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Posts Tagged ‘Burundi

Amnesty Urgent Action – Burundi: Free activist who spoke out

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From Amnesty International

URGENT ACTION

FREE ACTIVIST WHO SPOKE OUT

Anti-corruption activist Faustin Ndikumana was arrested on 7 February and charged with making “false declarations”. He had alleged that some magistrates had got their posts by bribing officials in the Ministry of Justice.

Faustin Ndikumana is President of Words and Action for the Awakening of Conscience and the Evolution of Mindsets (PARCEM). He wrote to the Minister of Justice asking him to investigate and halt corruption in the recruitment of judges. He held a press conference and gave radio interviews on 3 February denouncing alleged corruption within the Ministry.

He was arrested on 7 February, questioned by a magistrate at the Anti-Corruption Court and charged with making “false declarations” under Article 14 of the Anti-Corruption Law. He could face five to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to 1,000,000 Burundian francs (US$ 775). It appears that he was arrested on the basis of a judicial complaint filed by the Minister of Justice. Societies and associations can also be prosecuted under the law and fined up to 10,000,000 Burundian francs (US$7,750).

Faustin Ndikumana is detained in Mpimba Central Prison, in the capital Bujumbura, and held in overcrowded and insanitary conditions. He is detained in violation of Burundian law. Under Article 71 of the criminal code, pre-trial detention must only be used where it is necessary to preserve evidence, protect public order, protect the suspect, prevent the crime from continuing or to ensure that the suspect appears in court.

Amnesty International considers Faustin Ndikumana a prisoner of conscience detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression. His detention may have a chilling effect on other civil society activists and journalists in Burundi. It could increase self-censorship, as they seek to protect themselves from arbitrary arrest.

Please write immediately in French, English or your own language:
-    expressing concern that Faustin Ndikumana has been detained on defamation charges for denouncing reports of corruption within the Ministry of Justice;
-    urging the authorities to release him immediately and unconditionally, as he is a prisoner of conscience detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression;
-   reminding the authorities that, as a state party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Burundi is obliged to uphold the right to freedom of expression.

PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 22 MARCH 2012 TO:

President
His Excellency Pierre Nkurunziza
Président de la République du Burundi
Bureau du Président
Boulevard de l’Uprona
Rohero I, BP 1870
Bujumbura, Burundi
Fax: +257 22 22 74 90
Salutation: Votre Excellence / Your Excellency

First Vice-President
His Excellency Thérence Sinunguruza
Bureau du Président
Boulevard de l’Uprona
Rohero I, BP 1870
Bujumbura, Burundi
Fax: +257 22 22 74 90
Salutation: Votre Excellence / Your Excellency

And copies to:
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Monsieur Laurent Kavakure
Ministère des Relations Extérieurs et de la Coopération Internationale
Bdg Grand Bureau, Bvd de la Liberté
BP 1840, Bujumbura, Burundi
Fax: +257 22 22 39 70
Salutation : Monsieur le Ministre / Dear Minister
Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country.

Please check with your section office if sending appeals after the above date.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Burundi has a vibrant civil society which continues to speak out despite government attempts to silence it. The authorities have used harassment by judicial authorities, arbitrary arrests, prolonged pre-trial detention, and procedural violations of Burundian law to unduly restrict freedom of speech.

Burundi is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights which protect freedom of expression. It is well established under international law that public officials must tolerate more, rather than less, criticism than private individuals.

Defamation or false declaration charges are regularly brought against civil society activists, human rights defenders and journalists. They often result in prolonged pre-trial detention seemingly in attempts to silence government critics. Juvenal Rududura, vice-president of the trade union of non-judicial staff of the Ministry of Justice, was detained on charges of making false statements in September 2008. He had also alleged corruption in recruitment at the Ministry of Justice. He was detained for 10 months without trial, and the charges against him were never formally dropped.

The independence of the judiciary in Burundi is regularly compromised through political interference. The United Nations Independent Expert on the human rights situation in Burundi, Fatsah Ouguergouz, cited problems with judicial independence as a key weakness of Burundi’s justice system in his May 2011 report.

Name: Faustin Ndikumana
Gender m/f: m

UA: 44/12 Index: AFR 16/001/2012 Issue Date: 9 February 2012

Written by Richard Wilson

February 9, 2012 at 9:08 pm

Attacks on Congolese civilians increase as Agathon Rwasa’s FNL prepare for new “holy war”

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Agathon Rwasa is the militia leader whose forces carried the December 28th 2000 “Titanic Express” massacre in Burundi, of which my sister Charlotte was one of 21 victims. The UN recently reported that Rwasa was remobilising his forces from bases in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in preparation for a new “holy war”. The Banyamulenge blog  Journal Mibembwe gives more details:

From Journal Mibembwe:

As was reported recently in our news, the security continues to deteriorate in the high plateaux of Bijombo, district of Uvira, where most civilians from the Banyamulenge ethnic group are still victims of the ongoing conflicts in the region. These people, mostly pastoralists, have nothing to do with politics. Those who managed to escape, however, still face the same situation where their killers followed them even across the borders in the neighbouring countries like Burundi where many hundreds have been slaughtered in a refugee camp in August 2004.

Some of those who claimed responsibility in the killings, like Mr. Agathon Rwasa, still move around freely. Instead of being arrested and judged for his acts, credible sources say that this experienced killer, Agathon Rwasa, has found refuge in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Banyamulenge community feel threatened by his presence in the region.

