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Burundi’s refusal to cooperate with CoI ruling alarming

Contra Nocendi International is deeply concerned by Burundi’s refusal to recognize the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi’s mandate during oral comments on the recent Universal Periodic Review (UPR), as the situation remains alarming in the country. An estimated 400,000 Burundians have fled their homeland while army, police and Imbonerkure continue to commit major violations of human rights.

 

Ever since the Human Rights Council established the CoI on Burundi through resolution 33/24 of September 2016, Burundi has been reluctant to cooperate with the Commission and authorize it to conduct visits to the country. In a letter dated 14th September 2017, from the Permanent Representative of Burundi addressed to the President of the Security Council at the United Nations, Burundi accused the Commission of being part of a plan to destabilize and destroy its sovereignty. It expressed its disapproval of the decision to set up the commission and claimed that no conclusions reached by the CoI can be invoked against it.

 

The Commission’s mandate has been renewed for one additional year by resolution 36/19 adopted on 4th October 2017. It involves the conduct of investigations into human rights violations and abuses in Burundi since April 2015, including their extent and whether they may constitute international crimes. It was further tasked to identify alleged perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses in Burundi with a view to ensuring full accountability.

 

The cooperation with Council mechanisms is a condition of membership, and Contra Nocendi International urges Burundi to comply with resolutions 33/24 and 36/19, and to cooperate with the CoI and facilitate its work. It calls on the United Nations to take necessary actions to put an end to the persistent non-compliance attitude of the country. Finally, Contra Nocendi would like to express its support for the CoI and believes that the situation in Burundi cannot improve if national authorities continue to stand in the way of international mechanisms to uphold human rights.

Rape as a Tool of Torture in Burundi

 

Following the publication of the report submitted by the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi by the Human Rights Council on the 4th of September 2017, a great amount of human rights violations has been brought to light. Even so, though most of the violations mentioned in the report are regularly brought up, the use of rape and other sexual assaults on men as an instrument of torture came across as an atrocity that is too rarely addressed.

 

The Facts:

 

Since April 2015, the period in which President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he was submitting his candidacy for a third mandate, Burundi is witnessing a political crisis that does not seem to be abating. The Burundian population is enduring a grave wave of repression, mainly committed by “the Burundian security forces and the Imbonerakure”[1] (members of the youth movement of the party in power). According to the president of the CoI on Burundi, these assaults are mainly directed against young men being perceived as in opposition to the Burundian government.[2]

 

The Commission has evidenced in its report many cases of sexual violence and torture against men in detention. Testimonies given have revealed very harsh and brutal violence with notably rapes, genital mutilations, cases of forced nudity, and injection of unknown substances into genitals, often causing serious harm.

 

It has been explained by the victims that these torturous acts were committed with the aim of obtaining forced confessions regarding their participation in the anti-Nkurunziza protests, their affiliation to opposition groups, the localization of arms cache, information dealing with the functioning of these armed groups, or also, the denouncing of members of opposition groups[3]. The perpetrators of these assaults also justified their actions by the desire to punish the persons affiliated to opposition groups, aiming to achieve this through humiliation of the men and violation of their masculinity.

 

Although these two reasons directly expressed by the perpetrators of the sexual crimes are emphasized in the victims’ testimonies, the CoI concludes that more generally, these assaults were perpetrated with the aim to “decree a form of domination[4].

 

It is clear that the intent of sexual assaults on Burundian men depicts a political phenomena targeting the opposition and punishing even nonpartisan persons simply for being in opposition to the government. Indeed, as highlighted by Cécile Poully, there is a true “will to break a possible opposition”[5].

 

 

An Evil Kept Quiet:

 

Sexual violence and rapes as war tools are unfortunately common practice, especially towards women. However, it is also true that more and more men find themselves victims of these crimes. Sadly, these are victims that are heard or helped too rarely. Indeed, due to fear of stigmatization, reprisal, or rejection from the community, the latter hardly admit the specifics of the crime they have suffered. Consequently, it is then difficult to establish the reach of this phenomena, which can in part explain why the latter is too often neglected and not addressed.

