Burundi

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:00 pm on 10 December 2015.

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Photo of Jeremy Lefroy Jeremy Lefroy Conservative, Stafford 5:00, 10 December 2015

I totally agree. There are still killings almost every day in Burundi. I will come to that later.

I was talking about the first 40 years after independence, which saw several ethnically based mass killings, in particular during 1972, when between 150,000 and 300,000 people were murdered, mainly by Government or Government-inspired forces, including the elimination of almost the entire Hutu elite. I shall spend a little time going through history because it is so relevant to what is happening today. Whereas April 1994 is remembered as the beginning of Rwanda’s terrible genocide, it is often forgotten that the shooting down of the presidential plane that killed the Rwandan president Habyarimana and marked the start of the genocide also brought about the death of Burundi’s president, Cyprien Ntaryamira. He was the second Burundian leader to meet a violent end within six months, as the democratically elected Melchior Ndadaye had been murdered the previous September.

Violence escalated in 1995 and 1996 and there followed several years of civil conflict. A series of peace talks took place, sponsored by the regional peace initiative in Burundi, mediated by former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere and held in Arusha, but not much progress was made. Some of the main political parties, including CNDD-FDD—the current governing party—were not involved at this point. In August 2000 a peace agreement, known as the Arusha accord, was signed by the Government, the National Assembly and a range of Hutu and Tutsi groups. This provided for the establishment of a transitional Government for three years, the creation for the first time of a genuinely mixed army, and a return to political power sharing. Neither the CNDD-FDD, nor the FNL—an armed wing of another political party—was involved in the agreement and military activity increased in 2001.

The CNDD-FDD eventually agreed to a ceasefire in December 2002, which came properly into effect in October 2003, when final agreement was reached on the terms of power sharing. The soldiers of the CNDD-FDD, led by Pierre Nkurunziza, the current President, were to be integrated into the national armed forces and given 40% of army officer posts. Negotiations in South Africa to agree a new constitution met with success in November 2004. It provided for a 60/40 power-sharing agreement and both Hutu and Tutsi Vice-Presidents. A minimum of 30% of the Government had to be women.

In 2005 elections were held under the new constitution, resulting in a decisive win for the CNDD-FDD, led by Nkurunziza. He was elected President indirectly, as the new Constitution provided, by the National Assembly and Senate. The indirect election is the source of the controversy surrounding the 2015 elections.

This still left the FNL. Rwasa, its leader, announced in March 2006 that he would enter unconditional negotiations to end hostilities and a ceasefire agreement was signed in September 2006. However, talks on points of disagreement broke down and a formal end to the conflict did not come about until 2009. We can see how long the people of Burundi have suffered under various forms of civil conflict.

The presidential election in 2010 saw Nkurunziza returned with 91.6% of the votes cast. International observers believed that the election met international standards, but they expressed concern at the worsening political climate. Between the 2010 election and 2015, low-intensity violence—if there can ever be such a thing—continued. Rwasa had fled in June 2010 and was reported to have moved into the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he was recruiting fighters. There were killings by rebels and by Government forces. In December 2011 UN Security Council resolution 2027 called on the Government to halt extrajudicial killings.

Amid all this there was real progress. The integration of the Burundian army was generally a great success. It began to take part in many peacekeeping operations, where its skills and discipline were respected. Most notably, it has played a huge role in AMISOM—the African Union Mission to Somalia—alongside the Ugandan and Sierra Leonean armies, and latterly the Kenyan army, in bringing stability to Mogadishu and other parts of Somalia. That cost the lives of more than 450 Burundian soldiers, and great credit and honour must be paid to them. Burundian press and civil society were generally free and active for some of that time. A national human rights commission was established, although the Government delayed setting up the truth and reconciliation commission and the special tribunal to prosecute crimes against humanity committed during the civil war.

With elections due in 2015, the question of President Nkurunziza’s eligibility for another term came sharply into focus. His supporters claimed that, due to an ambiguity in the constitution, his election in 2005 was by Parliament and not by the people, and therefore his election in 2010 marked the beginning of his first term, not his second. Opponents said that the Arusha agreement, on which the constitution was based, stipulated a maximum of two presidential terms, which he has completed this year.

The National Assembly narrowly defeated a proposal to revise the constitution in 2014. However, President Nkurunziza was officially announced as a candidate in April 2015 and the constitutional court validated that on 4 May. The vice-president of the court fled to Rwanda, maintaining that the decision had been made under duress and intimidation. Mass protests followed the decision and were met with very strong force by the police, which was condemned by regional and international figures. Election aid was suspended by the EU and Belgium.

On 13 May there was an attempted coup while President Nkurunziza was in Tanzania to discuss the crisis. It was led by the former head of Burundi’s army and, more recently, its intelligence service, who had been sacked earlier in the year. He specifically cited the President’s candidacy at the forthcoming election, which he blamed for instability. The coup attempt was unsuccessful.

The parliamentary elections were eventually held on 29 June and the presidential election on 21 July. Both were largely boycotted by the opposition parties and both resulted in the CNDD-FDD receiving just under 75% of the vote. According to the United Nations electoral mission, this time the elections were not free or fair. The electoral commission declared a victory for President Nkurunziza.

Since the election, as Jim Shannon has pointed out, violence has continued, with killings of unarmed civilians as well as armed opposition and Government security forces. This has sometimes been accompanied by rhetoric from political leaders that can only inflame the situation. In one speech on 29 October, a senior politician is reported to have said in respect of action against armed opposition members—this is translated from the Kirundi—

“you tell those who want to execute mission: on this issue, you have to pulverize, you have to exterminate—these people are only good for dying. I give you this order, go!”

The United Nations is rightly alarmed. In its resolution 2248, to which I have referred and which was adopted on 12 November, the Security Council expressed its

“deep concern about the ongoing escalation of insecurity and the continued rise in violence in Burundi, as well as the persisting political impasse in the country, marked by the lack of dialogue among Burundian stakeholders.”