An independent United Nations human rights expert today voiced his deep concern over the diminishing freedom of expression and association in Burundi, warning that violations of these freedoms imperil the rule of law in the African Great Lakes country.
“The Government must restore a calm political climate and take all necessary measures to end the harassment and intimidation of journalists and representatives of civil society, trade unions and political parties,” said Akich Okola, the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Burundi.
In recent weeks, several journalists, political opponents and representatives of civil society and trade unions have been intimidated and harassed while exercising these basic rights, he said, calling for the immediate release of those who have been arrested.
The editor of Net Press, the vice president of the staff union for non-judicial staff serving in the judiciary and the head of the Movement for Solidarity and Democracy (MDC) are among those who have been detained for alleged threats to state security, defamation or slander of the head of State.
“Such developments pose an obstacle to the firm rooting of the rule of law, peace and security in Burundi, and in the entire region,” Mr. Okola, who has served as Independent Expert since 2004, said.
These incidents are particularly worrying, because they come ahead of elections scheduled for 2010, which must be free and fair and “must be seen to be so,” he said. “Such standards will not be met if freedom of expression and association are not observed.”
As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and other international pacts, along with its own constitution, Burundi must guarantee the freedom of expression and association, the expert said.