Last time we reported a transfer of some the FARDC army commanders in the high plateaux of Bijombo, causing increased fear in the Banyamulenge community of more insecurity and threats carried out by the government troops in their villages. This is seen by many as the continuation of some politicians’ plans, like ANZULUNI BEMBE  from 1993, to exterminate the Banyamulenge under the pretext that they are ‘foreigners’ or just for who they are, like what Agathon Rwasa has done in Gatumba (Burundi) in 2004.

Written by Richard Wilson

December 18, 2010 at 11:03 pm

Message of support from Burundi opposition leader Alexis Sinduhije

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Alexis Sinduhije is an award-winning former journalist and political prisoner, now the leader of Burundi’s “Movement for Security and Democracy”. I’ve been in touch with him since 2002, when he was director of Burundi’s groundbreaking Radio Publique Africaine. During Burundi’s long civil war, RPA took the lead in investigating and reporting on the abuses on both sides, including the December 2000 “Titanic Express” massacre, in which my sister Charlotte was killed.

Earlier today I emailed Alexis to tell him about my own plans for marking the 10th anniversary of the attack. I was pleased and encouraged to get this reply: “I support your action. I am on the same stand: justice, justice and justice for the victims of Titanic”.

Alexis speaks in more detail here about the wider need for justice in Burundi as a means of breaking the cycle of corruption and abuse.

Written by Richard Wilson

December 2, 2010 at 7:41 pm

Burundi’s FNL Hutu militia mobilising for new “holy war”

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Earlier this week I wrote about my plans for marking the 10th anniversary of the December 2000 massacre in which my sister Charlotte was killed. Today I was sent a UN report suggesting that the group responsible, Burundi’s hardline Hutu FNL militia, are mobilising in the Democratic Republic of Congo for a new “holy war”.

From the Final report of the UN Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (page 32), 29th November 2010:

113. During its mandate, the Group has followed closely the remobilization of the Burundian rebel group, FNL. Led by Agathon Rwasa, FNL combatants were either integrated into the Burundian security services or were demobilized in mid-2009. Rwasa was to have been one of the main candidates in the 2010 presidential elections in Burundi, but withdrew from the contest citing concerns over fraud, after FNL and other opposition parties were heavily defeated by the ruling Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie-Forces pour la défense de la démocratie party of Pierre Nkurunziza, in local elections held on 24 May. In early July, Rwasa disappeared from Bujumbura.

114. According to multiple credible sources in Uvira, Rwasa crossed into the Democratic Republic of the Congo north of Kavimvira with the support of Colonel Baudoin Nakabaka (deputy commander of the 10th military region of FARDC) (see S/2009/603, paras. 25-27, 29-31, 33, 39, 70, 73, 80, 150, 159 and annexes 14, 50and 51). According to Congolese intelligence and several local sources, Rwasa was subsequently transported to Bukavu by Nakabaka and stayed with the commander of the 10th military region of FARDC, General Patrick Masunzu (see S/2009/603, paras. 25, 29, 48, 53, 158 and 159). The Group met eyewitnesses who confirmed Rwasa’s subsequent presence in Mwenga, where, according to Congolese intelligence services, he met FDLR representatives to form an alliance. According to diplomatic sources in the region, FDLR and Nakabaka have promised to provide financial backing for FNL.

115. Since Rwasa’s departure from Burundi, FNL has reportedly mobilized an estimated 700 of its most experienced combatants within the Democratic Republic of the Congo alone. According to diplomatic sources and former members of FNL, as at September 2010 there were more than 400 combatants based in the high plateaux of Minembwe, more than 200 in Kiliba, north of the Burundi border, another 100 north of Sange in the Ruzizi plain and an unknown number in Fizi territory. According to the same sources, those forces are led by Antoine “Shuti” Baranyanka, the former chief military commander of FNL. Instead of being integrated into the Burundian army with the rank of lieutenant general, Baranyanka opted to be demobilized in what analysts considered a “reserve option” for Rwasa in case of an adverse result in the Burundian elections (see annex 12).

116. In addition to its alliance with FDLR, FNL has also reportedly joined forces with the Mai Mai Yakutumba of the Bembe community in Fizi territory. According to MONUSCO and diplomatic sources, FNL has benefited from FDLR and Mai Mai Yakutumba’s strategic access to ports commonly used for smuggling across Lake Tanganyika. The Group has learned that, as a result, Rwasa himself has been able to make frequent trips between the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kigoma and Dar es Salaam in the United Republic of Tanzania. The Group also obtained documents of ongoing investigations concerning the disappearance of weapons within the FARDC Zone 4 headquarters, commanded by Colonel Bernard Byamungu (see S/2009/603, annex 124). According to FARDC sources, those weapons could have been supplied to FNL.

117. Eyewitnesses to FNL recruitment activities along the Burundi/Democratic Republic of the Congo border informed the Group that FNL was offering 80,000 Burundian francs to new recruits but selecting only those with previous combat experience. This is likely to include sympathizers who have deserted the ranks of the Burundian security services; the Group has confirmed 20 such cases through interviews with FNL defectors. Burundian authorities have attempted to arrest potential candidates crossing into the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The highest-ranking officer from the Burundian army to join FNL in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was Major Nzabampema who, according to Burundian intelligence services, survived an ambush en route to joining “Shuti” at Kiliba.

118. In addition, according to sources in the Burundian police and intelligence services, FNL has benefited from the support of Burundian businessmen. Former members of FNL informed the Group that some of the businessmen had provided “Shuti” with over $30,000 in order to begin his recruitment. According to those same sources, when the FNL leadership was negotiating with representatives of the Burundian Government in the United Republic of Tanzania in 2008, one of those businessmen proposed to Rwasa that FNL attack Bujumbura, during which operation he promised to deliver support from soldiers in the Burundian army.

