Transitional justice in Burundi: space for victims

BurundiCapacity buildingInternational justiceNewsTransitional justice

Bujumbura, 21 January 2015 – ASF (Avocats Sans Frontières) welcomes the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as an important step in the process of punishing international crimes committed in Burundi in the past. ASF nevertheless calls for certain conditions crucial to the proper functioning of the transitional justice process to be respected.

Established by the Arusha agreements for peace and national reconciliation in Burundi signed in 2000 by the different sides in the Burundi conflict, a decisive step forward in implementing transitional justice mechanisms was taken in Burundi on 10 December: the President of Burundi named the 11 commissioners of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The Commission will have the power to investigate and establish the truth behind serious human rights violations committed in Burundi, to qualify these crimes, publish lists of victims, propose a programme of reparation and institutional reform that also rewrites the history of Burundi. With a four-year mandate, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has the task of carrying out these difficult and sensitive missions, tracing events that stretch over almost five decades from 1962 to 2008.

“This is an important step on the long road to reconciliation between the different segments in Burundi society. The profile of most of the 11 commissioners is an asset that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission can count on to help it realise its mission in a manner that satisfies the people of Burundi”, believes Adrien Nifasha, ASF Coordinator in Burundi for the international and transitional justice project CROSSROADS.

Nevertheless, ASF lists a series of preliminary conditions that are essential to ensuring the work of the Commission has validity. The Commission must remain independent, impartial and ensure the safety of its commissioners. Victims, witnesses and defendants must be kept fully informed of the work of the Commission, which must also be allowed to carry out its work and financial management in an autonomous manner. Adrien Nifasha adds that “the right to the truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, the very cornerstones of transitional justice, must be respected in Burundi”.

ASF is ready to support the work of the Commission in its fields of expertise: representing victims and defendants, protecting victims and witnesses, supplying technical support for drafting procedural rules and capacity-building for the commissioners, justice professionals and civil society in the area of transitional justice.

“Nevertheless, we will only provide our support if the Commission’s preparations and work respect victims’ and defendants’ rights”, stated the project coordinator.

CROSSROADS is a project initiated by ASF and its partners in six countries, Burundi, Colombia, Guatemala, Nepal, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which are engaged in building international criminal justice. This project is being financed by the European Union.

Picture: Investigate and establish the truth about the human rights violations committed in Burundi from 1962 to 2008 is one of the difficult missions of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission © 2014 Local Voices