Burundi: UPRONA leaves the government, Democracy in danger

Press release
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FIDH and ITEKA are concerned about the dangerous political and security climate in Burundi and the increased restrictions placed on the democratic space in the country.

One year away from general elections, in order to ensure the maintenance of a transparent, credible and secure process, our organizations call on the Burundian authorities to fulfill their obligation to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.

"The political and institutional crisis in our country is partly a result of the hardening positions of the Burundian political parties. As we approach the general elections of 2015, the increased tensions between the various political groups, in addition to increasingly important security challenges and increased restrictions on fundamental freedoms, are not likely to create the conditions for a credible and secure electoral process. The politicians in power must choose the path of conciliation and transparent and inclusive dialogue to prevent our country from plunging back into the darkness of our past," said Joseph Ndayizeye, President of ITEKA.

Political tensions over the last several months in Burundi took a major turn with the recent resignation of the three government ministers from the UPRONA party. These resignations were in protest against the dismissal of Mr. Charles Nditije, president of UPRONA, by the Minister of the Interior, and the removal of the First Vice- President, Mr. Bernard Busoka (who is also a member of UPRONA), by the President of the Republic. As one of only two opposition parties to not have boycotted the 2010 general election, UPRONA had four representatives in the government (three ministers and a first Vice-President) and is today the second best represented party in the National Assembly. Rifts appeared between UPRONA and the ruling CNDD –FDD party, particularly when it came to debates on issues related to constitutional reform or the revision of the law on the National Commission for Lands and other Goods (CNTB).

These tensions grew in a context of stalled dialogue between the party in power and other political opposition parties. Despite most of the opposition leaders returning from exile and the adoption of a "roadmap to hold inclusive, free, fair and transparent elections in 2015," political tensions remain. The absence of a concrete consultation process on the reform of the Constitution—which some fear is only intended to allow Pierre Nkurunziza to seek a third presidential term—is likely to jeopardize the implementation of the provisions of the roadmap.

Similarly, concerns remain about the deteriorating security environment, in particular regarding acts of violence committed with total impunity by the young Imbonerakure, who are close to the presidential party. Their acts of violence, which have taken place in several provinces and are sometimes perpetrated with the complicity of state security forces, mostly target people perceived as being close to the opposition. These attacks have taken various forms: physical assaults, acts of intimidation, illegal collection of taxes, and disruption of political meetings. The violent clashes that occurred on 6 October 2013 between the young Imbonerakure and youth supporters of the MSD opposition party illustrate these tensions.

This alarming political and security climate is accompanied by a further reduction of the democratic space in Burundi. On 4 June 2013, a new law restricting the freedom of journalists by limiting the subjects they are allowed to cover and the protection granted to their sources is a recent example of the crackdown by the authorities. Similarly, the draft Law on Associations is a source of concern because as it stands it allocates significant powers to the Minister of the Interior. These include more stringent measures for obtaining official status and making it possible for the authorities to disband associations. In addition, the 28 January 2014 removal of the President of the Bar Association of Bujumbura, Mr. Isidore Rufyikiri, due to his stance against the draft constitutional reform and against the lack of independence of judges and magistrates, confirms the trend that Burundian authorities want to muzzle all dissenting voices.

According to Dismas Kitenge, Vice President of FIDH, "the Burundian authorities seem determined to silence any form of oppostion, and in a pre-electoral context, this gives rise to serious concerns. It is important to put Burundi back on the path towards rule of law. This requires an appropriate response to rapidly address the climate of distrust, insecurity and restrictions currently facing this country."

FIDH and ITEKA remind the Burundian authorities that under the provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, they are obliged to ensure full rights and fundamental freedoms, to fight against acts of violence, and to ensure that perpetrators of violence are prosecuted before competent courts, while ensuring the independence and impartiality of the justice system.

As the Security Council of the United Nations (UN) is scheduled to soon decide on the renewal of the mandate of the UN Office in Burundi (BNUB), FIDH and ITEKA call on the members of the UN Security Council to ensure the continuation of a strong UN presence in Burundi. Our organizations also call on the Burundian authorities to agree to the request by the UN Secretary-General for a renewal of BNUB’s mandate, as it is clear that ahead of a contentious electoral process, the presence of BNUB will help to ease tensions and prevent the risk of violence.

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