The East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) is concerned over gross human rights violations that have taken place and continue in the Republic of Burundi unabated.
EALA noted that serious and sufficient grounds indicate that the crisis need an urgent resolution.
The Assembly views that the East African Community under the Treaty obligation, the African Union under the Constitutive Act, the United Nations and other international players owe a duty of care and responsibility to protection of the people of Burundi. In addition, EALA requests the Summit of the EAC Heads of State to do all that is possible to stop the humanitarian, human rights and political crises in the country.
Last Thursday, the Assembly debated and adopted the Report of the Committee on Regional Affairs and Conflict Resolution on the deteriorating human rights and humanitarian situation in Burundi.
With it, the Assembly lauded the commitments taken by the African Union (AU) on the issue of sending a high level mission to Burundi to discuss deployment of an African Union preventive and protection force to secure the wellbeing of citizens. The meeting underscored the need for the continental bloc to deploy a non-partisan preventive and protection force to secure the wellbeing of the citizens and to stop the gross human rights violations.
The Assembly reiterated the need for the EAC Summit of Heads of State to affirm that EAC has a duty of care and responsibility to protect the people of Burundi from violence and to guarantee their safety and security.
“Of equal importance is the need for the EAC Summit to consider and support establishment of a credible investigative mechanism to independently investigate all allegations of human rights violations in Burundi,” EALA said. “While supporting the work of the Office of the mediator, H.E. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, the Assembly is emphatic that an all-inclusive, participatory and credible process of dialogue in and outside of Burundi shall bring peace to the country,” it added.
Crisis in Burundi is a political problem
The Report of the Committee follows the recent Public Hearing workshop on Burundi which delved into the Petition presented to the EALA Speaker by the Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU) and other regional Civil Society Organizations on the subject matter in November 2015.
On January 14-15, 2016, the Committee received the oral presentation from the petitioners as well as the contributions from representatives of the opposition Political Parties and civil Society Organisations. On January 25th, 2016, a high powered delegation from the Government of Burundi, also came to Arusha to make their submissions before the Committee retreated to make its report.
The stakeholders who spoke on 15 January 2016 broadly agreed with the petition, elaborated arguments asserting that the crisis in Burundi was a political problem. They further clarified how the situation had mutated into an ethnic problem, citing parallels with the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Most presenters according to the Report gave a gruesome picture of the nature of the crimes and human rights abuses including details on refugees and internal displacements, arrests and detentions.
“Pictures of some of the notable instances of murders were further shown and submitted for record”, Hon. Abdullah Mwinyi, Chair of the Committee on Regional Affairs and Conflict Resolution said.
On its part, the Government of Republic of Burundi that appeared before the Committee on January 25, 2016 took a long-term view of the Burundi crisis including the post-colonial history. The delegation led by Hon. Leontine Nzeyimana, Minister for EAC Affairs in Burundi however included a mix of representatives from government, political parties, and civil society. On her part, the minister noted: “As it has been happening in Burundi since the early 1960’s, the electioneering period was marked by negative propaganda intended to create in Burundi a political and institutional instability”.
According to the Report, the delegates submitted that EALA has a major role to play in helping Burundi to restore order, the Assembly said in a press statement.
While presenting the report to an attentive House yesterday, Hon. Mwinyi noted numerous outstanding issues that require resolution and careful thinking through. Among these areas are political with all presenters at the hearing acknowledging, that Burundi faces a crisis. With regards to human rights violations, delegates pointed out to instances of human rights abuse – albeit attributing them to either side. They included rape, extra-judicial killings, assassinations, detentions, and unexplained disappearances. Evidence of mass graves and gruesome pictures of unspeakable mutilations were put on record.
The Committee further remarked it was not aware of any homogeneity among the youth.
“There is now enough credible evidence from UN and other Human Rights sources that confirm that Imbonerakure (Youth group) plays the function of a party militia”, a section of the report said.
“Indeed, it has been repeatedly reported that they have been involved in "arbitrary" arrest of members of the opposition "under the guise of national police or SNR officers. Their presence is so strong it may have overshadowed the presence of youth groups affiliated to other parties who, as the Committee heard, also exist. Not only have Imbonerakure been involved in the gradual breakdown of law and order, this context has allowed more merchants of violence who are not necessarily active disputants or members of the Imbonerakure to also partake to a gradually deteriorating political environment”, a section of the report said.
The importance of this crisis to the EAC, the Report added, was brought home by accusations leveled against a Partner state by the Government-led delegation. Except for one Report, the delegation was unable to provide adequate evidence to the Committee to validate the claim that the Republic of Rwanda is hosting and militarily training Burundi refugees.
“They also claimed that the Secretary General of the EAC was biased but did not provide any evidence for the claim”, Hon. Mwinyi said.
At debate time, Hon. Abubakar Zein remarked that the report had pricked the conscience of the Assembly and lamented that not much had been done to contain the humanitarian and political crisis. He said it was time for the region to move fast with regards to operationalizing the East African Parliamentary Institute in order to build capacity for Parliamentary Democracy and the enhancement of peace and security initiatives.
Hon. Hafsa Mossi said it was important to stand in solidarity with the Republic of Burundi. “We cannot have solutions by imposing sanctions on the EAC Partner State”, she said.
Hon. Peter Mathuki said it was vital for the region to find solutions to the happenings in Burundi while Hon. Nancy Abisai called for a participatory approach involving all stakeholders. Hon. Odette Nyiramilimo said insecurity in one of the Partner States would easily lead to insecurity in another and appealed for peaceful solutions to the crisis, sentiments which were also shared by Hon. Taslima Twaha and Hon. Angela Kizigha.
Hon. Mumbi Ngaru remarked that leadership was key at this point in time and said it was wrong to point fingers at each other.
Hon. Isabelle Ndahayo requested the Assembly to enable the Committee to visit Burundi to further assess the situation.
The Minister for EAC, Burundi, Hon. Leontine Nzeyimana thanked the Committee and the Assembly for the report and for handling the entire process which was difficult due to the sensitivities with objectivity.