarried.
Amnesty International is calling for the repeal of provisions in the GBV law that criminalize cohabitation outside marriage and private sexual acts between consenting adults, as they violate the right to privacy, family life, equality and non-discrimination.Sarah Jackson
Article 60 of the GBV law outlawing incitement to gender-based violence provoked outrage when the law was first passed due to its inclusion of "indecent dress" as a possible form of "incitement". This and any other provisions that could criminalize victims of violence - in addition to stigmatizing victims and reinforcing harmful gender stereotypes - must be removed.
The GBV law also contains provisions that provide lesser penalties than for equivalent offences in other laws - such as the abduction of a girl to marry her or to force her to marry someone else carrying a significantly lighter sentence than human trafficking of a child by means of abduction. In this way, gender-based violence offences are not treated as seriously as other comparable criminal offences.
In addition to the necessary legal reforms, the Burundian authorities should ensure adequate resources and training are available for effective implementation of the law and that victims of gender-based violence are provided with sufficient support and assistance. Survivors of gender-based violence should be consulted as part of the process to revise the law, and in decisions around the implementation of the law.
Amnesty International also calls on Burundi to urgently ratify the Maputo Protocol on women's rights in Africa, which it signed 20 years ago. The comprehensive framework laid out in the Protocol has played a crucial role in advancing women's rights on the continent and enabling access to justice.
The GBV law was adopted by the Burundian National Assembly in 2016, after considering amendments by the Senate on the 2015 draft law. It was signed into law by the late former President Pierre Nkurunziza on 22 September 2016.
Burundi signed the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) on 3 December 2003 but is yet to ratify.