The United Nations human rights office today reiterated its call on Burundian authorities to revise a new press law to ensure that it conforms with international human rights standards and protects freedom of expression, a request that was originally made by the UN in April without success.
“We are particularly concerned that the new legislation defines far too broadly both the circumstances under which journalists can be obliged to reveal their sources and the grounds for restricting freedom of expression,” the spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Rupert Colville, told journalists in Geneva. He added that the current law does not conform with article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Among its provisions, the article states that “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.” Mr. Colville said that his office was also “concerned” that under the new law, journalists are required to have certain qualifications such as a diploma, professional experience and a press card to exercise their profession.
“Those requirements do not comply with international standards,” he stressed. Journalists who break the new rule could face fines that have been increased by up to 2,000 per cent, an amount which “could threaten the survival of some media institutions” in the country, Mr. Colville said. Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza approved the new law on 4 June, leading Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to express “regret” about its potential negative impact on the freedom of the press.
In statement issued by his spokesperson that day, Mr. Ban emphasized that the right to freedom of expression and pluralistic and free media are essential components of a healthy democracy.