A case study from the 2014 Human Rights and Democracy Report.
Following the end of the civil war in 2005, Burundi has made limited progress towards a more stable democracy. Despite becoming actively involved in regional peace-building efforts, Burundi remains a fragile post-conflict country, with a government that consistently uses the media and justice system to repress political opposition. Political violence in Burundi has continued to threaten regional stability, and could lead to population displacement into Rwanda, Tanzania or the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The UK government was disappointed that the UN Mission in Burundi closed in December 2014. Retaining it until after the 2015 election would have reduced the risk of Burundi deteriorating further.
There have been increasing reports of politically motivated violence, including extrajudicial killings, harassment of the media, and manipulation of the judicial system for political ends. In April, the then FCO Minister for Africa, Mark Simmonds, met senior members of the government and opposition during a visit to Burundi. Discussions focused on human rights, the importance of justice and reconciliation, and on Burundi continuing to make a positive contribution to regional peace and security. Mr Simmonds also heard first-hand concerns from Burundians about the limitations on political space, and the resultant challenge this could pose for the credibility of presidential elections in 2015.
In May, Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, one of Burundi’s most active human rights defenders (HRDs), was arrested and detained for over three months. Mr Simmonds raised the UK’s concern about the detention. We fear that abuses such as these may increase closer to the elections. The Burundian government has been accused of arming youth militias, with attacks on the homes and staff of opposition members allegedly carried out by pro-ruling party groups. We are concerned by these developments, and will continue to use our influence in the UN and in the EU to keep Burundi on the international community’s agenda.
President Nkurunziza has not yet announced whether he will be a candidate in the presidential elections, but standing would be against the spirit of the Arusha Accords. This is being closely monitored by neighbouring countries in similar situations and across Africa, not least because attempts by the President of Burkina Faso to extend his term of office resulted in a coup d’état. Peaceful, credible elections that express the genuine will of the Burundian people would be the true mark of a properly functioning democracy. To strengthen democratic accountability and improve the long-term stability of Burundi, the government needs to put an end to the culture of political violence, and abide by the presidential term limits set out in the constitution.
Despite not having a British Embassy in Burundi, regular visits are made by Embassy staff in Kigali. We have two full-time locally engaged staff working at the British Liaison Office in Bujumbura, and staffing levels were recently reinforced for the pre-election period. The UK has also helped to build Burundi’s peacekeeping capacity, including providing English language training, and improving the welfare facilities of their military camp.