The UN Committee against Torture has voiced grave concern about reported reprisals against four Burundian lawyers who provided information to it for a special review of Burundi.
The Committee has sent a letter to the Burundian ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, seeking urgent reassurances that no member of Burundian civil society would be subject to reprisals for cooperating with the Committee.
The four lawyers – Armel Niyongere, Lambert Nigarura, Dieudonné Bashirahishize and Vital Nshimirimana – contributed to an alternative report by a coalition of Burundian NGOs for the Committee’s review, and three were present at the review in Geneva on 28 and 29 July.
On 29 July, a Burundian prosecutor asked the President of the Bujumbura Bar Council to strike the lawyers off, alleging that they had committed several offences, including involvement in an insurrectionist movement and an attempted coup.
The Committee’s letter, signed by Chair Jens Modvig and Rapporteur on Reprisals Alessio Bruni, notes that the prosecutor requested sanctions against the lawyers, rather than an inquiry to establish the facts, “which raises concerns with respect to presumption of innocence”.
“This concern is all the stronger given that the (prosecutor’s) request came on the same day that the Burundian delegation, presided over by the Minister of Justice, indicated they would not be participating in the second session of dialogue with the Committee, citing the alternative report by Burundian civil society in particular as the reason,” the letter states.
Mr. Modvig and Mr. Bruni also point out that the Committee raised the issue of reprisals after the last regular review of Burundi in 2014. They remind the Government of Burundi that reprisals contravene Article 13 of the Convention against Torture, to which the country has been a party since 1993. Article 13 states that complainants and witnesses should be protected against all ill-treatment or intimidation as a consequence of making a complaint or giving evidence.
Given the gravity of the cases detailed in their letter, Mr. Modvig and Mr. Bruni have asked for a reply from the Burundian authorities by 11 August and stress that they remain available for any meeting with the Burundian ambassador before then.
The Committee is due to publish its findings on Burundi on 12 August.