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Burundi - Politics

The human rights situation in Burundi remains poor, with widespread abuses committed by all parties, particularly in the rural areas surrounding the capital. Tens of thousands of people remain internally displaced. Killing of civilians, reprisal killings, torture, rape, theft, illegal and arbitrary detention, and forced labour have been reported. Rape and gang rape against women, girls and boys is on the increase. The judicial system has little capacity to act in timely and impartial manner, and impunity is pervasive. The indigenous Twa (Pygmy) people remain marginalised economically, socially, and politically.

According to estimates, between April 2015 and May 2017 at least 1,200 persons were killed, thousands illegally detained, thousands reportedly tortured, and hundreds disappeared. The alleged acts of violence have reportedly resulted in the displacement of 413,490 persons. The crimes were committed by State agents and other groups implementing State policies, including the Burundian National Police, national intelligence service, and units of the Burundian army, operating largely through parallel chains of command, together with members of the youth wing of the ruling party, known as the "Imbonerakure".

Although there are no reliable data, it is estimated that about 85 percent of the population is Hutu, and 15 percent is Tutsi. A third group, the Twa, constitutes less than one percent. These groups are usually called "ethnic groups" although they share the same culture, history and language (a language of the Bantu family, Kirundi, almost identical to the one spoken in Rwanda), and cannot be distinguished with any accuracy, even by the Burundians themselves, through physical or other characteristics. A person belongs to the same ethnic group as his or her father. Intermarriage between Hutus and Tutsis has traditionally been common.

The Burundi genocide refers to the massive killing of Hutus by the Tutsi government of Burundi in 1972. After Burundi's independence in 1962, the Tutsi minority assumed power. In 1972, Hutus rose up in opposition to the Tutsi government. From April to August of that year, the Tutsi government responded by killing 100,000 to 200,000 Hutus. Three subsequent outbreaks of violence starting in 1984, 1990 and 1993 killed roughly equal number of people.

The transitional government split power between the two most important political parties, UPRONA and FRODEBU. Tutsi-dominated UPRONA was the only legal party from 1974 and provided all of Burundi's post-independence Presidents until 1993. FRODEBU, a largely Hutu party, won the elections of 1993.

The assassination of the president of Burundi on October 21, 1993, resulted in widespread violence involving major tribal groups. By December, an estimated 130,000 persons had become displaced within the country, and approximately 683,000 persons had fled to Rwanda, Tanzania, or Zaire. Many displaced persons fled from rural areas to villages and towns; sanitation in these areas became inadequate as a result of the rapid influx of many persons. Because the civil war disrupted government services, the national routine disease surveillance system ceased to function in November.

What distinguished the violent conflict in Burundi from so many others was the extent to which elite-led, politico-ethnic rivalry for power was entwined with mass killing and fears of group extinction.

The all-comprising ethnic confrontation in Burundi was not confined to the political or military leadership, but permeated every layer of society. This confrontation was, if anything, stronger in the camps and in the hills of the central and northern highlands, where practically every Hutu and Tutsi family had lost members to ethnic violence. Even the poorest of farmers in either ethnic group felt that their life and that of the members of their family depend on the outcome of this struggle. The Tutsis in the camps were convinced that if their ethnic group lost the monopoly of armed force, they would face extermination at the hands of their neighbors, while the Hutu farmers in the collines, on their part, were convinced that, as long as that monopoly subsists, they will continue to be in constant danger of indiscriminate reprisal, and will have no hope of effective political or economic empowerment. Almost every citizen was convinced that his own ethnic group is under attack by people who had repeatedly shown that they do not hesitate to commit mass murder.

Among the adult population of Burundi, tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of individuals from both ethnic groups had at one time or another committed homicide.

In November 1995, the presidents of Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, and Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) announced a regional initiative for a negotiated peace in Burundi facilitated by former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere. In July 1996, former Burundian President Buyoya returned to power in a bloodless coup. He declared himself president of a transitional republic, even as he suspended the National Assembly, banned opposition groups, and imposed a nationwide curfew. Widespread condemnation of the coup ensued, and regional countries imposed economic sanctions pending a return to a constitutional government. Buyoya agreed in 1996 to liberalize political parties. Nonetheless, fighting between the army and Hutu militias continued.

