UN Security Council Visit to Burundi: Address strongly-worded messages on secure and credible elections

Press release
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A UN Security Council delegation is scheduled to visit Burundi on 13 March 2015. FIDH and the ITEKA League call upon the Council to take the opportunity this visit affords to urge the Burundian authorities to pledge to run secure and credible general elections. In particular, the authorities should secure a truly inclusive electoral process whereby opposition candidates are enabled to compete freely, and they must effectively clamp down on politically motivated acts of violence. For our organisation, while the debate on whether President Pierre Nkurunziza is entitled to stand for a third term must be tested legally, it must also lead to the current authorities fully guaranteeing democratic principles and avoiding any authoritarian abuse.

FIDH and the ITEKA League, from 11 to 18 February 2015, held a fact-finding mission on the pre-electoral situation in Burundi during which they gathered a number of testimonies including those of victims of politically motivated violence and those of witnesses of armed confrontation in Cibitoke province. In their forthcoming report, FIDH and the ITEKA League express concern that flare ups may occur in the current highly insecure and tense political situation.

According to Dismas Kitenge, FIDH Vice-President, who headed the mission: Two months away from general elections, there are real reasons for concern. Political dialogue is currently hindered by the issue of candidacies for the presidency, the justice system is still being instrumentalized by those in power, civil society is targeted by the authorities, and security remains precarious. Those are all ingredients for a potentially explosive situation of which the Security Council needs to be fully apprised”.

According to Anschaire Nikoyagize, President of the ITEKA League, We are particularly worried about the turn the current electoral process may take. The timely visit of the Security Council affords an opportunity to firmly remind the Burundian authorities that it behoves them to take the proper steps to ensure a secure and credible electoral process and to make it clear that no escalation of political violence will be tolerated.

The general elections in Burundi are scheduled to start on 26 May 2015 and end on 24 August. Much more than in 2010, tension and mistrust between the political parties are rife and heightened by several factors. Firstly, the issue of whether Pierre Nkurunziza is entitled to run for a third presidential term overshadows the public debate and, given the strong opposition from a number of political players, it has now reached a pitch where it is likely to whip up more tension. Secondly, the possibility that several opposition candidates may be refused permission to run for the presidency, either because they belong to political groups that are no longer recognized by the current incumbents (Agathon Rwasa – FNL “not recognized”, Charles Nditije – UPRONA “not recognized”), or because they are subject to legal proceedings (Alexis Sinduhije – President of MSD), is also a source of considerable strife.

An UPRONA activist closely associated with Charles Nditije informed our organisations that: Since 2014, when the Ministry of the Interior wrote a letter to Mrs Concilie Nibigira telling her that it recognized her as president of the UPRONA party, our meetings have been systematically banned. We have attempted to hold forty or so meetings that have been banned and no reason given. And when we decide to go ahead nonetheless, the police come and disrupt our proceedings. They come armed with truncheons and use strong-arm tactics to expel us. Sometimes in Rumonge and Matana, young Imbonerakure threaten our activists”.

Compounded with this heightened political tension, a potential trigger for violence, are security challenges which also raise fears that obstacles may be put in the way of a free ballot. Several interviewees told FIDH and the ITEKA League that they feared there might be clashes between the youth wings of the political parties as the elections draw near. Our organisations were able to gather evidence from the victims of violence ascribed to the Imbonerakure, the youth league of the CNDD-FDD, who in several areas still stand in for state authority or intimidate and threaten individuals perceived to be close to the opposition. Security risks also came to light when, at the end of December 2014 and the beginning of January 2015, fighting occurred in Cibitoke province, in the northwest of the country, between the Burundian defence and security forces and as yet unidentified assailants, leaving at least 95 dead according to the authorities. Despite the latter having set up a National Commission of Inquiry, several grey areas still remain as to the circumstances in which these clashes took place. While consistent reports suggest that the national forces carried out extra-judicial executions, to date, no one has been brought to book and the witnesses to the confrontation live in fear of reprisals.

One of them, who is close to the Sewayana-Frodebu opposition party, informed our organisations: Today, we are under threat because we told the media what we had seen. I move house regularly. I live in fear of being assassinated, tortured or threatened. Since the Cibitoke attack, it is opposition party members who are suffering the consequences. The situation between us was already tense but the Cibitoke attack has made matters worse. The authorities still stigmatize us and blame us for that attack.

As the United Nations’ presence in Burundi has been cut back – following the departure, at the end of December 2014, of the BUNB, since replaced by the Electoral Observation Mission (MENUB), – FIDH and the ITEKA League urge the Security Council to take advantage of the opportunity their visit affords to demand security guarantees from the Burundian authorities as the general elections draw near. The authorities must make sure that the perpetrators of violent acts or crimes are brought to justice and sentenced, even when they are members of the defence and security forces or of the youth league of the party in power. In regard of the Cibitoke fighting, the Security Council must call for the setting up of an independent joint commission of inquiry, made up of national and international members so as to secure efficiency, impartiality and credibility. Concurrently, the Council must call upon the political class at large to ensure that there is a calm dialogue.

Finally, in a context where the independent organisations of civil society are stigmatized by those in power, FIDH and the ITEKA League appeal to the Security Council to urge the Burundian authorities to put an end to all forms of harassment, including at the judicial level, against human rights defenders and journalists.

FIDH and the ITEKA League will issue their report in the coming days.

“My Vote Must Count”

From 2014 to 2016, 52 elections, of which 25 will be for presidencies, are scheduled to be held in 27 African countries. To avoid manipulation, fraud and violence stemming from truncated ballots, African and international civil society has decided to throw its weight behind a “My Vote Must Count” coalition. Civil societies require governments to uphold their legitimate right to freely choose their representatives at regulated, free and transparent elections, through public mobilisation, grassroots action and political advocacy in the run up to each election up to 2016.

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