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The Arusha Accord on peace and reconciliation in Burundi, signed in August 2000, called for the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission (TRC) as well as an international judicial commission of inquiry. In May 2004 the UN sent a high-level mission to Burundi to assess the advisability and feasibility of establishing these commissions. Around the same time the UN Security Council set up a large peacekeeping mission in the country.
In December 2004 the Burundian Parliament passed a law establishing a TRC. Subsequently the UN mission's final report (known locally as the "Kalomoh report") was issued in March 2005. Calling for a reconsideration of the Arusha Accord formula, it proposed the establishment of twin transitional-justice mechanisms, comprising a truth commission and a special chamber to try those bearing greatest responsibility for acts of genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity. The UN Security Council endorsed the Kalomoh report and in Resolution 1606 (2005) called on the UN secretary-general to "initiate negotiations with the [Burundian] government and consultations with all Burundian parties concerned about how to implement [the report's] recommendations, and to report to the Council by 30 September 2005 on details of implementation, including costs, structures, and time frame." In the meantime the former Hutu rebel National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) won elections in mid-2005, while a splinter group of the Palipehutu movement, Forces Nationales de Liberation (FNL), stayed out of the peace process.
In August 2005 ICTJ sent a mission to Burundi to assess government and civil society stakeholders' views regarding the Kalomoh report and Security Council Resolution 1606. The mission team, including Mark Freeman, ICTJ's senior project manager, met with members of the previous and current governments, human rights and humanitarian organizations, church members, judges, prosecutors, and UN officials. The team discovered that the December 2004 truth commission law had been abandoned, and the Government of Burundi intended to establish an ad hoc commission to negotiate the Kalomoh proposals with the UN. The ad hoc commission was established in October 2005 and submitted its first memorandum for negotiations in February 2006.
During ICTJ's mission to Burundi it became clear that the situation in Burundi required expert advice and comparative information about truth commissions and hybrid tribunals. A key challenge in Burundi will be sequencing and managing the integrated relationship between these two transitional justice mechanisms.
In response to a request by the Burundian justice minister, Clotilde Niragira, in mid-November 2005, ICTJ sent another mission consisting of experts familiar with Peru, Sierra Leone, South Africa, and Timor-Leste in December 2005. They met with government officials, civil society representatives, and the UN mission in Burundi. The aim was to contribute to discussions and consultations on the truth commission and prosecution processes in Burundi by comparing experiences in other countries.
In March 2006 the first round of negotiations between Burundi's government and the UN in Bujumbura ended without agreement on amnesty for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. The two parties also failed to agree on the independence of the special tribunal's prosecutor and to reach an understanding on the interrelationship between the truth commission and the special tribunal. A year later (March 2007) an informal round of negotiations between the UN Office of Legal Affairs/OHCHR delegations and the government ended without a joint communiqué.
In 2006 two major UN developments took place in Burundi: On the one hand, at the request of the government the UN peacekeeping mission in Burundi (ONUB ) started downsizing, which it completed December 31, 2006; subsequently Security Council Resolution 1719 called for the creation of a UN Integrated Office in Burundi (BINUB) to assist the government on peace consolidation, democratic governance, disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and reform of the security sector, promotion and protection of human rights, and measures to end impunity, as well as donor and UN agency coordination.
On the other hand, the newly created UN Peacebuilding Commission placed Burundi under its purview and pledged financial assistance managed by the Peacebuilding Fund and aimed at financing projects to consolidate peace. Transitional justice debates were stagnant until UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour reached an agreement in May 2007with the government to organize popular consultations on transitional justice options involving civil society organizations. In November the UN and the government signed an agreement to this effect, expressing their resolution to consult with the public on how to address past abuses. A six-member, tripartite steering committee, consisting of government, UN and civil society representatives, is to prepare for and run the consultation process.
Since 2006 ICTJ has been providing assistance to devise a consultative, participatory, and victim-centered transitional justice process in Burundi. Working closely with civil society organizations and government representatives, ICTJ advises, builds capacity of state and non state actors, and provides technical assistance on gender, security sector reform, reparations, and sequencing between prosecution and truth-seeking mechanisms. It also develops advocacy activities aimed at international and national decision-makers, government partners to deal with past wrongs and consolidate peace in Burundi.
ICTJ has invested in building capacity of civil society representatives and selected official delegates by providing scholarships and opportunities for training in its introductory courses on the essentials of transitional justice in Brussels and through its advanced fellowships and other training workshops in Cape Town and Rabat.
In collaboration with Global Rights ICTJ conducted two workshops on building capacity of local civil society representatives in March and September 2007. In November 2007 and February 2008, ICTJ organized two workshops for state and non state actors in Bujumbura in partnership with Ligue iteka and Dushirehamwe. With the latter organization, ICTJ explored the gender dimensions of transitional justice issues in Burundi. Members of the Transitional Justice Working Group (a group of stakeholders that reflects on TJ issues) extensively participated in both activities; ICTJ is a member of the group.
