Posts Tagged ‘Burundi’
Eyewitness: “I’m afraid that today a lot of people could be killed in Burundi”
Yesterday I ran the London marathon with my sister Catherine. We were doing this in memory of our older sister Charlotte, who was killed in a vicious massacre in Burundi in December 2000. As I ran I was acutely conscious that, fifteen years on, many more lives are now at risk in Burundi today.
National elections are due in the next few months, and the ruling party CNDD-FDD seems determined to suppress dissent, and prevent its rivals from contesting the election effectively. In the run-up to the elections, CNDD-FDD has been brutally attacking opposition parties, and harassing human rights activists and the independent media.
In recent weeks, thousands have fled to neighbouring Rwanda, reporting violence and threats from the ruling party’s armed youth militia, the Imbonerakure. Yesterday a number of deaths were reported at anti-government protests in Burundi’s capital Bujumbura. Today it has been reported that Burundi’s iconic human rights campaigner Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa has been arrested (following a long spell in detention last year), and arrest warrants issued for other leading activists.
The European Union – and a number of EU member states, in particular the Netherlands – are deeply implicated in the crisis now facing Burundi. The CNDD-FDD-led government is heavily bankrolled by the Netherlands and the European Commission aid programme, to the extent that the government would struggle to cling to power if this support was withdrawn.
In theory, European Commission aid money is conditional on recipient governments respecting the “Cotonou Agreement” – which commits signatories to tackling corruption, respecting human rights, and upholding the rule of law.
In practice, the European Commission has continued to fund the Burundian government despite mounting evidence of torture, extrajudicial killings, attacks on the media, and endemic corruption.
As ever, the lack of global attention on Burundi is an exacerbating factor. The country receives little media coverage at the best of times – but with so many other crises taking place right now there is a danger that Burundi will slip even lower down the international agenda.
CNDD-FDD appears to be counting on the fact that – as has happened in Burundi so many times before – it can commit acts of violence and repression without any great international outcry.
The European Commission, too, seems unlikely to change course unless it is forced to do so by the weight of public opinion.
But pressure has started to increase. Last year, Members of the European Parliament issued a strongly-worded statement denouncing the Burundian government’s abuses, and calling for “a clear and principled EU policy vis a vis Burundi that addresses the on-going serious human rights violations”. Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, condemned the EU’s “weak” stance on Burundi.
Burundians in Europe have been contacting their MEPs urging them to press the European Commission to use its influence to help end the Burundian government’s repression. If you have a moment to support this call, please write to your MEPs via www.theyworkforyou.com.
Messy, chaotic – but a breakthrough nonetheless: Ten years after his troops massacred over 160 Congolese Tutsi refugees at a UNHCR camp in Burundi, ex-FNL leader Agathon Rwasa this week received a court summons to answer questions over the attack.
This follows a long and determined campaign by survivors and relatives of the dead, which included the submission, in August last year, of a criminal complaint against Agathon Rwasa and his former spokesman, Pasteur Habimana. That in itself was a momentous achievement amid Burundi’s volatile and corrupt political landscape – where impunity is the norm and not one political leader has yet faced justice over the many massacres that took place during Burundi’s ten-year civil war. Over the past year, the Gatumba case has been stopped and restarted by the Burundian authorities, with the campaigners facing down pressure for them to drop the charges. The government’s shambolic handling of the case has continued this week, with Rwasa arriving at court to be told that the hearing had been postponed without explanation. Yet this is still the closest that the former FNL leader has yet come to facing justice over the mass-killings he has committed – and Pasteur Habimana has already appeared at the court four times.
Readers of this blog will know that I have a very personal interest in this issue – four years before the Gatumba massacre – in December 2000 – FNL troops under the command of Agathon Rwasa ambushed a bus close to the Burundian capital and killed 21 of the passengers – including my sister Charlotte and her fiancé Richard Ndereyimana. Like Gatumba, the attack was genocidal in character – Hutu passengers were released unharmed, with a message for the authorities: “We’re going to kill them all and there’s nothing you can do”.
Yet the Gatumba campaigners have shown that there is something you can do when a crime like this is committed – even in Burundi.
Agathon Rwasa’s supporters and sympathisers have sought to portray the case as a politically-motivated conspiracy by the Burundian ruling party to undermine their leader’s electoral ambitions.
This conveniently paints out of the picture the huge efforts that the Gatumba survivors have made – the pressures they have faced and the obstacles they have surmounted – in getting this case to court. It also ignores, again, the central fact of this case – the 160 living, breathing human beings – half of them children – whose lives were extinguished by Agathon Rwasa’s men on August 13th 2004. They are the reason that Rwasa is now, at last, facing some measure of justice.