119. In his public statements, Rwasa has explicitly denied that he was involved in a new armed rebellion. However, numerous credible sources informed the Group that Rwasa had made statements to his supporters that this new war would be a “holy war” and would transcend ethnicity. Meanwhile, members of other opposition political parties have also joined the ranks of FNL, including some members of MSD, which commands a strong following among the country’s urban Tutsi youth. While not significant in numbers, FNL does receive some support from its fellow opposition party, the Union for Peace and Development (UPD), led by Hussein Rajabu, who is imprisoned. According to Burundian authorities, a UPD leader by the name of Jean-Petit has joined Rwasa’s new rebellion. According to former FNL sources, Rwasa is exploring ways to finance his movement through involvement in the gold trade.

Written by Richard Wilson

December 2, 2010 at 9:02 am

Posted in Democracy

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Guest post: “the Burundian diaspora will need to pick up signs, rally, blog, write letters to editors to educate the donors’ taxpayers” – Thierry Uwamahoro

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“Free Kavumbagu” cause makes its way to the Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington, DC – guest post by Thierry Uwamahoro

Yes, you saw right! That was a “Free Kavumbagu” sign among the thousands of other rally signs that either made you laugh or left you scratching your head as you attempted to understand what they meant or who their intended audience was.

This Saturday (10.30.10), hundreds of thousands of Americans flocked to Washington, DC to join a rally whose objective was to restore sanity in the discourse of American politics.

However, American politics are never too far from world affairs as the American people pride themselves in calling their President, the “Leader of the Free World”. As a Burundian residing near Washington, DC, I was drawn to think of a fellow Burundian – a journalist – who was not part of the “Free World” as the Rally to Restore Sanity went on.

Jean Claude Kavumbagu is an internationally-renowned journalist and human rights defender who has been unjustly arrested five times in this decade, but has never been found guilty. Today, he remains behind bars, despite promises by Burundian authorities and global calls for his release.

On July 17th, 2010, Jean Claude Kavumbagu was arrested and later jailed over an article that he published on his online journal “Net Press”. The article questioned the preparedness of the Burundian security forces, were the Somalia based militia Al-Shabab to attack Bujumbura (Burundi). The Burundian government considered the publication of such article “treason”, a charge that carries a life imprisonment sentence. Paradoxically, treason is an offense that Burundian law only recognizes when the country is at war due to external aggression. This is not the case today!

Last September, after meetings with some of Burundi’s highest officials, Omar Faruk Osman (President of the Federation of African Journalists) and his delegation left Bujumbura (Burundi) on a highly promising and optimistic note summed up in these words: “We agreed with the leadership of the country the urgency to resolve the case of Kavumbagu and our message was clear that was no longer a mere Burundian affair but an African and international press freedom case”.

Jean Claude Kavumbagu’s freedom has become a national, regional, continental and global issue. The Union of Burundian Journalists and the entire Burundian civil society, the East African Journalists Association, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, the Federation of African Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, FrontLine, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the International Federation of Journalists, Human Rights Watch; to name just a few – have all called for the release of Jean Claude Kavumbagu.

But all these calls have fallen on deaf ears. Mr. Kavumbagu has –this week – passed the 100 day mark behind bars in the notorious “Mpimba” prison, despite his constitutional rights to freedom of opinion and expression. The call for Kavumbagu’s freedom must not fade. This is no time to despair and quit.

But why carry the call to Washington, DC? This week, according to the journal Arc-en-Ciel, Washington hosted a high level delegation comprised of Burundian security apparatus heavyweights: the Director of military cabinet in the office of the President (Major General Evariste Ndayishimiye), the Minister of Internal Security (General Alain Guillaume Bunyoni) and the army chief of staff (Major General Godefroid Niyombare) alongside the top civilian advisor to the President. The delegation’s goal, according to trusted sources, was to promote greater cooperation between Bujumbura and Washington, and to secure funding for capacity building projects for Burundian securities forces.

If Washington and the American taxpayers are to fund these forces (the same forces that are carrying out the arrests of journalists), one can safely assume that Washington will have a greater voice in demanding that these security institutions improve their human rights record; or, at least, that should Washington voice any concern, Bujumbura would listen.

Ideally, a few months after celebrating our 48th independence anniversary, Burundians should not be expecting foreign powers’ coercion to be the safeguard to our freedoms. However, we have to be realistic. When a given government’s budget is financed at the tune of 70% by the international community, the perverse outcome is accountability to its donors (instead of its citizens). It is unfortunate! In the meantime, the Burundian diaspora will need to pick up signs, rally, blog, write letters to editors wherever they reside to educate the donors’ taxpayers. This Saturday, a few Americans learned of Burundi and of another name that they weren’t able to pronounce: Kavumbagu.

by Thierry Uwamahoro

Written by Richard Wilson

November 1, 2010 at 10:17 pm

Alexis Sinduhije: “The international community, obsessed with stability… chose a rigged election managed by a police state rather than a vibrant democracy where the opinions of all are respected”

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From Alexis Sinduhije in The East African:

John, 35, the youth leader of UPD, the Union for Peace and Development, was arrested by Burundi intelligence in early June and accused of being a security threat to the state.

He was taken to their secret offices where he was tortured, his right ear cut off and his penis and testicles shoved into a gourd.

