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Briefing the UN Human Rights Council on Burundi

A growing number of victims fleeing politically-based violence in Burundi have requested legal assistance from The Advocates for Human Rights in applying for asylum in the United States. The Advocates for Human Rights recently brought the experience of our clients and concerns about violations of civil and political rights in Burundi to the United Nations Human Rights Council.  The Advocates for Human Rights’ volunteer attorney Carrie Brasser delivered the following oral statement in March 2019 during an Interactive Dialogue with the UN Commission of Inquiry for Burundi.

The Advocates for Human Rights welcomes the oral briefing of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi.

Since April 2015, the human rights crisis in Burundi has escalated in both its extent and brutality. The ruling party’s repression of suspected opponents, civil society, and the media has involved enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, torture and rape. State actors, including members of the police force and the Imbonerakure youth league, have acted with impunity against their victims. The indiscriminate shooting of demonstrators, targeting of journalists and activists, and aggressive reprisals against witnesses are among the many abuses suffered by citizens. These conditions have caused over 250,000 to flee this state-sponsored oppression and violence.

As a provider of legal services to asylum seekers, The Advocates for Human Rights has represented victims of violence from Burundi and documented first-hand accounts of:

  • Illegal invasions and searches of homes and businesses, including firing on civilians, looting of property, and the rape of a witness
  • The arbitrary arrest of an anti-corruption activist based on false charges, culminating in her assault and rape, and
  • The targeting of supporters of constitutional election law, as well as journalists, involving arbitrary arrests followed by brutal torture for extended periods

We commend the Commission of Inquiry for making concerted efforts to engage in monitoring and fact-finding among people who have been forced to flee the country.

These and other accounts of human rights abuses support our recommendations that the Human Rights Council:

  • Continue the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Burundi and retain the situation in Burundi on its agenda under item 4
  • Request that the Security Council impose sanctions against individuals responsible for both gross systemic human rights violations as well as the obstruction of UN mechanisms to document violations and
  • Encourage effective justice mechanisms to ensure that individuals responsible for these abuses are held accountable.

Thank you.

In 2017, The Advocates also submitted a stakeholder submission for Burundi’s Universal Periodic Review, which included direct information about human rights violations from survivors who have fled Burundi to seek asylum in the United States.  Read the full submission here.

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Trafficking in Women and Girls in the Context of Global Migration

Since 2014, a growing number of women and children fleeing gender-based violence in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua have requested legal assistance from The Advocates in applying for asylum in the United States. The Advocates for Human Rights is able to help these women and children in two important ways: providing legal assistance in their asylum and trafficking cases and documenting their experiences to advocate at the United Nations for law and policy changes. 

In February 2019, Board member Peggy Grieve shared the experiences of our asylum clients with and made recommendations to the UN Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women.  Peggy delivered the following oral intervention during the Committee’s Half-day General Discussion on Trafficking in Women and Girls in the Context of Global Migration.

Dear Members of the Committee:

From The Advocates for Human Rights’ direct legal representation of Northern Triangle clients, we have determined:

(1) children, even when traveling in the company of migrating adults, are vulnerable to sex trafficking; and

(2) after arrival in the U.S., adults and children are at risk of labor trafficking.

Two examples. One client entered the U.S. as a 15-year-old girl with her father. A family friend coerced her into leaving home. They traveled to live several states away where this friend groomed her to be sex-trafficked.

A client entered the U.S. without inspection with her boyfriend. He brought her to live with his family.  Before long, he demanded that she repay him $10,000 he had paid smugglers for entry. He sexually assaulted her. She was forced into a low-paid, illegal job to cover her “debt.”

No one is going to believe you. You don’t have a voice. Here you are nobody,” she was told.

To help women and girls, victims of trafficking, survive, heal, and ultimately integrate into society and live a life free of further exploitation, a victim-centered, trauma-informed approach that provides survivors with immigration and other legal protections and adequate support services is critical.  The criminal justice approach focused on punishing traffickers, by itself, is insufficient to address the human rights of sex and labor trafficked survivors.

On behalf of our clients, the Advocates for Human Rights thanks the Committee for this important initiative.

The Advocates for Human Rights encourages the Committee to consider the experience of our women and girl clients, as well as the recommendation for a victim-centered approach to identify and respond to meet the needs of trafficked women and girls in the context of global migration.

Building the Path to Albania’s Universal Periodic Review in May 2019

I am Aferdita Prroni, the Director of Human Rights in Democracy Centre, a grassroots Albanian NGO which works for the promotion and protection of human rights in Albania.

Flags at night

On March 10–14, 2019, I worked with the dedicated team of The Advocates for Human Rights and directly engaged in lobbying and advocacy activities at the UN level regarding the Universal Periodic Review along with colleagues from Ethiopia, Cote D’Ivoire and Russia.

Albania will be reviewed on May 2019 in the 33rd Session of the Universal Periodic Review. Prior to the Geneva visit in 2018, The Advocates and HRDC prepared the Albania Stakeholder Report for the United Nations UPR called Domestic Violence Situation in Albania.

My role in UN advocacy was to lobby with Council members by advocating for the local implementation of human rights standards and law. Another aim was to encourage the Albanian government to fully respect, protect, and fulfill human rights under the umbrella of international law and agreements.

During this time, I carried out approximately 25 meetings with Human Rights Council members where I shared information about the general state of women’s rights and domestic violence in Albania. I discussed our concerns and lobbied with them about the recommendations that we suggest they make to the Albanian state in the UPR review in May.

On Wednesday, March 23, The Advocates for Human Rights along with United Oromo Voices and Alternatives Cote D’Ivoire presented for the Parallel Events at the Palais de Nations. Panelists discussed human rights abuses as well as the upcoming Universal Periodic Reviews – including domestic violence in Albania.

For me, this was a great experience and opportunity as it allowed me to directly present information to the international community about human rights with a focus on domestic violence.

The meetings with diplomatic missions were a unique opportunity to raise awareness of domestic violence in Albania on an international level. We shared the progress that the Albanian state had accomplished in complying with international commitments, but also highlighted our concerns about how the situation could be improved. We emphasized our recommendations that our organizations would like to see made at the upcoming UPR.

Working with The Advocates and other colleagues helped me gain skills on how to strategically conduct advocacy and I will use these skills back home. I think Albanian NGOs needs to strengthen their lobbying and advocacy skills on both the national and international level.

This UN Advocacy experience was indeed successful as I was able to meaningfully engage over 25 states to advocate recommendations for Albania during its upcoming UPR review in May 2019. If such recommendations are taken into account, they will undoubtedly help improve the protection of human rights and the conditions of women/girls and victims/survivors in my country.

HRDC would like to thank the dedicated team at The Advocates for Human Rights for their precious support and their lobbying efforts, which will improve the human rights situation on the ground, not only in Albania but around the globe.

Thanks The Advocates for Human Rights for this unique opportunity!

By: Aferdita Prroni, Director of Human Rights in Democracy Centre