Agathon Rwasa is the militia leader whose forces carried the December 28th 2000 “Titanic Express” massacre in Burundi, of which my sister Charlotte was one of 21 victims. The UN recently reported that Rwasa was remobilising his forces from bases in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in preparation for a new “holy war”. The Banyamulenge blog Journal Mibembwe gives more details:
From Journal Mibembwe:
As was reported recently in our news, the security continues to deteriorate in the high plateaux of Bijombo, district of Uvira, where most civilians from the Banyamulenge ethnic group are still victims of the ongoing conflicts in the region. These people, mostly pastoralists, have nothing to do with politics. Those who managed to escape, however, still face the same situation where their killers followed them even across the borders in the neighbouring countries like Burundi where many hundreds have been slaughtered in a refugee camp in August 2004.
Some of those who claimed responsibility in the killings, like Mr. Agathon Rwasa, still move around freely. Instead of being arrested and judged for his acts, credible sources say that this experienced killer, Agathon Rwasa, has found refuge in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Banyamulenge community feel threatened by his presence in the region.
Last time we reported a transfer of some the FARDC army commanders in the high plateaux of Bijombo, causing increased fear in the Banyamulenge community of more insecurity and threats carried out by the government troops in their villages. This is seen by many as the continuation of some politicians’ plans, like ANZULUNI BEMBE from 1993, to exterminate the Banyamulenge under the pretext that they are ‘foreigners’ or just for who they are, like what Agathon Rwasa has done in Gatumba (Burundi) in 2004.
Guest post: “the Burundian diaspora will need to pick up signs, rally, blog, write letters to editors to educate the donors’ taxpayers” – Thierry Uwamahoro
Yes, you saw right! That was a “Free Kavumbagu” sign among the thousands of other rally signs that either made you laugh or left you scratching your head as you attempted to understand what they meant or who their intended audience was.
This Saturday (10.30.10), hundreds of thousands of Americans flocked to Washington, DC to join a rally whose objective was to restore sanity in the discourse of American politics.
However, American politics are never too far from world affairs as the American people pride themselves in calling their President, the “Leader of the Free World”. As a Burundian residing near Washington, DC, I was drawn to think of a fellow Burundian – a journalist – who was not part of the “Free World” as the Rally to Restore Sanity went on.
Jean Claude Kavumbagu is an internationally-renowned journalist and human rights defender who has been unjustly arrested five times in this decade, but has never been found guilty. Today, he remains behind bars, despite promises by Burundian authorities and global calls for his release.
On July 17th, 2010, Jean Claude Kavumbagu was arrested and later jailed over an article that he published on his online journal “Net Press”. The article questioned the preparedness of the Burundian security forces, were the Somalia based militia Al-Shabab to attack Bujumbura (Burundi). The Burundian government considered the publication of such article “treason”, a charge that carries a life imprisonment sentence. Paradoxically, treason is an offense that Burundian law only recognizes when the country is at war due to external aggression. This is not the case today!
Last September, after meetings with some of Burundi’s highest officials, Omar Faruk Osman (President of the Federation of African Journalists) and his delegation left Bujumbura (Burundi) on a highly promising and optimistic note summed up in these words: “We agreed with the leadership of the country the urgency to resolve the case of Kavumbagu and our message was clear that was no longer a mere Burundian affair but an African and international press freedom case”.
Jean Claude Kavumbagu’s freedom has become a national, regional, continental and global issue. The Union of Burundian Journalists and the entire Burundian civil society, the East African Journalists Association, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, the Federation of African Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, FrontLine, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the International Federation of Journalists, Human Rights Watch; to name just a few – have all called for the release of Jean Claude Kavumbagu.
But all these calls have fallen on deaf ears. Mr. Kavumbagu has –this week – passed the 100 day mark behind bars in the notorious “Mpimba” prison, despite his constitutional rights to freedom of opinion and expression. The call for Kavumbagu’s freedom must not fade. This is no time to despair and quit.
But why carry the call to Washington, DC? This week, according to the journal Arc-en-Ciel, Washington hosted a high level delegation comprised of Burundian security apparatus heavyweights: the Director of military cabinet in the office of the President (Major General Evariste Ndayishimiye), the Minister of Internal Security (General Alain Guillaume Bunyoni) and the army chief of staff (Major General Godefroid Niyombare) alongside the top civilian advisor to the President. The delegation’s goal, according to trusted sources, was to promote greater cooperation between Bujumbura and Washington, and to secure funding for capacity building projects for Burundian securities forces.
If Washington and the American taxpayers are to fund these forces (the same forces that are carrying out the arrests of journalists), one can safely assume that Washington will have a greater voice in demanding that these security institutions improve their human rights record; or, at least, that should Washington voice any concern, Bujumbura would listen.
