[JURIST] An official for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) [official website] on Tuesday stated [press release] that human rights activists in Burundi have been the subjects of threats and defamation for their current role within the state. According to Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Michel Forst, they are treated as political opponents by the state and subject to physical threats, anonymous phone calls, arbitrary arrests, assaults and judicial harassment. Burundi’s constitution [text] guarantees freedom of press, freedom of assembly and liberty of association. However, according to Burundi law, whenever activists use the freedom of press to question state actions, they are required to reveal their sources and many times are accused of being oppositional actors. Forst stated that most times only protests in favor of state action are authorized, and Burundi’s parliament is considering laws that would hamper the right of freedom of association. Forst stressed:
A free, independent, and occasionally impertinent press, able to expose abuses of power and corruption, is essential to preserve civil liberties and to promote transparency and foster broad participation in public life.
Forst will present his conclusions to the UNHCR in a formal report.
This is not the first time Burundi has been criticized for limiting freedoms and violating other basic human rights. Last June Burundi lawmakers passed [JURIST report] a media law that restricts journalistic freedom by limiting topics that can be reported on and reducing the protection afforded to sources. The bill prohibits stories that could affect Burundi’s “national unity; public order and security; morality and good conduct; honor and human dignity; national sovereignty; the privacy of individuals; the presumption of innocence” or issues involving “propaganda of the enemy of the Burudian nation in times of peace as of war” and “information that could affect the credit of the state and the national economy.” In July 2010 Transparency International [advocacy website] named [JURIST report] Burundi the most corrupt East-African nation with a corruption index of 36.7 percent. In August 2009 Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] urged [JURIST report] Burundi to punish human rights violators from their country’s 16-year armed conflict.