Human rights defender Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa visits Canada, expresses heartfelt thanks to Amnesty supporters
Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa, an inspirational human rights defender from Burundi, visited Amnesty International’s Ottawa office on October 6.
During his visit, Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa spoke through an interpreter about his work and the current crisis in Burundi, which escalated in 2015 after the authorities cracked down on protestors opposing the president’s decision to stand for a third term. 400,000 people have fled Burundi, taking refuge in neighbouring countries such as Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Pierre-Claver has personally suffered during the crisis and has survived horrific violence. He was a prisoner of conscience in 2014, and in August 2015 he was shot in the face and neck. In 2015, both his son and son-in-law were murdered within a few weeks of each other. Pierre-Claver is now living in exile in Belgium where he is continuing his crucial human rights work. He expressed heartfelt gratitude to Amnesty supporters for speaking out in defence of Burundians’ human rights.
“There are mass graves in Burundi,” Pierre-Claver said. “Women have been raped and murdered by government forces. We have identified cases of enforced disappearances. Civil society has almost ceased to exist. There are thousands of political prisoners, and hundreds of journalists are in exile. My own NGO has been eliminated. Violent crimes against humanity are being perpetrated and if there is no action from the international community, we could be facing genocide in Burundi.”
Pierre-Claver was in Ottawa to raise the profile of the crisis and to press Canada’s government and parliamentarians to take measures to help bring the crisis to an end. He is asking for Canada to support the human rights of Burundians by supporting civil society and the media.
Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa has been a leading human rights activist for more than 20 years. After being frequently tortured in prison between 1994 and 1996, Pierre-Claver was motivated to establish an NGO that campaigns to protect the human rights of prisoners in Burundi—the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Incarcerated Persons (APRODH).
In 2005, an Amnesty International research mission to Burundi included Alex Neve, Amnesty Canada’s secretary general. For two weeks, Pierre-Claver worked in the field with Alex and the rest of the Amnesty team. Pierre-Claver described this time as a real learning opportunity. “I was able to build my organization quickly because of what I learned from Amnesty,” he said.
During Pierre-Claver’s imprisonment in 2014, Amnesty International supporters campaigned for his release. “One thing I won’t forget is all the letters I received, including letters from children,” he said “I’ve kept all those letters. I’ve collected them in albums.”
Speaking about his ongoing human rights work, Pierre-Claver said, “As a human rights defender, it’s my duty to raise awareness among the international community. Within Burundi, we are encouraging a peaceful process of conflict resolution. We want Burundians to sit down together and negotiate peacefully.”
“I encourage victims of human rights abuses to pursue justice instead of violence. Without justice, violence repeats itself. We need to break the cycle of violence.”
[A special note of thanks to Sandra Barancira for her excellent interpretation from French into English. Sandra is the vice-president of L’Alliance des Burundais du Canada.]