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June 22, 2005


The government of Burundi has welcomed the UN Security Council's adoption of a resolution to create a mixed truth commission and a special court to prosecute war crimes and human rights violations committed during decades of civil war in the country, Justice Minister Didace Kiganahe said on Tuesday. He attended a special briefing on 15 June in New York, the UN headquarters, on the preparation of resolution 1606, which the Council adopted on Monday.

Once operational, the truth commission and the special chamber would fall under Burundi's judicial system. It would comprise three international and two Burundian commissioners, mandated to investigate killings that have taken place in the country since independence in 1962 through 2000, when Burundian parties signed the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Accord. The commission would have become operational in September but Kiganahe said he had asked for more time to allow the new government, which would be in place in September following presidential elections on 19 August, to take stock of the situation.

The commission and special court would also classify the types of crimes committed and identify those behind them. Kiganahe said those responsible for the crimes would thus be known, and if they sought forgiveness, they would be accorded a chance to defend themselves. Those found responsible would be punished. The commission's findings would help the special chamber, also composed of three international and two Burundian judges, to judge those responsible for crimes committed in 1972 and 1993. Mass killings of the majority Hutu by the minority Tutsi occurred in the country in 1972 and those of the Tutsi, by the Hutu, in 1993. The 1993 deaths followed the assassination, by Tutsi paratroopers, of the first Hutu democratically-elected president, Melchior Ndadaye. Kiganahe said the presence of international commissioners and judges would lend fairness to the conclusions of the mixed truth commission and special chamber, for both the Hutu and the Tutsi.

However, not all Burundians favoured the creation of the commission. The chairman of the Action Contre le Genocide (Action Against Genocide or AC Genocide), Venant Bamboneyeho, said neither the truth commission nor the special chamber would be helpful to Burundi. "That special chamber has not been created anywhere else, why will it work for Burundi?" he said. He added that the commission would have been suitable for the country had genocide crimes not been committed. AC Genocide has made several appeals to the UN to set up an international judicial commission of inquiry before the holding of general elections in Burundi to ensure that those implicated did not take part in the polls. Bamboneyeho said setting up such a special chamber now that a series of elections are already under way in the country was treacherous.

The Arusha peace accord signed in 2000 provided for the creation of a truth and reconciliation commission and an international judicial commission of inquiry. Kiganahe said Burundi would set up a 25-member truth and reconciliation commission as the law setting it up was promulgated in December 2004. However, a UN mission, led by the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Tuliameni Kolomoh, to Burundi in May 2004 to investigate the feasibility of an international judicial commission, recommended the merger of a truth commission and the special chamber into a single mechanism. On Tuesday, Kiganahe said the idea of a special tribunal for Burundi that the government requested in 2002 was rejected because it would be expensive and, by experience, inefficient. However, he deplored the fact that the "the reconciliation aspect has not been given its due importance" in setting up of the truth commission and special chamber for Burundi.


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