The transitional justice week was marked by the publication of a new report on Burundi by the UN Human Rights Council. This report is even more damning than the previous one with regard to this small country in the Great Lakes region facing a bloody government clampdown since the 2015 re-election of President Pierre Nkurunziza which is widely seen as unconstitutional.
In an exclusive interview with JusticeInfo, UN rapporteur Fatsah Ouguergouz explains: “Since our last statement in June, we have seen the continuation of violations which are taking place in a more secretive way than in 2015 and 2016. This situation is ongoing. There is no sign of a positive development in this domain.” The human rights crisis in Burundi has come with a political crisis. But, says the rapporteur, “there is no change on the political front and no sign of any political dialogue about to start, although the international community has called continually for this. There is no sign that the Burundian government is opening up”. And the authorities seem to think the outside world should mind its own business, since they have not allowed the UN to come to Burundi.
Do these commissions nevertheless serve a purpose, or are they useless, as stated by Swiss prosecutor Carla Del Ponte when she abruptly resigned from a similar commission on Syria? The rapporteur reminds us that commissions like his “are not judicial bodies”, but he defends the work they do. The commission on Burundi has collected more than 500 testimonies, not only from refugees in neighbouring countries but also the diaspora and even people living in Burundi, via various channels. As Ouguergouz says, these commissions “prepare the ground for possible prosecutions”.
In its report, the commission thus urges the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate the suspected crimes documented. This is possible, because although Burundi asked in 2016 to pull out of the ICC, this decision is not retroactive and the withdrawal is not yet effective.
Aung San Suu Kyi
The case of Burundi illustrates well the limits and possibilities of transitional justice.
Another illustration is the fading hope placed in international icon Aung San Suu Kyi, who is letting her country’s army conduct a fierce campaign against the Rohingya Muslim minority. In the face of horrific reports, the Nobel prizewinner and de facto leader of Myanmar seems reduced to denouncing “disinformation”. As Amnesty International euphemistically puts it, “instead of promising concrete action to protect the people in Rakhine state, Aung San Suu Kyi appears to be downplaying the horrific reports coming out of the area”.
Another setback for transitional justice this week was in Mali, where the so-called Algiers peace accord of 2015 is being breached every day. At the request of France, the UN Security Council has adopted a series of sanctions against unnamed actors who are creating obstacles to a peaceful transition. The same week, in a well-documented report, Human Rights Watch identifies one of these actors: the Malian army itself. “Since late 2016, Malian forces have committed extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, and arbitrary arrests against men accused of supporting Islamist armed group,” says HRW. According to Corinne Dufka, the group’s Sahel director, “the skewed logic of torturing, killing, and ‘disappearing’ people in the name of security only fuels Mali’s growing cycle of violence and abuse”.