Sunday, June 07, 2009

Burundi: Despite ceasefire violence continues

By Katie Mattern - IPS
Republished permission Inter Press Service (IPS )copyright Inter Press Service (IPS) and

Despite ongoing peace talks between Burundi's ruling party and rebel groups, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released this week says the government must do more to end partisan violence in the central African nation.

The 86-page report, entitled "Pursuit of Power: Political Violence and Repression in Burundi," documents in detail 23 killings by both government and rebel forces from January to April 2009.

One of the main rebel groups, the National Liberation Forces (FNL), even killed one of its own activists, Abraham Ngendakumana, and kidnapped and tortured another, Jean Baptiste Nsabimana, after they disagreed with the group’s decisions regarding the peace process, according to the report.

It also says that the ruling party has arrested more than 120 people associated with opposition parties, between June 2008 and April 2009, who were accused of "participating in illegal meetings, insulting the president and insulting a magistrate."

Peace talks between the ruling party, the National Council for the Defence of Democracy-Forces for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), and the only remaining rebel group, the FNL, have been making progress, as the government seeks to integrate the FNL into various government institutions.

The integration process began in 2006 after an agreement was signed between the two sides but broke down when the government rejected the FNL's demands for greater power in a new government.

A ceasefire was signed in May 2008 and has been in place ever since.

Burundi is scheduled for to hold new elections next year. A military government was elected in 2001 and re-elected in 2005. The report expressed concerns that this new election may provoke further intimidation and violence.

"The ruling party and the former FNL rebels have been all too ready to commit abuses to intimidate their political rivals and assert power," said HRW’s Africa director Georgette Gagnon. "But this is not the road either to meaningful elections or to a decent future for Burundi’s people."

The founder and president of the Movement for Solidarity and Democracy (MSD) opposition party, Alexis Sinduhije, and 37 supporters were arrested at their party’s headquarters on Nov. 3, 2008. The supporters were released a week later but Sinduhije was held until his acquittal on Mar. 12, 2009.

"Killings, arrests, and other forms of repression have meant that Burundians live in fear of the consequences of expressing their political opinions," she added. "Their rights are at risk as long as both the ruling party and former rebel group face no consequences for their actions."

Violence has persisted since the end of Burundi's 15-year civil war between the government and various rebel groups, which left more than 200,000 people dead. However, the crisis within Burundi has been overshadowed by terrible civil conflicts in neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Rwanda.

In DRC, millions of people have been killed in a conflict that still rages. Rwanda was home of one of the world’s worst genocides in 1994 when members of the Hutu majority overthrew the Tutsi-led government and murdered over 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 100 days.

The situation in Burundi both preceded and mirrored those of its neighbours. In 1993, a coup led by mostly Tutsi army officers assassinated Melchior Ndadaye, the country’s first-ever Hutu president.

Burundi has been plagued with conflicts between its Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups since it gained independence in 1961, when the Tutsi minority was put into power over the Hutu majority.

However, after the elections in 2005 placed a Hutu-led government into power, the FNL continued to fight, claiming that the government was corrupt.

A number of African organisations have been assisting the peace process in Burundi, including the newly-created Partnership for Peace in Burundi (PPB), led by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

"The major task of the PPB in this new phase is to monitor the consolidation of the peace process between now and the end of the year," said Dumisani Kumalo, a member of a South African-led mediation team, at a press conference on May 27.

However, HRW says that the efforts by the government to protect its people are not enough - even with international organisations monitoring the process, and the FNL’s promise to "disarm and demobilise and the government’s registration of the FNL as a political party", which HRW acknowledged "represent significant developments in Burundi’s path out of armed conflict."

HRW calls for the government and FNL to immediately end this violence and for international organisations to assist in this process. It also says that international diplomats could be more active in condemning the violence and the arrests of civilians for their political beliefs.

Despite the U.N. mission in Burundi’s involvement in the peace process, according to HRW, it has "failed to denounce abuses publicly".

"As Burundi moves closer to elections, firm action is needed from the government to put a stop to political violence and to end impunity, as well as to create the conditions in which the people of the country are able to freely exercise their civil and political rights by voting for the candidates of their choice," according to the report.

The report cites a number of instances of violence between the two groups, including as recently as January 2009, when grenades were thrown at the homes of two FNL members. A CNDD-FDD communal administrator was also attacked in his home.

It also lists politically motivated killings of civilians by members of different parties and arrests that are believed to be politically motivated. Nothing has been done in response to this report as of yet.
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
Putting principles before profits