He was later moved to the central prison but the damage has been done; he is now infertile.

//

Many members of different opposition parities have been arrested, tortured and threatened throughout the country.

The official count according to human-rights organisations is 200 but that is only those we know of; many more incidents are happening in military posts and police stations across the country.

Those that have been arrested, threatened and tortured are the lucky ones – others have been killed in broad daylight, in their homes.

On June28, Ladislas Ntiharirizwa and his wife Christine were at home in Muramvya province relaxing after their evening meal when grenades were thrown into their house and they were both killed, leaving behind a small baby of 3 months and a child of 3 years.

Their crime was to be members of MSD, the Movement for Solidarity and Democracy.

The same night, in the same town, a grenade was thrown into the house of a Frodebu leader killing his 7-year-old son and leaving him gravely injured.

Later, in the far east of the country, in the small town of Gisuru bordering Tanzania, the Imbonerakure (the youth militia of the ruling party CNDD-FDD) with the support of the police, attacked several families, members of the FNL party, in their homes with clubs, pangas and jembes.

The result was the death of four and the hospitalisation of five others, most of whom are still in hospital.

//

Many young members of the opposition have fled their homes and jobs across the country. Their future is uncertain.

They thought they were growing up in a period of democracy in Burundi, after the years and years of war that their parents and grandparents suffered through.

However, they have learned that today, in Burundi, being a member of a political party that is not the one that is in power is a crime and your life will be destroyed.

They have learned that freedom of expression and opinion is a right held only by the party in power.

The opposition does not have much room to manoeuvre in.

The one choice open to them that they should not even consider is to cease to function.

The opposition in Burundi cannot afford to disappear or become puppets of the regime.

Although the political space is growing smaller and smaller as Burundi falls under the influence of the Kagame regime next door, political diversity is a must in this country that knows too well the impact of decades of military dictatorship.

The second choice is to flee the country and operate from exile as has happened across Africa under oppressive regimes.

Already this option is being witnessed as three leaders of opposition parties have fled the county fearing for their lives and many members of opposition parties have gone into hiding within the country.

//

This is hardly surprising given the large number of arrests and assassinations that have already taken place.

The third option is to return to the violence and permanent civil unrest that the country has known since Independence.

This is not a choice that the opposition, or any citizen would welcome.

However – given the fact that all attempts at dialogue requested by the opposition have been refused and that the international community has sat quiet while electoral fraud, abuse of human rights and violence has taken place this option – sadly may yet become a reality.

The international community, obsessed with stability has turned a blind eye to all these manoeuvrings and abuses of human rights and of freedom of expression; they chose a rigged election managed by a police state rather than a vibrant democracy where the opinions of all are respected.

In June the opposition leaders called for support from the East African Community.

They naively thought that the leaders in the neighbouring paper democracies would insist on transparent electoral processes.

They had hoped that the region’s leaders would call upon the party in power to stop arresting, torturing and assassinating the political opposition.

//

But they forgot that the East African Community was an old boys’ club and no one was going to rock the boat in this period of multiple elections across the region.

They forgot that leaders across the region have the same attitude to democratic elections; that across the region elections are rigged and the results of the elections known before the populace even goes to the polls. The EAC has chosen to support the perpetrators of abuse and not the victims.

We realise that if democracy is to be saved, it is for us to do it.

Political opposition and civil society need to stay strong and courageous in Burundi. We cannot return to the dictatorships that have oppressed our country for decades. We, the political opposition of Burundi, need to be an example to the region. We need to show how political pluralism can build a country, not destroy it.

What is the value of the East African Community if its members hide their heads in the sand and support oppressive regimes that do not respect basic human rights?

If we are serious about democracy in Africa we need to stop this Mickey Mouse game.

We have power holders who create fake opposition parties merely to show that there is “competition” – while there is no real diversity of opinion.

The naiveté of the foreign ministers in the region was is revealed in statements such as the one Kenya’s Moses Wetangula made in June when he said, “The EAC will insist on the democratisation of all member states to avoid a situation that could lead to disharmony and to ensure that they contribute positively to the wellbeing of the region.”

What form of democracy is he talking about?

Is it a democracy where parties that speak out against the regimes in power are destroyed, their members arrested, killed and tortured?

We need to hold our leaders accountable so that all can have their basic needs met and their rights respected.

As Achille Mbembe, the Cameroonian political scientist says: “If Africans want democracy, they must be willing to pay the price. No one will pay it for them. Nor will they obtain it on credit.”

Alexis Sinduhije is president of the Movement for Solidarity and Democracy.

Written by Richard Wilson

August 16, 2010 at 8:21 pm

Posted in Don't Get Fooled Again

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Free Jean-Claude Kavumbagu. Again.

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See also (from 2008): Free Jean-Claude Kavumbagu

UPDATE - I’m pleased to report that the Committee to Protect Journalists and Human Rights Watch have both put out statements condemning the arrest and calling for Jean-Claude’s release.

Burundi’s EU-bankrolled kleptocracy strikes again

I will never forget the enormous help Jean-Claude Kavumbagu gave me while I was writing my first book, Titanic Express. This is now the fifth time he has been jailed simply for telling the truth.

One of the things that seems to have particularly riled the authorities on this occasion is Jean-Claude’s claim that “our defence and security forces shine in their capacity to pillage and kill their compatriots rather than defend their country”. Unfortunately this claim is so clearly and demonstrably true that it’s difficult to imagine what the Burundi authorities think they have to gain in suppressing it…

From Agence France Presse

Burundi police arrested a journalist for alleged “treason” Saturday over an article questioning whether the security forces could deal with an attack like one that hit Uganda a week ago, an official said.