 

As the Burundian judicial system makes the process of lodging a complaint in cases of rapes difficult, perpetrators of rape are not only protected by their status of law enforcement representative or member of the party, but also because the judicial system allows the impunity of their actions. Consequently, victims feel obliged to remain silent so as to avoid other threats or reprisals.

 

Specifically for the case of men being rape victims, the fact that homosexuality is penalized by the Burundian legislative system represents another obstacle for the latter to admit to the crime they endured.

 

The gender perspective on this topic is quite prominent. Indeed, Burundi being a patriarchal society, the idea that sexual assaults can also target men is completely refuted, and men having suffered these abuses are negatively stigmatized as having “lost” their masculinity, power and domination – all traits emanating from or associated with their gender.

 

Due to all these reasons, very few men admit to having been victims. However, the consequences of this silence are manifold for victims of these assaults. Generally, the psychological and physical health if victims are damaged. Indeed, by not speaking up, victims do not receive the care they need, which can worsen the consequences of the violence that they have suffered. Because of shame or fear of stigmatization, men do not admit to medical professionals what happened to them, and this can have immediate outcomes as well as longterm ones, such as “erectile dysfunction, urinary issues or chronic pains around the genitals”[6]. Psychologically, male victims of sexual aggressions also admitted “feeling a lack of sexual desire, a feeling of seclusion, or to be subject to post-traumatic stress”[7].

 

 

Conclusion:


Sexual torture and assaults of the nature denounced above represent grave human rights violations, such as the right to the security of the person, the right to be protected against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, without taking into account the physical and psychological destruction of the victim.

 

It is important to stress the fact that, in addition to women, sexual assaults and crimes are also perpetrated on Burundian men in detention, with the aim to punish them for being members of groups opposed to the government.

 

Given that rape is often committed to assert certain domination, it is clear that the rape of men during periods of detention, based on the fact that the detained person is opposed to the government, is a means to prove the domination of the ruling party over Burundian citizens.

 

Burundi being a country with a culture or patriarchal tendencies, very few masculine victims of sexual assaults express or denounce what they endured, due to fear of stigmatization, rejection from their community or reprisals. This complicates a lot the gathering of data on the issue, and consequently the implementation of solutions to fight this problem. Data are even hard to get since Burundi does not let many NGOs operate on its territory and refused over and over again the intervention of the UN and other international organizations in the country.

 

It becomes therefore important to open the dialogue on men as victims of sexual assaults to eventually manage to de-stigmatize their situation, and to be able to develop appropriate responses to these crimes. To start, Contra Nocendi International would like to call out to the authorities responsible for care in detention centers and encourage them to be more diligent in assessing the detainees’ physical and psychological conditions during their medical care and follow-up. This could allow detainees’ victims of sexual crimes to be treated, all the while giving them the choice to open up if they so wish. This call out is also directed at NGOs and other international organizations involved in the refugee camps in neighboring countries, where a significant number of Burundians, already victims of such crimes flee, to seek care and protection.

 

This article is by Maylis David, Advocacy Associate, Contra Nocendi

 

 

[1] Paragraph 5 of the 33/24 resolution

[2] Oral presentation by M. Fatsah Ougergouz, President of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi during the interactive dialogue on Burundi of the 36th session of the Human Rights Council

[3] Rapport final détaillé de la Commission d’enquête sur le Burundi, Conseil des Droits de l’Homme, trente-sixième session, 11-19 septembre 2017 (Detailed final report of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, Human Rights Council, 36th session, 11-19 September 2017)

[4] Id.

[5] [5] http://www.rfi.fr/afrique/20160117-burundi-le-viol-une-arme-service-repression

[6] Rapport final détaillé de la Commission d’enquête sur le Burundi, Conseil des Droits de l’Homme, trente-sixième session, 11-19 septembre 2017 (Detailed final report of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, Human Rights Council, 36th session, 11-19 September 2017)

[7] Id.

