09.11.07 - BURUNDI/JUSTICE - BURUNDIANS SPLIT ON THE PRESENCE OF FOREIGNERS IN THE TRC

  Bujumbura, 9 November 2007 (FH) - A week after the Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza launched the committee charged with holding popular consultations for the installation of the mechanisms of transitional justice, opinions remain split on the presence of foreigners within the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
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All the persons questioned agree, however, that the members of these bodies will have to be people with integrity "who do not have blood on their hands".
 
First mechanism to be set up, the Steering Committee (sc) will include six members: two representatives of the government, including the president of the committee, two from civil society, and two from the United Nations.
 
"Foreigners do not know anything about what happened in our country, they should not thus be involved in things that do not concern them", estimates Liberate Nimbona, a country-woman originating from Mwaro province, in the center of the country.
 
For Vital Bambanzi, a representative of an association of Batwa (1% of the population), the foreigners should be associated with the TRC "in small numbers and in the capacity as observers only". "It is we who know the wrongs that we caused to one another, and we must demonstrate independence", he said.
 
His point of view is not shared by Raymond Kamenyero, a member of the Forum for the Reinforcement of the Civil Society (FORSC), an association which calls itself "apolitical". According to him, transitional Justice is a field which exceeds Burundians. "We need the expertise of foreigners", he underlines. The Arusha Peace Accords, signed in August 2000, as well as the various cease-fire agreements concluded between the government of Burundi and the rebel groups were negotiate with the support and the mediation of foreigners, points out Kamenyero.
 
The lawyer Didace Kanyugu, president of the Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT), is of the same opinion. He thinks that the participation of foreigners is necessary because of their neutrality. According to him, their presence would be used as a counterweight to the generally globalizing attitude adopted by Burundians and would make the debates much more transparent.
 
The political leaders that have been questioned have all be unanimous on the fact that the TRC must function under foreign monitoring. "We need experts (international) who would not come to decide", estimates Pierre Claver Nahimana, president of the parliamentary group of the FRODEBU party (Front for Democracy in Burundi, principal opposition party).
 
"The peace process is not yet finished, we must keep an opening, but the greatest part would be played by locals", estimates Nahimana; who has held several ministerial portfolios before being named vice-president of the Senate during the transition.
 
The Minister for Regional Integration, Karenga Ramadhani, for his part stressed that the question of the composition of the TRC "was settled a long time ago". "There will absolutely be a foreign contribution", explained the former information minister and member of the governing party, CNDD-FDD.
 
The TRC is one of the mechanisms of transitional justice resulting from the Arusha Accords, which also plans the establishment of a Special Tribunal which will have to investigate the crimes committed in Burundi since independence in 1962, and will decide on the fate of their authors. This tribunal must, according to the UN, be supported by foreign judges and lawyers who will work with their Burundian counterparts.
 
The government had at the onset shown a more flexible attitude, estimating that any person having publicly confessed their crimes could benefit from a pardon. However, during his visit to Burundi in May, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, clarified that crimes of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity are "imprescriptible and inadmissible" crimes.
 
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