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Can justice be obtained for Burundi?

Can justice be obtained for Burundians? 

 

 

Is the situation known?

 

The human rights situation in Burundi continues to worsen year after year since 2015. There are more and more violations and most of them are being reported on by international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as Human Rights Watch[i], or more recently Amnesty International[ii]. The latest report drafted by the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi set up by the UN Human Rights Council[iii] highlights many cases and types of violations of human rights. Notably, we have seen raising concerns regarding gross human rights violations such as gross violations, extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests and incarcerations, forced disappearance, various types of torture and ill treatments, and incidences of sexual assault. More than violations, we are talking about crimes against humanity as expressed by the inquiry commission in its report[iv].  The assessment is, of course, the same from human rights defenders, such as Forum National des Femmes, which notices an intensification in the incidences of sexual assault[v] or Association Burundaise pour la Protection des Droits Humains et des Personnes Détenues (APRODH) (Burundian Association for the Promotion of Human Rights and Persons Detained), which states that nothing is changing in the humanitarian situation and fears this will last as long as President Pierre Nkurunziza remains in office[vi]

 

In addition, more and more countries are communicating on the situation in Burundi. Recently, the spokesperson of the French minister of foreign affairs intervened to condemn the 32-year prison conviction of Germain Rukuki, a Burundian human rights defender, and showed his disarray towards the fundamental rights violations that occur in Burundi[vii]. Contra Nocendi International has also come out strongly to condemn Germain’s case. The United States of America also expressed their concerns regarding the Burundian non-democratic process the government is trying to implement to change the Constitution so that the president can remain in office longer. Along with this statement, the United States specified that the government was not respecting the freedom of expression and association[viii].  

 

A variety of reports and denunciations of human rights violations happening in the country are being made by diverse actors, states, NGOs and international organizations. However, despite all these reports, there are very few cases where these violations are followed up with legal proceedings –at the national, regional, or international levels. How can this be explained? 

 

Why is more not being done? 

 

Although there is very little existing data on this subject in Burundi, the near non-existence of legal proceedings at the national level can explained very easily. Indeed, in relations to the current situation in the country, lawyers are being threatened and put under a lot of pressure when they take on cases involving human rights violations committed by the government[ix]. In January 2017, four human rights lawyers were disbarred from the Burundian bar for having submitted an alternative report to the UN Committee Against Torture[x]. Many organsations, including Contra Nocendi International, have submitted reports to UN Human Rights bodies. This avenue of engagement is a vital part of the UN human rights system. Moreover, and as explained in the report by the commission of inquiry, even if some cases are brought to court, no follow up is given to them. As a lawyer stated, “it is a justice held hostage[xi].” This sheds a light on the lack of legal proceedings against human rights violations at the national level: the system is such that no resort is allowed on this base. Indeed, as mentioned in a previous Contra Nocendi International article[xii], both the legal and law enforcement systems in Burundi are susceptible to corruption and its negative consequences. Consequently, this explains the lack of legal proceedings in the country. This is of course in line with what is currently occurring in the country: perpetrators continue to commit human rights violations, and in order to protect and continue perpetuating these acts, justice is being manipulated.  

 

At the regional and international levels, individual communication processes are put in place to facilitate the denunciation of abuses and violations of rights protected by a specific Convention to which the state is party. The main scope of these processes is to allow for accountability of countries to their citizens, and give a voice to victims of human rights violations. This process is particularly important for countries such as Burundi, because the abused people do not have to go through their government. Complaints made by States only exist in rare cases because countries prefer to “sort their conflicts outside of international bodies”[xiii]. The fear of developing tensed bilateral relationships is also a reason why inter-state complaints are scarce. 

 

At the regional level, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Commission) is the main mechanism when it comes to the promotion and protection of human rights. The individual communications represent an important part of the commission’s work. However, the conditions of admissibility of these communications are numerous, which can make it challenging to seek help from the Commission. The most difficult condition to subvert is the fact that the Commission is a last resort, and can only be seized once all national remedies have been exhausted[xiv]. Hence, numerous individual communications are not followed after. 

 

Internationally speaking, it is the system of the United Nations for the promotion and the protection of human rights that is the main organ in charge of human rights. Very little data exists on the subject, as all individual communications as well as the concerned parties can choose to keep the latter confidential, which is often what is done[xv]. Hence, it is complicated to assert if there have been a lot of reported cases at the international level. Nonetheless, it is still important to note that since 2015, the UN has been very closely following and monitoring the human right situation in Burundi, with ultimately the creation of the inquiry commission to this effect in 2016. Following this report of inquiry, the International Criminal Court has been seized to carry out its own investigation and prosecute the persons responsible for these crimes.  

 

On all levels, most violations of human rights are not reported by Burundians due to fear of reprisals or lack of trust in the system. Indeed, Burundians are afraid to expose their own situation, either from shame of what happened to them or from fear of counterattacks or danger to their families, or their own lives. 