The right to counsel

 

 

 

The right to fair trial is recognized by the international community as a fundamental human right necessary in any democratic society governed by the rule of law. Various international instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as, regional instruments such as the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights have enshrined this right.

 

According to article 7 of the African Charter, in order to ensure the respect of the right to fair trial, several other rights have to be guaranteed. They are intrinsic elements of the right to a fair trial. The focus will be put on one of these rights, the right to counsel.

 

The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights and the African Court on Human and People’s Rights had likewise, the opportunity to respond to complaints apropos of the right to counsel. Both bodies have strived to ensure the respect of this essential right. From their jurisprudence, it is therefore possible to identify general standards, which can be used to complete the international and regional legislation applicable on the matter.

 

This jurisprudence analysis will focus on the three major violations of the right to counsel: the lack of access to counsel, the delayed access to counsel, and the restricted access to counsel.

 

Contra Nocendi welcomes activation of jurisdiction of crime of aggression at ICC

 

Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon are happy to welcome the news of the adoption of the resolution on the crime of aggression that will grant the International Criminal Court (ICC) jurisdiction over the matter starting July 17, 2018. This date will also mark the 20th anniversary of the Rome Statute. Contra Nocendi is very pleased to see this opportunity provided for greater accountability for acts of aggression.

While the Court will only hold jurisdiction over States that have ratified or accepted the amendment to the Rome Statute for the crime of aggression, it is a positive step forward for international criminal justice and will bring a new level of accountability for acts of aggression. The international community must now come together to push towards the universal acceptance of the Rome Statute. Contra Nocendi International and its partners will continue to monitor developments in relation to this.

 

Female inmates in Cameroon and how imprisonment impacts their rights

The fact that prisoners are still human and therefore should have their basic rights respected should be fundamental to every society, however the reality is very much different in many places. The case of women inmates is peculiar because they are doubly vulnerable by virtue of being women and being in prison. This leaves them sometimes defenceless and at risk of serious violations. Women who are incarcerated usually come from marginalized and disadvantaged backgrounds and are often victims of violence, and physical and sexual abuse.[i] According to a 2015 survey[ii], about 2.7% of Cameroon’s prison population is made up of women. While this may not seem like a large proportion comparatively, female prisoners do have special needs and are more likely to be discriminated against.

Cameroonian prisons in general are considered to be in poor conditions due to overcrowding (mainly due to lack of financing), which are exacerbated by harsh treatment of inmates by prison personnel, and poor administration in general. The plight of the female prisoner in Cameroon is one of serious concern because prison management and administration are not usually gender sensitive. This is not to say that the plight of other prisoners is unimportant, but it is crucial to maintain decent administrative structures and prison systems otherwise they create additional problems for female prisoners.

The problems faced by the female population in prisons mostly boil down to financial issues on the side of the state. In some prisons in Cameroon for example, both male and female prisoners are expected to live within the same compound though in separate quarters. Sometimes this situation does not provide even the basic standards of decency as it is hard to maintain an acceptable physical hygiene, leaving the female prisoners exposed to abuse from their male counterparts and even prison personnel, and as a result are at a higher risk of contracting STDs and other diseases.

Most of the prison personnel, even those in charge of female inmates, are male and cannot be expected to fully empathise with and understand women’s conditions. The general level of poverty is also very high and as a result perpetuates corruption and other malpractices within the prison system. Women who are not supported by their families can hardly afford feminine care products or other basic needs. Often, this leads to forced prostitution in exchange for favours and special treatment.

Prison systems in Cameroon not only fail to meet the gender and biological health needs of imprisoned women, but also the standards of humane care established by internationally accepted standards of human rights. That said, the government and other institutions including NGOS make considerable efforts to make regular donations to alleviate the suffering of these female inmates, providing them with feminine care, and even beauty products as being locked up for a crime is not the end of one’s life as many inmates are led to believe.

