from OMEGA SSUUNA in Bujumbura, Burundi
BUJUMBURA, (CAJ News) – THE detention of five human rights defenders and the imprisonment of a journalist has escalated the fallout between Burundi and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNHCR).
Relations between the pair are strained amid the UN body accusing the government of rights violations while the East African country accuses the rights commission of meddling in Burundi’s internal affairs.
Tensions have been building up in recent weeks after authorities arrested human rights defenders – Marie Emerusabe, Audace Havyarimana, Sylvana Inamahoro, Sonia Ndikumasabo and Prosper Runyange –on February 14 and charged them with “rebellion, undermining internal security and undermining the proper functioning of public finances.”
UNHCR believes these are based solely on the individuals’ association with the international human rights non-governmental, Avocats sans Frontières (Lawyers without Borders).
“This crackdown on civil society comes as we are also seeing an assault on press freedom in Burundi,” Marta Hurtado, spokesperson for the UNHCR stated.
She cited the detention of Floriane Irangabiye, the journalist who has spent months in prison after she was arrested in August last year while visiting from Rwanda.
This is in connection with a radio interview she did with two other foreign-based Burundians – a fellow journalist and a human rights defender.
In January this year, she was sentenced to ten years in prison and fined 1 million Burundian francs (about US$ 500) for “undermining the integrity of the national territory.”
The UN rights body believes these incidents are a continuation of the suppression of civil society, which has been a consistent trend in Burundi since the 2015 electoral crisis, when many human rights defenders and journalists fled into exile.
Demonstrations marked that year when the then president, Pierre Nkurunziza (now late) decided to seek an unconstitutional third electoral term.
Nkurunziza eventually secured the term but died suddenly in 2020.
Evariste Ndayishimiye took office and pledged to implement reforms but critics accuse him of maintaining the iron-fisted stance of his predecessor.
In 2019, Burundi forced the UN to shut its local human rights office.
It had been operating for 23 years.
– CAJ News