Bujumbura, 6 December 2007 (FH) - Transitional justice, which is trying to be set up in Burundi, will depend on the will of Burundians to tell the truth, considers Allison Des Forges, an American historian and adviser for the Africa division of the international organization for the defence of human rights, Human Rights Watch (HRW).

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These provisional legal institutions are planned in the Arusha Accords that were signed in August 2000. They plan the establishment of a Special Tribunal (ST), whose composition would be mixed as in Cambodia, Timor or in Sierra Leone, and of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) charged with investigating crimes committed in this country since independence in 1962. "All will depend on the will of Burundians, it is the first thing to underline" affirmed Alison Des Forges in an interview with the Hirondelle agency. "Even with a strong international involvement, if Burundians do not want to tell the truth, if they do not want justice to be done, the process will certainly fail. The background is thus: do they Burundians have the will for justice? And if the answer is yes, then the foreign intervention will only facilitate the process."  In connection with the foreign presence within the legal institutions, Des Forges thinks that "the essence is to find a mechanism which is perceived as credible by Burundians. Participation from abroad to ensure a certain guarantee (of neutrality) on all sides has been planned. But I would wish to give a small warning: foreigners can also be partisan, they can also lean towards one side or another. There is, thus, not simply a need for foreigners, but for foreigners with an open mind, honest, sincere people, known for their integrity.  "It is always difficult to find people with integrity, adds Alison Des Forges, but one cannot conclude that these people do not exist in Burundi, certainly they exist. It would thus be necessary to try to find these people and to encourage them to participate. However, it is simply not a question of identifying them, but they still have to be persuaded that it is worth the sacrifice, if not why implicate them if the results would not be taken seriously. And it will be the same thing for the foreigners"  Questioned on the delays in the creation of these two institutions and the popular consultation which will start soon, Des Forges answers: "first of all, there are imprescriptible crimes (qualified), i.e. these crimes must necessarily be punished. Justice in this case does not depend on popular will, it is not a question which one will solve in a democratic manner, we are not in an election! However, the popular voice is important, but not in regard to the need for prosecution or not. The popular voice is important on the dimension of the crimes to be handled, the periods (of time) to examine, and also in the direction of the responsabilization of the population because this process belongs to them.  "So that a consultation is credible, it is necessary that people express themselves openly, sincerely and freely", explains Des Forges. "But how to arrive at this form of expression? Will it be necessary to do it on camera, or to protect the identity of the person who will have to make their voice heard? If it is necessary to ensure the anonymity of the answers, there are strategies to adopt, to make it so that individuals are questioned only in the presence of those who are authorized to collect the answers. But it has to be done by reliable people (...) the best would be to make a sample or a survey on a scientific basis, by taking into account the interest of the various important groups in the country".  The proposal to set up a court to try the crimes of genocide "has a certain strength", estimates Des Forges. "But if one accepts this argument for crimes of genocide, it should also be accepted for war crimes and crimes against humanity. In Burundi, there were violations of international law. If these crimes fall under the name of crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes, it is necessary to prosecute...  "Crimes committed in a country are not simply crimes, but they are also historical events", she explains by referring to her experience. "To manage to establish the truth, it is necessary to go there with strategies of legal investigation, but also with strategies of history. The strategies of history often also lean on the question of collecting written documentation. It is thus important to put data together relating to oral testimonies of the documents, before drawing conclusions in connection with historical realities of a country.  "A choice must be made, she concludes. If one chooses to do nothing, where will that lead the country in future generations? Is there a way to forget crimes of such an impact, of such an importance? I find that it is impossible to forget, to erase such crimes from the collective memory. We are trying to reconstitute the country of before the crisis from more than forty years ago. It is a historical impossibility. There is not a way to forget memories, hatreds and fears, except by facing these terrible events. There is no other alternative, if we want reconciliation, it is necessary to resort to the truth, to justice. GA/PB/MM© Hirondelle News Agency