In the midst of this, there is the case of an even more vulnerable sub-group consisting of particularly young women, and pregnant women or nursing mothers, who need to be specially considered. The 2015 human rights report produced by the Cameroonian Ministry of Justice observed that some female inmates with children refuse to hand them over to their families or benevolent persons as suggested by prison authorities, while other women get into prison already pregnant, leading to a very dire situation, as pre-natal or post-natal care is either inadequate or at worst non-existent.  

Women in Cameroonian prisons and prisons all over the world especially in Africa deserve better treatment and protection from the States and persons directly involved in their administration. Special attention ought to be paid to their interests and personal development so that they can be productive members of society once freed.

The first important measure will be a considerable review of prison systems and policies. The population of female guards should be augmented, as they can much better relate to the situation faced by these women. More efforts should also be made to have separate prisons for female prisoners.

Secondly, opportunities for counselling and other more concrete forms of rehabilitation should be made available to these women to prepare them for reintegration into society, and to decrease any chances of them falling back into a life of crime. Educational or training facilities should also be provided to these women, so they can learn a trade in order to support their independency in and out of prison. As rule 46 of the Bangkok Rules[iii] prescribe, prison authorities, in cooperation with probation and/or social welfare services, local community groups and non-governmental organizations, shall design and implement comprehensive pre- and post-release reintegration programmes which take into account the gender-specific needs of women.

Other important aspects, like the general hygiene conditions and access to health care and material needs necessary for female inmates must also be improved. Physical and mental health issues must be addressed with adequate measures (as per rules 10 and 12 of the Bangkok Rules).

The overall goal should be to guarantee the respect of already established standards of treatment like the Bangkok rules amongst others, and ensure that prison serves the purpose of reformation and provides an enabling environment for personal development, with the view to combatting discrimination against women. This will ensure that the fundamental human rights of these women are safeguarded.

 

[i] Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 06 July 2011., imprisonment and women’s health: concerns about gender sensitivity, human rights and public health, http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/89/9/10-082842/en/

[ii] Institute for Criminal Policy Research, 2015. Birkbeck University of London http://www.prisonstudies.org/country/cameroon

[iii] United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the Bangkok Rules). 2016(Updated)

 

 

This article was written by Rosaline A. Bates Anoma, Contra Nocendi's Advocacy Associate for Cameroon

 

Contra Nocendi welcomes investigation into Burundi

 

Contra Nocendi International was happy to learn about the decision to authorize a formal investigation into the situation in Burundi by the Pre-Trial Chamber III of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on 25 October 2017. Given that over 400,000 Burundians have been displaced, and over 1,000 have reportedly been killed, there is a very clear need for the people of Burundi to get answers with regards to what has happened. We truly hope that the victims of the alleged atrocities finally get their delayed justice.

 

While we welcome this development, we must stress that this is still only the beginning of what could be a very long and difficult process. The Court does not have a cooperation agreement with the Republic of Burundi. It is questionable as to what extent Burundian domestic law expressly grants security forces the authority to cooperate with any investigation. The international community must stand firmly behind the Office of the Prosecutor and encourage cooperation on the part of the Government of Burundi. Another element of the difficulties with this process is that victims and their loved ones may have to re-live their trauma. While this may ultimately lead to more answers and justice, we must always be mindful of the additional suffering that re-living trauma of this nature can have. We hope to see sufficient resources allocated in support of the victims.

 

We must also stress that the presumption of innocence must be maintained and respected at all times for any persons who face charges before the Court. The process must be fair, and additionally must fully embrace international human rights law and protections afforded to accused persons under international criminal law.

 

Contra Nocendi International will continue to monitor the situation in Burundi and the process before the ICC. Our hearts continue to go out to those who have needlessly suffered through the events in Burundi. We look forward to the day that the people of Burundi get the answers they deserve.

 

 

 

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