The July 11 bombings in Kampala claimed by Al Qaeda-inspired rebels killed at least 73 people watching the World Cup final in what the insurgents said was retaliation for Ugandan troops serving in Somalia, where Burundi also has soldiers participating in an African Union force.

“The police arrested the director of Netpress on a warrant issued by the prosecutor of the republic and which had as motive ‘treason’,” police Colonel David Nikiza told AFP.

Jean-Claude Kavumbagu, head of the online news outlet, was later detained at the central prison at Bujumbura, relatives and prison officials said.

“The authorities are reproaching Kavumbagu for an article that appeared on July 12 and which questioned the capacity of the Burundi defence and security forces to face an Islamist attack like that which has just hit Kampala,” a Netpress journalist told AFP on condition of anonymity.

In the article that appeared Wednesday, Netpress wrote that “since Monday morning, the anxiety has been palpable in Bujumbura for all those who have heard about what happened yesterday at Kampala because they are convinced that if these Shebab militants wanted to try something in our country, they would succeed with disconcerting ease.”

This was because “our defence and security forces shine in their capacity to pillage and kill their compatriots rather than defend their country,” it continued.

It is the fifth time that Kavumbagu, 45, has been imprisoned for his work.

Written by Richard Wilson

July 18, 2010 at 8:42 pm

The grim reality of the European Union’s “African success story”

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Burundi’s brutal government has been heavily bankrolled by the European Union for years, with donors falling over themselves to applaud their “African success story”. Complaints by Burundians of corruption and authoritarian behaviour by the ruling elite have been largely ignored.  Now we’re seeing the results…

Written by Richard Wilson

June 28, 2010 at 7:37 pm

Posted in Don't Get Fooled Again

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Lies in the name of “peace”? Opposition fears a stitch-up as European Union agrees to validate Burundian elections despite killings and voting irregularities

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One of the most shocking NGO rumours I’ve heard in recent years was that UN observers in a South Asian country were willing to certify an election as legitimate not because it actually was free and fair, but because they feared that acknowledging the full extent of voting irregularities could plunge the country back into civil war.

Now there are fears in Burundi that the European Union – which has invested heavily in the “Burundian success story” narrative – may be trying something similar, following the first round of this year’s national elections.

In the run-up to May’s polling, dozens of opposition activists were murdered, and many others harassed and threatened by the security services, while the ruling party CNDD-FDD mobilised its youth militia to intimidate voters. When the respected monitoring group Human Rights Watch highlighted the extent of abuses, the Burundian government responded by expelling the HRW researcher from the country.

Now, amid serious concern about the legitimacy of the first round of elections, 13 opposition parties are boycotting the next rounds until they receive credible guarantees that the polls will be properly managed and monitored. Yet rather than address this issue directly, the Burundian government’s international sponsors appear to be holding to the line that the vote was fair, and are now pressurising the opposition to take part in further elections which they fear will be rigged.

Contacts of mine in Burundi tell me they are worried that the international community, in its eagerness to support the “success story”, is turning a blind eye to evidence of serious irregularities.

“It is normal after an election to hear some actors who do not want to recognize or accept the result of an election”, one EU official, Renate Weber, is quoted as saying to VOA news, before urging the opposition to address any concerns by filing a complaint with the same state authorities who have been killing and arresting their supporters.

One of the opposition figures rejecting the poll results is Alexis Sinduhije, a man who has been beaten, threatened, harassed, and served time in jail for his willingness to speak openly and honestly about the situation in his country. For the moment at least, I would attach more credence to his analysis of the situation than the opinions of some comfortable, generously paid, European Union official.

Written by Richard Wilson

June 11, 2010 at 1:31 pm

Posted in Corruption

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Groundhog Day in Burundi…

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I spoke to a Burundian friend earlier this evening who is deeply concerned about rising tensions in his home country ahead of elections scheduled for June. A video on the “Burundi Transparence” website purports to show the ruling CNDD-FDD party’s youth militia acting out a show of strength in scenes worryingly reminiscent of pre-genocide Rwanda in 1994.

Human Rights Watch put out a detailed report on the militias mid-way through last year:

Beginning in December 2008, residents of Busoni commune, Kirundo province and Kayogoro commune, Makamba province reported “militia-like” activities by former FDD combatants and members of the CNDD-FDD youth league, known as “Imbonerakure.” The youth, with the acquiescence of local administrative, police, and party officials, carried out harassment and arrests of political opponents…

In Busoni commune, Kirundo province, the CNDD-FDD youth league engaged in “night-time sports,” which involved parading with large sticks in military fashion.[229] According to media reports, these youth also chanted threatening slogans about “crushing their opponents.” Jean Minani, a prominent parliamentarian from Busoni and founder of “Frodebu-Nyakuri,” a splinter group of FRODEBU that generally aligns with CNDD-FDD, told Human Rights Watch he had observed the activities. He confirmed that the youth were armed with sticks and clubs, and chanted slogans in Kirundi which roughly translated as “Those who are not with us will be sent into exile or die.”

The International Crisis Group warned today that:

The CNDD-FDD youth wing’s physical training, war songs and quasi-military organisation raise the spectre of militia violence and a large-scale intimidation campaign. The other former rebels, the Forces nationales de libération (FNL) and the Front pour la démocratie au Burundi (FRODEBU) are mobilising their own youth wings to oppose intimidation tactics. The police have remained passive or become accomplices to the ruling party’s abuses.