ICTJ is planning to work with the OHCHR to build the capacity of the steering committee and to provide technical assistance to conduct popular consultations.
Next to other transitional justice activities in Burundi, ICTJ offered its expertise on a justice-sensitive approach to Security System Reform (SSR) to help the Government to conduct a census and identification of the "Police Nationale Burundaise/PNB" in order to provide public accountability,to end illegal policing, as well as to collect reliable data on the NPB's needs. A justice-sensitive approach to SSR would also help build public confidence and establish a favorable environment for eventual NPB reforms to prevent the recurrence of serious abuses. The Minister of Interior and Public Security of the Government of Burundi endorsed ICTJ proposal and requested ICTJ to assist in the design and implementation of a census and identification of its police (Programme de Recensement et d'Identification de la Police National Burundaise (PRIP). A team of senior NPB officers with the assistance of ICTJ SSR experts drafted a project proposal. The PRIP is expected to start on the first week of April 2008 and to take 12 months.
Since gaining independence in 1962 Burundi has experienced repressive military dictatorships and violent conflict between the country's Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups. Following a coup by Major Pierre Buyoya in 1987, tensions between the ruling Tutsis and majority Hutus exploded, leaving more than 150,000 dead and sending tens of thousands of refugees fleeing into neighboring countries.
After Buyoya adopted a new Constitution in 1991 the country elected its first Hutu president, Melchior Ndadaye, who was assassinated in 1993. In the civil war that followed tens of thousands of Burundians were killed and hundreds of thousands more were displaced by the fighting.
In 1996 Buyoya returned to power in a bloodless coup. The appointment of Nelson Mandela in 1999 as the facilitator of the Arusha peace process led the following year to the signing of the Arusha Peace Accords by many of the principal parties in the Burundian conflict. The armed rebellion in the country largely halted with the signing of the cease-fire and power-sharing agreements between the government and the CNDD-FDD rebel group in late 2003. A disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration program for former rebel combatants was established following the cease-fire.
In a February 2005 referendum Burundians approved a post-transition Constitution and paved the way for free and fair elections, which took place in mid-2005 and brought the CNDD-FDD to power. The Constitution of March 18, 2005, allows opposition parties to participate in a coalition government led by the party with a parliamentary majority, in light of ethnic divisions (60 percent Hutus and 40 percent Tutsis), and ensures a minimum of 30 percent representation for women.
The Front National de Liberation, a splinter group from the Palipehutu movement, is still operating outside the peace agreement and continues to challenge the government. It demands the integration of its troops in the army and positions of influence in the executive and the legislative branches. Two major peace deals, signed by the government and the FNL respectively in June and September 2006, pertain to a cease-fire and create joint verification mechanisms; in early 2008 they still had not been implemented. Nonetheless, peace talks mediated by South Africa have continued between the two parties.
In June 2007 the government, its partners, and the UN Peacebuilding Commission agreed on a strategic peacebuilding framework document for consolidation of peace in Burundi. It includes the following priority areas: promotion of good governance, completion and implementation of the cease-fire agreement between the government and the FNL, completion of security sector reform, equitable access to justice, promotion of human rights, the fight against impunity (including the implementation and functioning of transitional justice mechanisms), sustainable solutions to the land issue and socioeconomic recovery, and mainstreaming gender into ongoing transitional justice initiatives..
The movement of people returning from countries of refuge, mainly Tanzania, increased in 2007 and is expected to reach its climax in 2008 with the return of about 218,000 refugees.
Burundi has also experienced political unrest since the 2005 elections. The ruling party, CNDD-FDD, has gone through a crisis that suggests chronic factionalism. A major crisis within the governing coalition led to a cabinet reshuffle in November 2007. The expulsion of CNDD-FDD's first vice- president in Parliament, Alice Nzomukunda, in February 2008 triggered additional political tensions.
(Updated March 2008)
7 May 08: Burundi: Professionalizing Police
14 Jul 08: Burundi: Submission to the Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council, Third Session, Dec 1-12, 2008
Mar 08: Contribution substantielle à l'élaboration d'un cadre de fonctionnement pour le comité de pilotage tripartite des consultations populaires sur la justice transitionnelle au Burundi
02 Nov 07: Accord Cadre entre le Gouvernement de la République du Burundi et l'Organisation des Nations Unies portant création et définition du mandat du Comité de pilotage tripartite en charge des consultations Nationales sur la justice de transition au Burundi
20 Jun 05: UN Security Council Resolution 1606
11 Mar 05: Report of the UN assessment mission on the establishment of an international judicial commission of inquiry for Burundi (Kalomoh Report)
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