Burundi: The Issues at Stake. Political Parties, Freedom of the Press and Political Prisoners
Burundi: The Issues at Stake. Political Parties, Freedom of the Press and Political Prisoners
Table des matières
  1. Executive Summary
Report / Africa 2 minutes

Burundi: The Issues at Stake. Political Parties, Freedom of the Press and Political Prisoners

After two years of negotiations, the Burundian peace process has reached a critical stage. In his capacity as Mediator, Nelson Mandela, during his latest visit to Bujumbura from 12 to 14 June renewed his support for rebel demands that President Pierre Buyoya's government should free all political prisoners regardless of their crimes and restore the rights of political parties.

Executive Summary

After two years of negotiations, the Burundian peace process has reached a critical stage. In his capacity as Mediator, Nelson Mandela, during his latest visit to Bujumbura from 12 to 14 June renewed his support for rebel demands that President Pierre Buyoya's government should free all political prisoners regardless of their crimes and restore the rights of political parties.  In March of this year Mandela also demanded that freedom of the press be restored and that all regroupment camps be dismantled. A compromise has finally been reached on this single issue: the Burundian government has promised to close all camps by 31 July 2000. On the subject of political prisoners, the government defended itself by suggesting that the situation was more complex than it seemed and denounced propaganda from the Tanzanian facilitation team and certain Hutu parties. Buyoya considers - in common with the majority of Tutsi opinion - that these prisoners are either members of armed groups or terrorists who participated in the massacres that followed the assassination of President Melchior Ndadaye in October 1993.

At a moment when the peace process is entering into its final phase, the demands that Nelson Mandela has made to the Burundian government are justified for several reasons. Firstly, Buyoya, who regained power after the July 1996 putsch, must show willingness to co-operate in order to merit a role in the transition period that will follow the peace agreement. Secondly, all the rebel groups must be brought to the negotiating table and their requests must be heard. There can be no credible negotiations as long as rebel sympathisers remain in prison accused of nothing more than representing a threat to state security. Thirdly, there can be no constructive dialogue with political parties whose activities are proscribed by the authorities. Finally, freedom of the press is fundamental to ensuring the success of the peace process. As long as the population has not been fully informed about the progress of the Arusha negotiations, the chances of signing a peace agreement remain slight.

Mandela's demands regarding prisoners, political parties and the press should probably be dealt with through negotiations rather than be a condition for their continuation. However, it is essential that the government make a significant gesture of compromise as a demonstration of its goodwill to the Burundian population: it should initiate a debate on expected changes during the transition period. These demands have been formulated to strengthen the peace process through participation of the rebels and of the people. In this debate the reluctance of the government to accept compromises is not without good reason. In particular, it warns that Mandela, by choosing to adopt the demands of the Hutu political parties and the rebels, may provoke a violent Tutsi reaction. It also believes that it is unfair to apply pressure to only one of the parties involved in the conflict. These complaints, however justified, do not diminish the government's responsibility to show good faith at this critical stage of the peace process.

Nairobi/Brussels, 12 July 2000

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