In June 1998, Buyoya promulgated a transitional constitution and announced a partnership between the government and the opposition-led National Assembly. After Facilitator Julius Nyerere's death in October 1999, the regional leaders appointed Nelson Mandela as Facilitator of the Arusha peace process. Under Mandela the faltering peace process was revived, leading to the signing of the Arusha Accords in August 2000 by representatives of the principal Hutu (G-7) and Tutsi (G-10) political parties, the government, and the National Assembly. However, the FDD and FNL armed factions of the CNDD and Palipehutu G-7 parties refused to accept the Arusha Accords, and the armed rebellion continued.

In 2010 the government held five separate elections: communal councils (May), presidential (June), National Assembly (July), Senate (July), and village councils (September). Following the communal elections, a coalition of 12 parties withdrew and boycotted the remaining four elections. Following the withdrawal of the opposition coalition, the CNDD-FDD’s presidential candidate, Pierre Nkurunziza, ran unopposed, and the CNDD-FDD won absolute majorities in the National Assembly and Senate.

Burundi descended into chaos in April 2015 after President Pierre Nkurunziza made his bid for what critics said was an unconstitutional third term in office, which was contrary to the two term limit in the country's constitution. He weathered a May coup attempt, with protesters taking to the streets, and bloody police crackdowns. Nkurunziza was re-elected in July under a haze of suspicion, and violence continued.

The presidential election was held on 21 July 2015. After running unopposed, incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza was declared the winner of the presidential polls, garnering according to the official results 69.41% of the votes. An ex-rebel and born-again Christian, Nkurunziza believes that he has divine backing to rule. According to Burundi's Electoral Commission, approximately 74 percent of Burundi's 3.8 million registered voters cast their vote in the election. Opposition groups rejected the polls after boycotting the vote, saying the prevailing conditions were not conducive for free, fair, transparent and inclusive elections.

Opposition groups accused the government of using state security agencies to arbitrarily arrest young men – mainly in opposition strongholds -- who participated in demonstrations against the administration. There are allegations that some of the men have been tortured and, in some cases, killed. There is video and photographic evidence of the violence in Burundi. Abduction, extrajudicial killings and other mass atrocities, which are committed by security forces in partnership with the Imbonerakure [the Kirundi word for “those that see far] militia and all are under the command of Pierre Nkurunziza.

Authorities in Burundi arrested 11 students in June 2016 for defacing a photo of President Pierre Nkurunziza. Hundreds more were suspended from two other schools on similar charges. Those students have been invited to return but many had not gone back. UNICEF spokesman Christophe Boulierac said the students, who attend three different schools, were held for questioning. “Now, we have got reliable sources, which report that other children of these schools took to the streets to protest the arrests of their classmates.And, during these protests, two children were injured by gunshots and one of these children is still receiving care.”

Representatives of five parties that participated in Burundi's general election boycotted a second round of peace talks in the northern Tanzanian city of Arusha on 12 July 2016. The five parties were unhappy over the decision of the mediator, former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, to invite Burundians accused of human rights violations and involvement in an attempted coup against Nkurunzinza in May 2015. The five parties, FNL, FROLINA, PIEBU ABANYESHAKA, RADEBU and FRODEBU are concerned by the inclusion of Pacifique Nininahazwe of FOCODE party, Armel Ningoyere from ACT party in Burundi and Minani Jean.

On 09 November 2017 three judges at the International Criminal Court [ICC] authorized the prosecutor to open an investigation into alleged human rights abuses committed inside and outside of Burundi between April 2015 and October 2017. Burundi's government said it would not cooperate with the International Criminal Court over its plan to investigate alleged human rights abuses in the country. Burundi denied access to the members of the United Nations Independent Investigation in Burundi (“UNIIB”) and had withdrawn from the ICC charter. But the court held that the pullout did not affect its jurisdiction over crimes committed earlier. The ICC Prosecutor stated that the Government of Burundi has not merely been uncooperative but actively sought to target, both in Burundi and abroad, persons who it perceives could implicate it in the crimes alleged.

Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza set 17 May 2018 as the date for a referendum on a controversial constitutional reform that could keep him in power until 2034. This came days after some ruling party members bestowed on him the title of "eternal supreme guide." The government in October 2017 drafted reforms that would enable Mr Nkurunziza to serve two seven-year mandates from 2020, but it has come under fire from the Opposition and the international community, particularly the African Union. The Opposition says the changes could sign the death warrant for the Arusha Peace Accord of 2000, which helped end a 1993-2006 civil war that claimed more than 300,000 lives.

At least 1,200 people were killed and more than 400,000 fled the country in the chaos after Nkurunziza's decision in 2015 to run for a third term. In November, International Criminal Court judges authorized an investigation into allegations of state-sponsored crimes including murder, rape and torture, announcing the decision shortly after Burundi became the first country to formally quit the court.

Burundi’s security services and ruling party youth league – the Imbonerakure – members killed, raped, abducted, beat, and intimidated suspected opponents in the months leading up to a constitutional referendum on May 17, 2018, Human Rights Watch said in a report released 18 May 2018. The country has faced a political, human rights, and humanitarian crisis since April 2015, when President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to run for a disputed third term. In some cases, simply not belonging to the ruling party, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie-Forces de défense de la démocratie, CNDD-FDD), was enough to create suspicion and provoke a response.

Burundi’s press regulator suspended broadcasts by the BBC and Voice of America and warned other radio stations, including FRANCE 24 sister station Radio France Internationale, against spreading “tendentious and misleading” information.

Opposition parties were allowed to rally for the first time since the start of the political crisis in 2015, drawing massive crowds during their “no” campaigns. But critics say this was merely to provide a veneer of inclusivity. Some 4.8 million people, or a little under half the population, have signed up to vote, according to the Independent National Electoral Commission.

If the “yes” vote wins, the constitutional referendum will allow Nkurunziza to run for two seven-year terms, and possibly stay in power until 2034. Nkurunziza is the son of a Hutu father and a Tutsi mother. A born-again Christian and former rebel leader who won some of his support with public displays of faith, he was re-elected unopposed in 2010 after the opposition boycotted the vote. Nkurunziza who believes he has a God-given right to rule and was recently declared a “visionary” by his own CNDD-FDD party.

Burundi's president Pierre Nkurunziza vowed 07 June 2018 to step down when his term ends in 2020. Many had expected him to stand for two more terms, following recent changes to the constitution. In power since 2005, Nkurunziza would have been able to rule until 2034.

President Pierre Nkurunziza died 09 June 2020 of a heart attack at age 55. A statement said the president was admitted to a hospital overnight 06 June 2020 after not feeling well. He appeared better hte next day but “to very great surprise” his health abruptly worsened, and several hours of effort failed to revive him. Nkurunziza took office 15 years ago, and his decision to run for a disputed third term in 2015 led Burundi into turmoil that left hundreds of people dead. Facing allegations of widespread abuses, his government angrily rejected scrutiny, becoming the first country to leave the International Criminal Court. His death came on the heels of elections on 20 May 2020 in which his hand-picked successor, Evariste Ndayishimiye, secured a seven-year term as president -- a result confirmed by the constitutional court.

Evariste Ndayishimiye was sworn in 18 June 2020 as Burundi's new president Thursday at the Ingoma stadium in the capital city, Gitegay, a week after the sudden death of outgoing President Pierre Nkurunziza. Ndayishimiye, who was handpicked by the ruling CNDD-FDD party to succeed Nkurunziza, will serve a seven year term, pending his reelection. Burundi's national assembly on 24 June 2020 approved the nomination of Alain-Guillaume Bunyoni, a hardliner under U.S. sanctions for his alleged role in political repression, as the country’s prime minister. Bunyoni will fill the new position of head of government created in the 2018 constitution.

The UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi doubted that promises of reform made by Burundi’s newly-elected president will result in hoped-for improvements in the country’s human rights situation. The commission has submitted its report on prevailing conditions in the country to the U.N. Human Rights Council. The three-member panel welcomed promises of political reconciliation, judicial reform and protection of the population made by President Ndayishimiye, in his inaugural address. But, the chair of the U.N. commission, Doudou Diene, said 14 July 2020 the president’s comments were full of ambiguities and contradictions.

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Page last modified: 12-08-2020 15:10:48 ZULU