International pressure mounting to release Pierre Claver Mbonimpa

Since the arrest of Pierre Claver Mbonimpa in May 2014 several international institutions have called for his release. President Obama said that he stands in solidarity with Pierre Claver Mbonimpa.-By Jojanneke Spoor

French MEP Louis Michel during the Plenary Session of the European Parliament on September 18th, discussing the resolution on the situation in Burundi ©Iwacu

French MEP Louis Michel during the Plenary Session of the European Parliament on September 18th, discussing the resolution on the situation in Burundi ©Iwacu

In a resolution published on September 18, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs ) demand the “immediate unconditional release» of Pierre Claver Mbonimpa and all other political and human rights activists. The European Parliament (EP) furthermore expresses “concern about his deteriorating state of health and demands that he be given urgent medical assistance”.

Pierre Claver Mbonimpa is the head of the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons (Association pour la Protection des Droits Humains et des Personnes Détenues, APRODH) and a prominent human rights activist. He was arrested on May 15, on the ground of “spreading information that could endanger state security”. His arrest followed after speaking on Radio Publique Africaine about claims that the youth wing of the ruling party CNDD-FDD, the Imbonerakure, were being armed and received military training in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The president of the CNDD-FDD Pascal Nyabenda accuses the European Parliamentof meddling into Burundi’s internal justice affairs. He reminds the MEP’s of the trias politica, the separation of legislative, executive and judiciary powers and invites them to come to Burundi to reach their own conclusions.
Obama: “He should be free”
The resolution from the European Parliament is yet another example of international pressure urging the government to release Mbonimpa. President Obama recently mentioned several civil society leaders that are presently detained, including Pierre Claver Mbonimpa. “They deserve to be free. They ought to be released”, he stated while speaking at Clinton Global Initiative, earlier this week.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have lobbied for his release from the beginning. Burundian activists have labeled each Friday ‘Green Friday’ (Vendredi Vert), when sympathizers wear green in solidarity with Pierre Claver Mbonimpa. The green represents the color of the country’s prison uniforms, which conversely Mbonimpa isn’t wearing anymore since he was admitted to hospital late August.On September 15, the court nevertheless rejected his lawyers’ requests for provisional release on the grounds of old age and poor health.
The European Parliament feels that the arrest and continued detention of Pierre Mbonimpa is “representative of the mounting risks facing human rights defenders, activists and journalists and the arbitrary arrest of opposition party members, which according to human rights groups and the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights have largely been carried out by the Imbonerakure”.

The MEP’s therefore urge the Burundian Government to take measures to control the Imbonerakure and ensure that those responsible for abuses are brought to justice. The resolution also appeals to the EU High Representative and the 28 EU Member States to ensure that the EU policy in relation to Burundi addressesthe ongoing human rights violations; stating that the respect for freedom of expression, including for journalists and human rights defenders, is a precondition for free and fair elections in 2015.
The EU has recently allocated EUR 432 million to Burundi, to assist with improving governance and civil society.