Human Rights (Burundi)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:00 pm on 5th May 2016.

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Photo of Jeremy Lefroy Jeremy Lefroy Conservative, Stafford 1:00 pm, 5th May 2016

I am most grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to say a few words in this debate.

We had a debate on this subject on 5 December. The reason for bringing it back is that, although there are, in one or two respects, some improvements or signs of light, things have deteriorated substantially in the most important respects.

I will, if I may, start with the positive. There is in Burundi, a country about which many of us care deeply, a huge amount of work going on behind the scenes by faith groups—again, we are talking about faith groups—and others who are really trying to bring relief to people and to calm things down. There has also been great progress in the engagement of the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development. I give huge credit to the Minister for that, as he has taken personal responsibility for the matter. However, as my hon. Friend Fiona Bruce has said, the terrible situation continues.

Let us remind ourselves of what UN Security Council resolution 2248 says. It 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”.

That was last year, but all those things continue. As my hon. Friend has said, there are alarming first-hand reports that the violence has taken on an ethnic dimension. I have come across one or two cases—they include one that is quite close to me, the details of which I cannot go into—that indicate that that is so.

The original Arusha agreement, under which settlement was reached 15 or so years ago after the terrible civil war and partial genocide in Burundi, was designed to tackle ethnic tension and to achieve balance between the communities. For some years, that balance did indeed prevail, and Burundi was held up as an example of the agreement working, but the agreement is now not being respected in so many areas. I urge the Burundian Government and President Nkurunziza to go back to those years when it was respected.

Finally, what can we do? We can support the people of Burundi, as we are doing, through the DFID and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. We can support the African Union’s peace work and the former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa who is now in charge of that work. He is a man whom I had the honour to meet several years ago, and who is absolutely committed to this matter. We can urge the acceptance of a proper peacekeeping force. Above all, we can urge the people of Burundi, especially the Government of Burundi, to pull back from the brink.