UN ‘disappointed’ by closure of office in Burundi

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United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet presents her annual report before the UN Human right council members on March 6, 2019 in Geneva. (FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)

The United Nations says it regrets the closure of its Human Rights Office in Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura last week.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet announced on Tuesday that the office was closed down at “the insistence of the Government”.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet presents her annual report before the UN Human right council members on March 6, 2019 in Geneva. (FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)

“It is with deep regret that we have had to close our office in Burundi after a 23-year presence in the country,” Bachelet said. “Since the UN Human Rights Office in Burundi was established in 1995, for many years we worked with the Government on peacebuilding, security sector reform, justice sector reform and helped build institutional and civil society capacity on a whole host of human rights issues.”

The UN Human Rights Office set up in Burundi amid massive human rights violations that followed the assassination of then President Melchior Ndadaye.

But Burundi’s government now says there is no longer need for the office’s work or presence in the country.

In October 2016, Burundi’s Government suspended all cooperation with that UN office, after a report was released implicating them in human rights violations.

“This meant that UN human rights staff were severely hampered in their ability to look into allegations of violations,” the High Commissioner said.

Bachelet said in her statement that two years after the suspension of cooperation, they were asked to close office since Burundi “had made sufficient progress in putting in place national mechanisms for the protection of human rights, so the existence of the Office was no longer justified”.

“But I am disappointed by Burundi’s lack of cooperation in recent years with UN human rights mechanisms – which even went so far as to include threats to prosecute members of the independent international Commission of Inquiry established by the UN Human Rights Council,” the High Commissioner said.

Bachelet paid tribute to the many human rights defenders and civil society actors in Burundi.

“Even as our Office in Burundi closes, we will continue to explore other ways to work to shed light on human rights concerns and support the advocacy, promotion and protection of human rights in the country,” she said.

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