Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Fields of Bitterness (II): Restitution and Reconciliation in Burundi

Source: International Crisis Group

To avoid a revival of past ethnic tensions between Hutu and Tutsi, Burundi needs to find the right balance between land restitution and national reconciliation.

In its latest report, Fields of Bitterness (II): Restitution and Reconciliation in Burundi, the second in a two-part series, the International Crisis Group examines land restitution following the repatriation of hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced persons and the hazard it poses to reconciliation. As provided for in the 2000 Arusha peace agreement, a restitution policy has been implemented, but financial compensation for those who cannot recover their properties lost during the civil war is still lacking. Instead of balancing restitution and reconciliation, the National Land Commission (CNTB) has privileged repatriated citizens to the detriment of current land owners, many of whom were not complicit in land thefts during the war. Given the upcoming general elections in 2015 and the return of thousands of refugees from Tanzania, defusing the land time-bomb is more urgent than ever.

The report’s major findings and recommendations are:
  • The government’s decision to revise the CNTB’s mandate without any meaningful consultation and to establish a special court with the possibility to reconsider previous judicial decisions is creating fear, especially within the Tutsi community, that land will summarily be reassigned and risks making security of tenure more uncertain.
  • The government should reconsider its reform of the CNTB’s mandate based on public parliamentary hearings to ensure broader debate and greater buy-in from the population. In addition, the principles that inform the decisions of the CNTB and the courts need to be harmonised.
  • Where possible, the CNTB should return to the practice of sharing out properties between current land owners and returnees.
  • The absence of compensation for those who cannot recover their property is highly problematic. The government should, with the support of its international partners, elaborate a land compensation policy that is based on available land resources and needs for economic development.
“Fast-tracking restitution seems legitimate but politicisation of this issue is dangerous”, says Thierry Vircoulon, Central Africa Project Director. “The new policy may create a lose-lose situation by reviving ethnic resentment without securing the returnees’ property rights”.

“Reconciliation cannot be achieved either by denying justice to those who were deprived during the civil war or by a new wave of dispossession. The solution is to redress the inequities of the past while offering a decent option to the current land owners who were not complicit in land thefts during the war”, says Comfort Ero, Crisis Group’s Africa Program Director. “The challenge is to demonstrate to the people of Burundi that the authorities embody the public interest and not specific, community-based interests as in the past”.

 See Fields of Bitterness (I): Land Reform in Burundi