Ideally, a few months after celebrating our 48th independence anniversary, Burundians should not be expecting foreign powers’ coercion to be the safeguard to our freedoms. However, we have to be realistic. When a given government’s budget is financed at the tune of 70% by the international community, the perverse outcome is accountability to its donors (instead of its citizens). It is unfortunate! In the meantime, the Burundian diaspora will need to pick up signs, rally, blog, write letters to editors wherever they reside to educate the donors’ taxpayers. This Saturday, a few Americans learned of Burundi and of another name that they weren’t able to pronounce: Kavumbagu.
Alexis Sinduhije: “The international community, obsessed with stability… chose a rigged election managed by a police state rather than a vibrant democracy where the opinions of all are respected”
From Alexis Sinduhije in The East African:
John, 35, the youth leader of UPD, the Union for Peace and Development, was arrested by Burundi intelligence in early June and accused of being a security threat to the state.
He was taken to their secret offices where he was tortured, his right ear cut off and his penis and testicles shoved into a gourd.
He was later moved to the central prison but the damage has been done; he is now infertile.//
Many members of different opposition parities have been arrested, tortured and threatened throughout the country.
The official count according to human-rights organisations is 200 but that is only those we know of; many more incidents are happening in military posts and police stations across the country.
Those that have been arrested, threatened and tortured are the lucky ones – others have been killed in broad daylight, in their homes.
On June28, Ladislas Ntiharirizwa and his wife Christine were at home in Muramvya province relaxing after their evening meal when grenades were thrown into their house and they were both killed, leaving behind a small baby of 3 months and a child of 3 years.
Their crime was to be members of MSD, the Movement for Solidarity and Democracy.
The same night, in the same town, a grenade was thrown into the house of a Frodebu leader killing his 7-year-old son and leaving him gravely injured.
Later, in the far east of the country, in the small town of Gisuru bordering Tanzania, the Imbonerakure (the youth militia of the ruling party CNDD-FDD) with the support of the police, attacked several families, members of the FNL party, in their homes with clubs, pangas and jembes.
The result was the death of four and the hospitalisation of five others, most of whom are still in hospital.//
Many young members of the opposition have fled their homes and jobs across the country. Their future is uncertain.
They thought they were growing up in a period of democracy in Burundi, after the years and years of war that their parents and grandparents suffered through.
However, they have learned that today, in Burundi, being a member of a political party that is not the one that is in power is a crime and your life will be destroyed.
They have learned that freedom of expression and opinion is a right held only by the party in power.
The opposition does not have much room to manoeuvre in.
The one choice open to them that they should not even consider is to cease to function.
The opposition in Burundi cannot afford to disappear or become puppets of the regime.
Although the political space is growing smaller and smaller as Burundi falls under the influence of the Kagame regime next door, political diversity is a must in this country that knows too well the impact of decades of military dictatorship.
The second choice is to flee the country and operate from exile as has happened across Africa under oppressive regimes.
Already this option is being witnessed as three leaders of opposition parties have fled the county fearing for their lives and many members of opposition parties have gone into hiding within the country.//
This is hardly surprising given the large number of arrests and assassinations that have already taken place.
The third option is to return to the violence and permanent civil unrest that the country has known since Independence.
This is not a choice that the opposition, or any citizen would welcome.
However – given the fact that all attempts at dialogue requested by the opposition have been refused and that the international community has sat quiet while electoral fraud, abuse of human rights and violence has taken place this option – sadly may yet become a reality.
The international community, obsessed with stability has turned a blind eye to all these manoeuvrings and abuses of human rights and of freedom of expression; they chose a rigged election managed by a police state rather than a vibrant democracy where the opinions of all are respected.
In June the opposition leaders called for support from the East African Community.
They naively thought that the leaders in the neighbouring paper democracies would insist on transparent electoral processes.
They had hoped that the region’s leaders would call upon the party in power to stop arresting, torturing and assassinating the political opposition.//
But they forgot that the East African Community was an old boys’ club and no one was going to rock the boat in this period of multiple elections across the region.
They forgot that leaders across the region have the same attitude to democratic elections; that across the region elections are rigged and the results of the elections known before the populace even goes to the polls. The EAC has chosen to support the perpetrators of abuse and not the victims.
We realise that if democracy is to be saved, it is for us to do it.
Political opposition and civil society need to stay strong and courageous in Burundi. We cannot return to the dictatorships that have oppressed our country for decades. We, the political opposition of Burundi, need to be an example to the region. We need to show how political pluralism can build a country, not destroy it.
What is the value of the East African Community if its members hide their heads in the sand and support oppressive regimes that do not respect basic human rights?
If we are serious about democracy in Africa we need to stop this Mickey Mouse game.
We have power holders who create fake opposition parties merely to show that there is “competition” – while there is no real diversity of opinion.
The naiveté of the foreign ministers in the region was is revealed in statements such as the one Kenya’s Moses Wetangula made in June when he said, “The EAC will insist on the democratisation of all member states to avoid a situation that could lead to disharmony and to ensure that they contribute positively to the wellbeing of the region.”