The ICG recommends that the international donor community:

Warn Burundian political leaders that those responsible for atrocity or other grave political crimes will be prosecuted – by the International Criminal Court or a special tribunal if necessary – and that targeted sanctions will be imposed on those resorting to massive fraud or violence to win the elections.

On the face of it this might sound reasonable enough, but to someone who’s been following the situation in Burundi for nearly a decade now, there’s an eerie sense of déja vu.

Here’s a report from 2005 on the violence that preceded the elections last time around:

[Nureldine] Satti demanded an investigation into mortar attacks that wounded five in the suburbs of the capital Bujumbura on Tuesday night, and recent reports of summary executions in Bujumbura Rural province… “We want to know the truth. The UN and the international community will not tolerate war crimes anymore. Any individual, any group responsible for war crimes will be held accountable for its acts,” he told a press conference.

And here’s a report from 2004, after Hutu-extremists massacred 160 Tutsi refugees at the Gatumba refugee camp in Burundi:

“The people who committed this terrible crime must be out of their heads. They are really terrorists,” Mrs [Agnes] Van Ardenne told reporters after visiting the refugee camp at the weekend. She said the suspects should be tried by the International Criminal Court. The FNL has indicated it will face its responsibility and appear before the court in The Hague. There will be no mercy for the perpetrators of the massacre, Mrs Van Ardenne said.

And here’s a UN security council statement from 1996:

The Council shares the Secretary-General’s deep concern at the situation in Burundi, which has been characterized by daily killings, massacres, torture and arbitrary detention. It condemns in the strongest terms those responsible for such actions, which must cease immediately… It reiterates that all who commit or authorize the commission of serious violations of international humanitarian law are individually responsible for such violations and should be held accountable.

Not one of these declarations has been honoured. Efforts to refer the Gatumba massacre to the International Criminal Court quickly stalled amid a lack of political will – and silence from the International Crisis Group. The UN’s longstanding promise of a “special chamber” for Burundi remains little more than a twinkle in Ban Ki Moon’s eye, having got lost in endless negotiations with the same Burundian government officials who would likely become defendants were it ever to get off the ground.

Threatening to prosecute people – as distinct from actually putting war criminals on trial – certainly has the advantage of being free and not particularly timeconsuming. But if the International Crisis Group is really in the business of trying to stop Burundi’s political elite from organising yet more mass-killings, it’s difficult to see how, on past form, getting donors to issue yet more empty threats is likely to make any difference at all to the situation. 

Written by Richard Wilson

February 12, 2010 at 11:59 pm

A Place At the Table – Camden People’s Theatre April 16th – May 2nd

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From Indie London

DAEDALUS Theatre is presenting A Place at the Table at Camden People’s Theatre – from April 15 to May 2, 2009…

A Place at the Table draws on Burundian traditions and mythology and varying accounts of the recent history of the Great Lakes region of Africa in what is described as a bold new work of visual and verbatim theatre.

The international company includes artists from Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo, and campaigner Richard Wilson, who has spoken on and written about Burundi extensively since his sister, Charlotte Wilson, was killed in the country in the year 2000, is an advisor.

Performers include Naomi Grosset, Lelo Majozi-Motlogeloa, Jennifer Muteteli, Anna-Maria Nabirya, Susan Worsfold and Grace Nyandoro (singer).

Melchior Ndadaye, the first democratically elected president of Burundi, was assassinated in October 1993, just three months after his election. His assassination was one of the root causes of the subsequent ten year civil war in Burundi, and is closely tied to the causes and effects of several other conflicts in Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo, particularly those related to Hutu and Tutsi ethnicity.

A Place at the Table is directed, designed and produced by Paul Burgess, who has recently designed Cradle Me (Finborough Theatre), Our Country’s Good (Watermill Theatre), On the Rocks (Hampstead Theatre), Triptych (Southwark Playhouse), The Only Girl in the World (Arcola Theatre) and Jonah and Otto (Manchester Royal Exchange).

Written by Richard Wilson

April 15, 2009 at 8:02 pm

Reported assassination attempt against Alexis Sinduhije

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A few days ago I wrote about the release of Burundi opposition leader (and former journalist) Alexis Sinduhije, who I describe meeting in my book “Titanic Express”, and who has been very supportive over the case. I had been following Alexis’s fate since his arrest on trumped-up charges last November.

Now Alexis’s party, the Movement for Solidarity and Democracy (renamed recently from “Movement for Security and Democracy” after the authorities ruled it illegal for a party to include the word “Security” in its name) has reported that the bolts on the wheels of Alexis’s car have been tampered with, apparently with the intention of causing an accident. Although the damage was spotted and repaired before any harm could result, Alexis and his colleagues were then followed by the police, arrested, and held for several hours. 

Although Alexis has since been released (again), the Committee to Protect Journalists reports that a number of those arrested with him are still being held.

Written by Richard Wilson

March 19, 2009 at 9:50 am

Burundians celebrate the release of Alexis Sinduhije

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Written by Richard Wilson

March 14, 2009 at 9:10 pm

Alexis Sinduhije thanks European nations for pressure to secure his release

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From Reuters

BUJUMBURA (Reuters) – A political activist jailed in Burundi four months ago for insulting President Pierre Nkurunziza was freed on Thursday and thanked Western nations which had pushed for his release.

Alexis Sinduhije, a prominent former journalist who founded a political party in 2007, was named in Time magazine’s 2008 list of the 100 most influential people in the world, under the category “Heroes & Pioneers”.

