Burundi

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:17 pm on 10 December 2015.

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Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs 5:17, 10 December 2015

I congratulate my hon. Friend Jeremy Lefroy on securing this debate, and I commend him for his outstanding and tireless work on both the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the International Development Committee.

I am grateful to other hon. Members, including my hon. and learned Friend Stephen Phillips, who asked some specific questions, and my hon. Friend Pauline Latham, who has certainly proved the point that one does not have to speak in the House of Commons to have an enormous influence. Her private lobbying, as well as the private and public lobbying of hon. Members in the Chamber, has been instrumental in my reaching the position I hold on Burundi and the actions I will take over the next month.

I first visited Burundi in 2006, and I have since followed the situation there closely. I was there with Christian Aid, along with another hon. Member. I can tell the House that, later this month, I intend to be in Burundi to discuss the situation there, but also in Uganda and Rwanda to discuss both domestic matters and the regional situation.

Before I respond to the specific points that have been raised, I will set out the Government’s position more generally. It is clear that there is a deepening political, humanitarian and security crisis in Burundi. The Burundian Government have refused to engage in substantive political dialogue. That, along with the inflammatory remarks made by senior members of the Burundian Government, has led to an increased risk of civil strife and a deepening refugee crisis, which is unacceptable. More than 200 people have been killed since April, including five people who have reportedly been killed in the past 48 hours or so, either in protests against President Nkurunziza’s third term or in targeted political assassinations. The killings continue daily, so we need a genuine and inclusive dialogue, based on respect for the Arusha accords. Such a dialogue would enable Burundian stakeholders to find a consensual solution to the crisis facing their country, preserve peace and consolidate democracy and the rule of law.

Clearly, the ongoing violence and insecurity is having an impact on the Burundian economy and the humanitarian situation. The Government have little income and livelihoods are being threatened. About 220,000 people have fled the country and are living in neighbouring Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Burundi has been blocking the flight of some refugees. The number of internally displaced people is therefore high in Burundi, although we do not have precise numbers. There is a risk of contagion. My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford is right to highlight the effect of the situation in Burundi on neighbouring countries, particularly the DRC.

The UK has played a leading role in building a single, consistent response from the international community. In January, we set up a group of international partners with interests in Burundi, which have since worked together to develop a common strategy. Collectively, we lobbied President Nkurunziza to engage with the international community and, crucially, accept the principles of the Arusha agreement. In June, I appointed a special envoy to the great lakes, Danae Dholakia. She is actively involved in delivering our messages in Burundi. I appreciate my hon. Friend’s communications with the Foreign Office, in which he has provided an insight into what is happening on the ground.