 

The situation in Burundi is alarming, and the ever-increasing global acknowledgment from the international community on all levels is reassuring. The role of the civil society on the field is non-negligible in the specific case of Burundi, especially when the country makes it extremely difficult for international civil entities to enter its territory. Consequently, it is important to support these domestic or border-zone entities, in order to facilitate the processes of access to the justice system and show to the Burundian population that they are not left behind and that their voices matter. The international community also has the means to bring about this support and to show that it is on board with what it communicates. [xvi]

 

 

[i] https://www.hrw.org/fr/world-report/2017/country-chapters/298103

[ii] https://www.amnesty.org/fr/countries/africa/burundi/report-burundi/

[iii] Rapport final détaillé de la Commission d’enquête sur le Burundi, Conseil des Droits de l’Homme, trente-sixième session, 11-19 septembre 2017

[iv] id.

[v] . http://www.arib.info/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=17888

[vi] http://www.arib.info/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=18096

[vii] http://www.lefigaro.fr/flash-actu/2018/04/30/97001-20180430FILWWW00207-la-france-denonce-les-violations-des-droits-de-l-homme-au-burundi.php

[viii] https://twitter.com/statedeptspox/status/991325011075063809

[ix] http://www.arib.info/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=12784

[x] https://www.afriqueeducation.com/politique/burundi_les_repr_sailles_de_nkurunziza_contre_4_avocats_des_droits_humains

[xi] http://www.refworld.org/pdfid/59c12b694.pdf

[xii] http://contranocendi.org/index.php/en/news/187-can-justice-be-obtained-for-burundi

[xiii] https://journals.openedition.org/revdh/803

[xiv] https://journals.openedition.org/revdh/803#ftn9

[xv] http://www.conferencedesjuristes.gouv.qc.ca/files/documents/9l/e9/lemecanismedeplaintesindividuellesaucomitedesdroitsdelhommedelonu.pdf

Cameroon lags behind in submitting state report to CEDAW committee

Cameroon is late in submitting its state report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) after it missed the deadline for the report, thus marking seven years since it submitted its last report. Cameroon must show its commitment to the rights of women and its commitment to eliminating discrimination against women in Cameroon by submitting its report and constructively participating in the review process.

The report was due 1 February 2018, and Contra Nocendi confirmed with the Committee secretariat that the government has still not turned it in. While the government of Cameroon has taken some steps to advance women’s rights, the impact of these efforts as well as any areas for improvement must be reflected upon in an objective and constructive environment. The CEDAW reporting and review process is such an environment.

As per article 18 of the CEDAW, state parties that have acceded to the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women are expected to submit a report on the legislative, judicial, administrative or other measures taken to ensure gender equality and to indicate the progress made on each of those aspects.

As a State Party that ratified the convention on 23 August 1994, Cameroon is obligated to submit a progress report at least every four years or whenever the CEDAW committee so requests.

The CEDAW committee’s goal is to oversee the advancement that the state parties make with respect to the progress of their women. It also carefully monitors how each of these states are implementing national measures to fulfill their legal obligations toward preventing discrimination against women. Finally, the committee makes recommendations on issues affecting women that require more attention from the state parties.

The last report the government of Cameroon submitted to the committee was on 1 December, 2011, and the state party was over three months late in submitting it that reporting cycle. Contra Nocendi calls on the government to submit its state report as expeditiously as possible so that the situation of women can be assessed and necessary measures can be taken to improve their condition.

Contra Nocendi stands by Penn Terence Khan in his quest for justice and equality

In a moving letter to Yaoundé’s military tribunal, Penn Terence Khan an under-trial prisoner criticized the tribunal for subjecting him to an illegal trial based on false charges, and called for better justice and equality for the English-speaking minority in Cameroon.

In a two-page letter addressed to the president and government commissioner (prosecutor) of the military tribunal, Khan said that his abduction, incarceration and trial were completely political and stood contrary to the foundational basis of what Cameroon stood for as a country.

Khan claimed in the letter that he was illegally abducted in Bamenda in January, 2017 and presented before a military tribunal in Yaoundé.

The tribunal sentenced the Cameroonian to 12 years of prison time along with a fine of €7,500. In the letter he wrote while waiting for the judgment, Khan lamented that such trials of civilians by military tribunals violate their fundamental right to appear before an impartial court for a fair trial. Since he also does not belong to the army and does not own a military weapon, Khan said in the letter, he feels like the trial has infringed upon his rights guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1945), UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights. The trial also violates his right to a fair trial according to the Preamble of the 1996 Constitution of the Republic of Cameroon.

Contra Nocendi Cameroon and Contra Nocendi International strongly support Khan’s stance in his grievances about getting subjected to a trial before the military tribunal, in a case that he felt was grossly unjust and illegal. We have already emphasized that the right to a fair trial is a fundamental human right essential in any democratic society that is governed by the rule of law.

The fact that military tribunals actually enjoy jurisdiction over civilians under domestic Cameroonian law is of grave concern to us. Military tribunals are not independent and impartial courts because they are a part of the armed forces and fall under the government’s executive branch. Being subjected to a trial under them contravenes the non-derogable right civilians have to a fair trial as per the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. There have been several cases in the past where people have been tried by military courts and given disproportionate and unjust sentences.

