Civil society needs greater support : Preliminary report of an international mission of enquiry by the FIDH

05/01/1999
Urgent Appeal

An FIDH delegation, composed of Khémais Chammari
from Tunisia and Stéphane Hessel from France went
on a mission to Burundi from the 28th of August to
the 5th of September, 1998, to carry out an
observation of the human rights situation and the
involvement of civil society in the peace process.

Since this mission took place, the tragic incidents in
the neighbouring countries of Burundi and on its
borders with the Democratic Republic of Congo, where
again people have been calling for genocide, have
unfortunately made the two current sets of negotiation
in Burundi more difficult. At the national level, they
have been punctuated by small, but positive steps
forward over the last few months. At the regional level,
the negotiations in Arusha have reached deadlock as a
result of the procrastination by the partners of the
region.
The misery is increasing. The first observations of the
FIDH mission were related to the ongoing human rights
violations in the country, a situation which gives great
cause for concern, as well as the deterioration of the
situation in Burundi as a whole. The country’s
economy has been dealt a serious blow by the
atrocious unending conflict between the armed forces
and the opposition which has now staged a rebellion
and by the embargo imposed by the neighbouring
countries two years ago following the coming to power
of Major Buyoya. Urgent calls have been made to the
international community to obtain a lifting of the
embargo and bring substantial aid to the country to
underpin its development in trade, industry and
agriculture and to help consolidate the institutions as
state governed by the rule of law. The international
community is under an obligation to help restore the
judicial system to put an end to the impunity which is
undermining Burundese society and it must make
every effort to support initiatives aimed at restoring
security at the same time as pressing for ceasefire.
Key activists on the sidelines. The second observation
made by the mission is the involvement of a growing
number of activists in civil society in the peace
process, notably the ITEKA league, an affiliate of the
FIDH, working for the defence and promotion of human
rights, but also a large number of women’s and youth
organisations, local development organisations,
prisoners aid organisations as well as journalists’ and
jurists’ associations who in their overwhelming majority
are determined to overcome the ethnic division, to
bring a joint solution to the security problems and
prevention of genocide and work together towards the
establishment of a productive society at peace with
itself.
In this context, it is also urgent to secure that these
activists, still not sufficiently united in their
interventions and too much concentrated in the capital
of Bujumbura, can strengthen their influence accross
all regions, work in the different parts of the city, but
also in refugee and displaced camps, where the misery
is at its worst, and make joint efforts with churches
and organisations of Bashingantahe which carry an
ancestral tradition of conciliation in the mountains and
hills.
Time to overcome the reluctance. The international
community should not hesitate to support and work
together with these NGOs whose engagement in the
peace process is more necessary than ever. It is time
to overcome the reluctance to support them which has
held bilateral and multilateral donors back for a
number of years. At this price, we must avoid Burundi
once again falling prey to the upheaval in the region.

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