Hundreds of supporters, some diplomats and several human rights activists gathered from early morning outside the main prison in the capital Bujumbura. Some waved placards bearing his picture alongside U.S. President Barack Obama.

“I would like to thank particularly European countries like Britain, France, Germany and Belgium,” Sinduhije told reporters after his release. “I have got back my freedom because those countries put a lot of pressure on the Burundian authorities.”

Burundi was seen as an African success story after a long U.N.-backed peace process led to the election in 2005 of former rebel leader Nkurunziza. But the central African nation is often criticised for the way it deals with dissent, and Sinduhije had been especially harsh about its record on human rights.

Written by Richard Wilson

March 12, 2009 at 9:00 pm

“A victory for truth and justice” – Burundi opposition leader Alexis Sinduhije acquitted following major international pressure

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See also: Alexis Sinduhije jailed for “insulting the President”

Alexis Sinduhije speaks about his activism in an interview last year

-Update - the MSD say that Alexis is now free following his acquittal: “Bonne nouvelle – maintenant c’est vrai – il quitte la prison central. Tout le monde fête sa liberté – la ville de Bujumbura est devenue une grande célébration – les véhicules ne circulent pas… Merci pour le soutien”

Alexis Sinduhije, the Burundian former journalist (and now an opposition activist) who has been supportive of the Titanic Express case, and who I wrote about in my book of the same name, was arrested last November and charged with contempt for the President.

The CNDD-FDD ruling party, an ex-militia group led by  a warlord-turned “born again Christian”, Pierre Nkurunziza, took particular exception to Alexis having launched his own political party, the Movement for Security and Democracy (now renamed the Movement for Solidarity and Democracy, after the government announced that it was illegal for any political party to include the word “security” in its name).

Having risen to prominence as founder and director of “Radio Publique Africaine”, a radio station promoting reconciliation between the Hutu and Tutsi communities, Alexis is a popular figure in Burundi. Amid growing discontent over its corruption and brutality, CNDD-FDD fears that it may lose the 2010 elections and has been doing all it can to suppress any serious political opposition.

But the problem for a corrupt ex-militia group bent on preserving its own power in a small poverty-stricken nation heavily dependent on foreign aid, is that there comes a point at which European aid donors’ embarrassment at the way their money is being used starts to overcome their traditional reticence about human rights abuses by “client states” such as Burundi.

From Agence France Presse

BUJUMBURA (AFP) — A Burundi court acquitted leading opposition leader and former journalist Alexis Sinduhije Wednesday who had been charged with contempt for the president, his lawyer and judicial sources said.

“This is a victory for justice and truth that we owe to a great extent to pressures exercised on this country’s authorities,” Sinduhije’s lawyer Prosper Niyoyankana told AFP.

Several European ministers had urged Bujumbura to release Sinduhije, who was detained in November with 37 other founding members of his Movement of Security and Democracy party. The others were released shortly after.

Prosecutors in February demanded a two-and-a-half year sentence against Sinduhije for allegedly blaming purported corruption and murder scandals of the ruling CNDD-FDD party on “the man who spends all his time in prayer service.”

President Pierre Nkurunziza is said to be a born-again Christian who frequently organises large religious services.

Sinduhije, 42, founded the popular Radio Publique Africaine (African Public Radio) in 2001 in a bid to foster reconciliation between Tutsi and Hutu communities.

He then launched his party in December 2007 and vowed to run for the presidency in 2010.

He was picked by Time magazine last April in its annual selection of the world’s 100 most influential people.

Written by Richard Wilson

March 11, 2009 at 6:23 pm

Titanic Express case to feature in Channel Four short tomorrow evening

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At 7.55pm on Monday evening I’ll be on Channel Four,  in the first of a series of short films for the week of the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I’ll be talking about the massacre that formed the subject of my first book, Titanic Express - in relation to article eight of the UDHR, the right to justice. The film was made by Native Voice films, in collaboration with Amnesty International, and will be showing on Channel Four’s “3 minute wonder” slot. To give some sense of the detail that can go into a TV production, this 3 minute short took the best part of two days to film, with many hours more for editing. It was a fascinating process to be involved with, and from the edits I’ve seen so far I think they’ve done an excellent job.

There’s more background here about the Titanic Express ongoing campaign, and more here on the history of the case.

Written by Richard Wilson

December 7, 2008 at 6:35 pm

Burundi’s “forgiving” government criminalises homosexuality

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Burundi’s Christian evangelical President, Pierre Nkurunziza, may be having difficulty living up to the New Testament exhortation to forgive those he sees as his enemies, but he’s following the Old Testament strictures on homosexuality rather more rigidly. The Burundian Parliament has just rushed through legislation which will, for the first time in the country’s history, criminalise gay relationships, and President Nkurunziza is expected to endorse it shortly.

Burundi now appears to be following what we might call the “Ugandan model” of church-led jurisprudence, where those responsible for torture, mass-killings, and rape (so long as the victims are women, obviously) get pardoned by the state, leaving it free to expend its resources persecuting and publicly vilifying men who sleep with other men.

At moments like this it’s traditional for western media types to shrug their shoulders and say things like “Well, it’s their culture, isn’t it? Surely we have to respect their ways”.

So I thought it might be useful to post some thoughts from the veteran Burundian commentator and former statesman Gratien Rukindiza, who describes the new law as “retrograde, reactionary and fundamentalist”, and suggests that Burundi’s leaders “believe they are closest to God when they hurt the Burundian people”.