We reiterate our support for Khan as he was unjustly tried before a military court, which often gives disproportional penalties for offences that are defined vaguely.

Khan also alleged in his letter that the court played the role of prosecutor as well as judge in his trial, and that it provided no proof to any of the charges it slammed on him. "I am neither a terrorist nor a secessionist but the political nature of the trial makes it possible for the court to slam the 'guilty verdict' on me," he wrote. Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon will continue to monitor Penn Terence Khan's case.

Contra Nocendi successfully gains release of physically abused minor from Buea detention centre

A minor detainee subjected to physical abuse in a Buea detention centre was transferred to a local hospital, after Contra Nocendi successfully sought medical intervention for him as part of its continued efforts to secure the rights of people in detention.

In late December 2017, Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon found out that a minor (identity withheld for safety) was possibly being held in detention in Buea, awaiting trial before a military tribunal. Shockingly, the boy showed clear signs of significant physical abuse. He was arrested a few months ago and had been subjected to torture and other forms of severe physical trauma, as indicated by signs on his body. Due to the treatment he was subjected to at the centre, he also suffered a fracture in his leg.

On finding out about the boy, Contra Nocendi took note of his condition and concluded that he was receiving very litte or no medical attention at the centre.

Contra Nocendi Cameroon along with Contra Nocendi International immediately sought a medical report from the doctor at the detention center, on behalf of the minor. The report went before the military tribunal, which then granted release to the boy on medical grounds and he was also allowed to be transferred to a hospital for medical attention.

The case of this minor comes as no surprise as incarceration rates in the region have gone up since the start of the crisis in the Anglophone region. An increasing number of minors are being arrested on grounds of terrorism charges since the crisis began and many are awaiting trial before the military tribunal, Contra Nocendi Cameroon staff found after multiple visits to detention centres in Buea. The prolonged periods of time for which they are being held as pre-trial detainees also is also very concerning.

Contra Nocendi Cameroon and Contra Nocendi International have repeatedly raised issues about persons being held in detention in the Southwest region of Cameroon. As we have repeatedly stated to government entities and mandate holders at the Africa Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the provision of sufficient medical attention is a minimum standard under international law. We have grave concerns that the government of Cameroon is not meeting this minimum standard. We also wish to reiterate our objection to the fact that military tribunals have been granted jurisdiction over civilians under domestic Cameroonian law. We firmly believe this violates international human rights law and that the government must change course.

Contra Nocendi upholds right to the truth concerning gross human rights violations, marks the international day

On 24 March, 1980, Archbishop Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero was murdered. The reason? He refused to stay silent as El Salvador government’s armed forces and other groups tortured people, executed them and abducted many during the country’s civil conflict. Several people, mostly innocent civilians died during the struggle and as the archbishop demanded justice and defended the El Salvadorians his life was sadly extinguished as he stood up for what was right.

 

Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon have always upheld the ideals of truth and our mission is to protect the rights of the violated and marginalised the world over. On this International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims, the world observes Monsignor Romero’s sacrifice as he openly took a stance against El Salvador’s right-wing military group and death squads that went about murdering innocents. We pay our tribute to him and his legacy.

 

This day observed in his memory is an important day for us at Contra Nocendi as we carry on his work, which was to protect the human rights of oppressed and vulnerable people. We also stand opposed to torture, assault and a threat to human dignity.

 

Contra Nocendi endorses the important right to truth, which means the right to know the absolute truth about any event, the circumstances of that event, violations and reasons behind it, along with the truth about its participants. Even as the horrors of human rights breaches continue unabated, Contra Nocendi will continue to fight for equality, dignity and justice by educating people in Cameroon and Burundi about human rights violations, drawing inspiration from Monsignor Romero’s life and work. Going a step further, we are also committed to providing people with a bridge to access the means and aid to have their rights and live with the dignity they deserve.

 

Contra Nocendi marks International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon are proud to stand up and promote efforts to combat racial discrimination globally on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. This day marks the notorious anniversary of the Sharpeville massacre that took place on March 21, 1960 when police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration in Sharpeville, South Africa. Police forces shot into a gathering of as many as 5,000 protesters who were rallying against the horrors of the apartheid system.

 

The 2018 theme for this day is to promote tolerance, inclusion, unity and respect for diversity to fight racial discrimination.

 

At Contra Nocendi, we take time out every March 21st to halt and remember the need to be steadfast in our efforts to promote equality and fight unjust treatment meted out to people. Being steadfast to us also means being committed to efforts to eliminate racial discrimination.

 

While we have seen a lot of progress, people continue to suffer from racial and ethnic discrimination every single day. This horrible and inhuman treatment causes suffering and restricts the affected people from accessing opportunities to grow and progress so that we can build a better, more inclusive world. Contra Nocendi will continue to strongly oppose racial discrimination by working as an organisation, and also with our partner to eliminate racial discrimination, intolerance and the resulting violation of human rights.

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