Global Policy Forum

Burundi: Democracy and Peace at Risk

International Crisis Group
November 30, 2006


Since the new, democratically elected government came to power in September 2005, the first since 1993, there has been marked deterioration in Burundi's political climate. Led by the National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), the government has arrested critics, moved to muzzle the press, committed human rights abuses and tightened its control over the economy. Unless it reverses this authoritarian course, it risks triggering violent unrest and losing the gains of the peace process. The international community needs to monitor the government's performance, encouraging it to adopt a more inclusive approach and remain engaged even after UN troops depart in December 2006.

The arrest of prominent opposition politicians in July 2006, accompanied by questionable claims that a coup was being planned, has been the most disturbing development. Some of those arrested were tortured into signing confessions. But this was only one, albeit high-profile, example of the deterioration in human rights and political pluralism. Soon after its inauguration, the government launched military operations against the last remaining rebel group, the Palipehutu-FNL, in the course of which it imprisoned, tortured and even executed many suspected combatants as well as civilians accused of colluding with the rebels, often with the National Intelligence Service (SNR) behind the abuses.

The ruling party is also actively interfering in public procurement, fuelling suspicions that it is using state offices to fill its coffers. Sweeping personnel changes in lucrative state companies have caused resentment amongst businessmen, who may be tempted to respond by financing political dissidents. The European Union and the World Bank have both expressed concern at increasing government corruption, and the latter has suspended part of its budgetary aid pending an audit.

The authoritarian drift has been exacerbated by the weakness of institutions meant to provide a check on the executive. Political opposition is divided, and the CNDD-FDD controls both parliament and the courts. It has clamped down on critics in the press and civil society. Although the government has recently attempted to establish a dialogue with journalists and civil society, its prospects of reducing tensions are poor as long as several NGO leaders remain in custody on tenuous grounds.

There are few signs of violent opposition as yet. Integration of the security forces has weakened the former Tutsi military establishment, which is reluctant to act for fear of a backlash against its ethnic community. However, the government's recent actions have damaged the country's political fabric and could foster unrest in the near future. Its behaviour could also hamper implementation of the ceasefire agreement signed with the FNL rebels on 7 September 2006.

The growing authoritarianism is disturbing after such a promising beginning to the peace process. The government came to power with considerable domestic and international goodwill, which it will lose if it does not take steps to promote accountable, inclusive and democratic governance. The primary responsibility is the government's, but the international community, particularly donors and the UN's new Peacebuilding Commission, have important support roles to play in this respect.



To the Government of the Republic of Burundi:

1. Establish a commission of inquiry to investigate the alleged coup plot and the treatment of those detained in relation to it and appoint an eminent lawyer or judge acceptable to the main opposition parties to head the inquiry.

2. Revise the powers of the National Intelligence Service (SNR) so that: (a) its officers no longer have the right to arrest suspects without warrants or detain them in its facilities; and (b) it answers to the Ministry of Interior rather than to the president.

3. Tackle corruption by: (a) supporting an independent audit through the parliament of state contracts entered into during the past year; (b) renegotiating contracts that were made in violation of the law on public procurement; and (c) prosecuting corrupt officials.

4. Hold monthly meetings between the president and the main political parties to discuss grievances and promote dialogue.

5. Improve communication and dialogue with press and civil society through: (a) weekly press briefings as well as question and answer sessions; and (b) monthly meetings between the president, the press and civil society.

To the Judiciary:


6. Provide swift and transparent trials for all detainees, including alleged FNL combatants.

7. Review the cases of suspects held on pre-trial detention and release those who are not a flight risk or a threat to others.

8. Try officials suspected of torture and corruption where significant evidence exists.

To the Parliament:


9. Create a standing security and intelligence committee, which should immediately investigate allegations of torture by the security services.

10. Conduct an independent audit of state contracts entered into over the past year.

To the Media:


11. Promote self-regulation by issuing press cards through the Journalists Association and implementing an internal disciplinary system under which accreditations will be suspended and revoked if journalists repeatedly violate the Code of Professional Ethics.

To the East African Community:


12. Discuss the recent allegations of a coup plot with the Burundi government and encourage it to respect due process and human rights in treatment of the suspects.

To the Donor Community:


13. Insist that the government provide speedy, fair and public trials to the suspects detained in connection with the alleged coup plot and encourage it to release them from pre-trial detention.

14. Offer to train and provide non-lethal assistance to the National Intelligence Service and to place international advisers within this service to help curb abuse.

15. Condition further budgetary support on improvements in governance and human rights, in particular: (a) an independent audit of state contracts entered into during the past year; and (b) improvements in the behaviour of the security services. 16. Fund and otherwise support all institutions likely to provide a check on the executive and promote democratic freedoms, such as parliamentary commissions, the judiciary, independent media, and civil society organisations defending human rights and denouncing corruption.

To the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission:


17. Serve as the key forum for international engagement with the government in consolidating the peace process, including by: (a) acting as the primary forum for information sharing and coordinating programs; (b) keeping under close review human rights and economic governance matters related to Burundi and developing benchmarks for improvement on which disbursement of further aid should be conditioned; (c) building donor confidence in the process and, if the above benchmarks are met, increasing the flow of reconstruction and development assistance; and (d) ensuring that civil society, including women's groups, the private sector and the media, participate fully in developing national strategies for consolidating peace.




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