“The mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, is openly gay“, Rukindikiza points out. “He runs a city more populous than the whole of Burundi. The city is wealthier than Burundi. He is a respectable, honest man who will probably one day be President. Does the mayor of Bujumbura dare visit the mayor of Paris knowing that in Burundi, the law would send his host to jail?”

Written by Richard Wilson

November 25, 2008 at 1:32 am

Video: Alexis Sinduhije mobbed by well-wishers ahead of his court appearance for “insulting the President”

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Click here to see hi-res version of the video on Facebook – and click here for more background on Alexis Sinduhije’s arrest.

Written by Richard Wilson

November 22, 2008 at 3:50 pm

Amnesty International adopts Alexis Sinduhije as a “Prisoner of Conscience”

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Amnesty International has added its voice to those highlighting the worsening human rights situation in Burundi – and in particular the arbitrary arrest of the journalist-turned-opposition activist Alexis Sinduhije. I met Alexis in person back in 2002, and he helped me enormously when I was researching Titanic Express. I’ve been following events closely since he was arrested earlier this month.

From Amnesty International:

UA 318/08 Arbitrary arrest/ prisoner of conscience

BURUNDI Alexis Sinduhije (m)

Alexis Sinduhije, the President of the Movement for Security and Democracy (Mouvement pour la Sécurité et la Démocratie, MSD), a political opposition group, was arrested on 3 November during a MSD party meeting. Thirty-six others were also arrested, but have since been released. Alexis Sinduhije is currently detained in Mpimba Central Prison in the capital, Bujumbura. He is a prisoner of conscience, held solely for expressing his political views.

The ruling party, the National Council for the Defence of Democracy – Forces for the Defence of Democracy, (Conseil national de défense et de la démocratie-Forces de défense et de la démocratie – CNDD-FDD), has recently denied opposition parties the right to peaceful assembly by preventing them from holding meetings without government authorization. Human rights monitors initially thought the arrests were made because the meeting had been held without authorization. The MSD had also had problems registering as a political party.

On 11 November, Alexis Sinduhije was brought before the deputy prosecutor at the Prosecutor’s office in Bujumbura. He was subsequently charged for showing “contempt for the Head of State” (“outrage au chef de l’etat”). The charges were based on documents seized during the arrests which were apparently critical of the President’s development policies. His file should go before the advisory chamber (chambre de conseil) within several days when the acting Judge will decide whether or not to grant him provisional release.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

The arrest of Alexis Sinduhije has raised considerable concern amongst members of civil society and the international community about the protection of civil and political rights in Burundi. The United States, the European Union and the UK strongly condemned Alexis Sinduhije’s arrest. The CNDD-FDD has shown increasing intolerance towards political opponents, journalists and human rights defenders perceived as being critical towards them.

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible, in French, English or your own language:

- expressing grave concern that Alexis Sinduhije has been detained on a charge of“contempt for the Head of State”, simply for being critical of the President’s development policies;

- urging the authorities to release him immediately and unconditionally, as he is a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression;

- reminding the authorities that Burundi is a state party to both the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantee the right to freedom of expression.

APPEALS TO:

President

Pierre Nkurunziza

Président de la République

Présidence de la République

Boulevard de l’Uprona

Rohero I

BP 1870

Bujumbura, Burundi

Fax: +257 22 22 74 90

Salutation: Monsieur le Président/Excellence

Minister of Justice and Keeper of Seals

Monsieur Jean-Bosco Ndikumana

Ministre de la Justice et Garde des Sceaux

Ministère de la Justice et Garde des Sceaux

BP 1880

Bujumbura, Burundi

Fax: +257 22 21 86 10

Salutation: Monsieur le Ministre

First Vice-president

Monsieur Yves Sahinguvu

Premier Vice-président

Présidence de la République

BP 1870

Bujumbura, Burundi

Fax: +257 22 22 74 90

Salutation: Monsieur le Premier Vice-président/Excellence

The Prosecutor of the Republic

Monsieur Elyse Ndaye

Procureur Générale de la République
Parquet Général
BP 105

Bujumbura, Burundi
Fax : +257 22 25 88 44

Salutation: Monsieur le Procureur / Dear Procureur

COPIES TO: diplomatic representatives of Burundi accredited to your country.

PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY. Check with the International Secretariat, or your section office, if sending appeals after 31 December 2008.

Written by Richard Wilson

November 20, 2008 at 9:13 pm

Burundi activists launch campaign to free Alexis Sinduhije and Jean-Claude Kavumbagu

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The Burundian activist Frederic Gateretse has launched a campaign to free Alexis Sinduhije, Jean-Claude Kavumbagu and the other political prisoners arrested in President Nkurunziza’s latest crackdown on dissent.

Both Alexis and Jean-Claude were enormously helpful to me while I was researching and writing Titanic Express (and I quote extensively from Alexis in the book’s final chapter), so I’m happy to support them now.

Frederic Gateretse says:

The CNDD-FDD led government has failed to deliver on its promises and is doing all it can to silence its critics by having a tight control on all that is happening in the country. Several opposition leaders have been arrested including Jean Claude Kavumbagu, Pasteur Mpawenayo, and Alexis Sinduhije to name a few.

It appears the government has decided to focus on winning the upcoming 2010 general elections at all cost for the alternative will be disastrous to the current leadership which has a lot to answer to in terms of corruption, mismanagement of public funds, human rights violations and the scrapping of political freedom.

Written by Richard Wilson

November 13, 2008 at 10:35 pm