What form of democracy is he talking about?
Is it a democracy where parties that speak out against the regimes in power are destroyed, their members arrested, killed and tortured?
We need to hold our leaders accountable so that all can have their basic needs met and their rights respected.
As Achille Mbembe, the Cameroonian political scientist says: “If Africans want democracy, they must be willing to pay the price. No one will pay it for them. Nor will they obtain it on credit.”
Alexis Sinduhije is president of the Movement for Solidarity and Democracy.
Burundi’s brutal government has been heavily bankrolled by the European Union for years, with donors falling over themselves to applaud their “African success story”. Complaints by Burundians of corruption and authoritarian behaviour by the ruling elite have been largely ignored. Now we’re seeing the results…
I spoke to a Burundian friend earlier this evening who is deeply concerned about rising tensions in his home country ahead of elections scheduled for June. A video on the “Burundi Transparence” website purports to show the ruling CNDD-FDD party’s youth militia acting out a show of strength in scenes worryingly reminiscent of pre-genocide Rwanda in 1994.
Human Rights Watch put out a detailed report on the militias mid-way through last year:
Beginning in December 2008, residents of Busoni commune, Kirundo province and Kayogoro commune, Makamba province reported “militia-like” activities by former FDD combatants and members of the CNDD-FDD youth league, known as “Imbonerakure.” The youth, with the acquiescence of local administrative, police, and party officials, carried out harassment and arrests of political opponents…
In Busoni commune, Kirundo province, the CNDD-FDD youth league engaged in “night-time sports,” which involved parading with large sticks in military fashion. According to media reports, these youth also chanted threatening slogans about “crushing their opponents.” Jean Minani, a prominent parliamentarian from Busoni and founder of “Frodebu-Nyakuri,” a splinter group of FRODEBU that generally aligns with CNDD-FDD, told Human Rights Watch he had observed the activities. He confirmed that the youth were armed with sticks and clubs, and chanted slogans in Kirundi which roughly translated as “Those who are not with us will be sent into exile or die.”
The International Crisis Group warned today that:
The CNDD-FDD youth wing’s physical training, war songs and quasi-military organisation raise the spectre of militia violence and a large-scale intimidation campaign. The other former rebels, the Forces nationales de libération (FNL) and the Front pour la démocratie au Burundi (FRODEBU) are mobilising their own youth wings to oppose intimidation tactics. The police have remained passive or become accomplices to the ruling party’s abuses.
The ICG recommends that the international donor community:
Warn Burundian political leaders that those responsible for atrocity or other grave political crimes will be prosecuted – by the International Criminal Court or a special tribunal if necessary – and that targeted sanctions will be imposed on those resorting to massive fraud or violence to win the elections.
On the face of it this might sound reasonable enough, but to someone who’s been following the situation in Burundi for nearly a decade now, there’s an eerie sense of déja vu.
Here’s a report from 2005 on the violence that preceded the elections last time around:
[Nureldine] Satti demanded an investigation into mortar attacks that wounded five in the suburbs of the capital Bujumbura on Tuesday night, and recent reports of summary executions in Bujumbura Rural province… “We want to know the truth. The UN and the international community will not tolerate war crimes anymore. Any individual, any group responsible for war crimes will be held accountable for its acts,” he told a press conference.
“The people who committed this terrible crime must be out of their heads. They are really terrorists,” Mrs [Agnes] Van Ardenne told reporters after visiting the refugee camp at the weekend. She said the suspects should be tried by the International Criminal Court. The FNL has indicated it will face its responsibility and appear before the court in The Hague. There will be no mercy for the perpetrators of the massacre, Mrs Van Ardenne said.
And here’s a UN security council statement from 1996:
The Council shares the Secretary-General’s deep concern at the situation in Burundi, which has been characterized by daily killings, massacres, torture and arbitrary detention. It condemns in the strongest terms those responsible for such actions, which must cease immediately… It reiterates that all who commit or authorize the commission of serious violations of international humanitarian law are individually responsible for such violations and should be held accountable.
Not one of these declarations has been honoured. Efforts to refer the Gatumba massacre to the International Criminal Court quickly stalled amid a lack of political will – and silence from the International Crisis Group. The UN’s longstanding promise of a “special chamber” for Burundi remains little more than a twinkle in Ban Ki Moon’s eye, having got lost in endless negotiations with the same Burundian government officials who would likely become defendants were it ever to get off the ground.
Threatening to prosecute people – as distinct from actually putting war criminals on trial – certainly has the advantage of being free and not particularly timeconsuming. But if the International Crisis Group is really in the business of trying to stop Burundi’s political elite from organising yet more mass-killings, it’s difficult to see how, on past form, getting donors to issue yet more empty threats is likely to make any difference at all to the situation.