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 am most grateful to my hon. and learned Friend, who has a very close interest in these matters. I am, indeed, very concerned. The people of Burundi have suffered too much over the past 50 years.

The Security Council resolution also condemns abuses,

“including those involving extra-judicial killings, acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman and/or degrading treatment, arbitrary arrests, illegal detentions, harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders and journalists, and all violations and abuses of human rights committed in Burundi both by security forces and by militias and other illegal armed groups”.

In particular, it strongly condemns

“all public statements, coming from in or outside of the country, that appear aimed at inciting violence or hatred towards different groups in Burundian society”.

That last point is very significant, given the history of Burundi and the wider region.

I have gone into considerable detail on the history of Burundi as an independent nation, as it is vital to understand the current crisis in its context. This is not something that has happened over the past year or two. I am most grateful to the Minister and, indeed, to his officials for their close attention to this crisis. I know that he and they take it very seriously, and I will now ask a number of questions.

First, can the Minister reassure me that the Government understand how important it is to solve the crisis in Burundi? The mediation efforts led by the East African Community and the African Union through President Museveni should be given the fullest possible support. The Burundian Government, and the opposition, need to co-operate fully with that process. The UN Secretary-General suggested looking at a peacekeeping force, and I urge for that process to be continued. As I have said, the people of Burundi have suffered enough. They are not interested in power struggles between elites who think it their right to rule; they want stability and the ability to live their lives free from fear. I urge President Nkurunziza, whom I have met on two occasions, to engage fully with such mediation. I understand that the Minister is considering a visit to the country. I welcome that: it is a very long time since a British Minister was there.

Secondly, will the Minister consider establishing in due course a full diplomatic mission in Burundi, which I know would be welcomed by many Burundians? They have appreciated UK support over the years. When the International Development Committee was in Liberia last year, we saw the great benefit that a small, cost-effective and influential mission, newly established by the FCO, can bring.

Thirdly, will the Minister encourage our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development and the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend Mr Hurd, who has responsibility for Africa, to consider restoring bilateral aid to Burundi when a political settlement has been reached? It has the second lowest income per head on earth, and it is both fragile and conflict-affected, so it comes into every conceivable category that DFID treats as a priority. I appreciate that DFID works indirectly in Burundi through TradeMark East Africa and multilaterals, but that is not enough. We are often told, rightly, the respect in which DFID’s work is held and how much its involvement is appreciated. Nowhere would that be more the case than in Burundi. When we look at the map of east and central Africa, we can see that among the countries with which DFID works bilaterally are Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan. Only Burundi is missing; yet I would argue that Burundi needs assistance the most.

Fourthly, will the Minister ensure that the innocent refugees from this conflict and their host countries are properly supported through the UN institutions? It was estimated in August that 180,000 people had fled since April—75,000 to Rwanda, 89,000 to Tanzania, and the remainder to Uganda and the DRC. We should express our thanks to those host countries for taking them in. At a time when all eyes are on the Syrian refugee crisis, the world cannot forget such crises elsewhere.

Finally, will the Minister recognise that instability in Burundi, and indeed other countries, has had devastating effects on the people of the region, particularly in the DRC? Up to 6 million people are estimated to have died as a result of the conflicts, some of which had their source in this region, in the DRC during the past 20 years. With elections in the DRC due next year, it is all the more important for Burundi to be at peace.

Burundi is a beautiful county with some of the most hospitable people it has ever been my pleasure to meet. They simply want to live in peace, throw off the shackles of poverty and give their children the chance that all of us would wish to give to ours. What we need now is determination—from the East African Community, the African Union, the international community and, indeed, the United Kingdom—to ensure that the Government and opposition groups break the cycle of violence and breaches of human rights that has scarred Burundian politics and life for far too long.