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» 28.06.2010 - Burundi failed election completed
» 01.03.2010 - Burundi opposition fields woman candidate for elections
» 22.01.2010 - Legislators discuss common market protocol in Burundi
» 30.07.2009 - SA formally withdraws from Burundi
» 03.06.2009 - Disagreement on Burundi peace achievements
» 14.05.2009 - Over 200 political prisoners in Burundi released
» 12.11.2008 - Burundi opposition leader charged with contempt
» 20.08.2008 - Burundi crisis may jeopardise future stability

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Politics | Human rights

Burundi heading towards dictatorship?

Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza

© Mark Garten/UN Photo/afrol News
afrol News, 23 November
- With opposition parties partly banned, journalists imprisoned and reports of torture, President Pierre Nkurunziza is rooting out critical voices in Burundi. New reports indicate a dictatorship is being implemented.

The latest critical report on a deterioration of democratic standards in Burundi was published by the New York-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW) today. The 69-page report, "Closing Doors?: The Narrowing of Democratic Space in Burundi," documents abuses including torture, arbitrary arrests, banning of opposition activities and harassment of civil society groups.

The local Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons (APRODH) earlier had complained about increased political and police brutality towards the Burundian opposition and press. APRODH leader Pierre Claver Mbonimpa himself is threatened by the police.

Earlier this month, Paris-based Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) accused police and government of unlawful arrests of critical journalists in Burundi and harassment of independent media.

Today's HRW report sums up these negative trends and presents new facts on political repression in the East African country. According to HRW, the situation strongly deteriorated before this year's controversial election, and has not improved since that.

The May local elections, which according to official results ended with a landslide victory to the ruling CNDD-FDD, sparked opposition protests and claims of "massive fraud". The opposition joined forces and boycotted the June presidential and July parliamentary elections.

President Nkurunziza answered by imposing a blanket ban on all opposition party meetings and activities. Several opposition members and journalists were arrested. Some opposition members again take to their arms.

In August, the ruling party "coups" the main opposition party FNL, as an "extraordinary FNL congress" is organised with CNDD-FDD support. The "congress" votes out the FNL leadership and votes in replacements sympathetic to the ruling CNDD-FDD. Burundi's Interior Minister recognises the new leadership.

Meanwhile, human rights groups such as APRODH document extrajudicial killings of opposition members by the police and renewed use of torture against detained critical voices. During the last few months, several members of the press and the opposition have fled the country.

According to HRW, there are however some positive developments in Burundi, especially as parts of the judiciary are demonstrating their independence. Police officers torturing alleged FNL members were recently convicted and judicial authorities have promised to investigate allegations of torture and extrajudicial executions.

Burundi's international partners seem disappointed by these developments, following massive investments in negotiating a peace, establishing transitional authorities and trying to organise free and fair elections. According to HRW, many of the countries sponsoring the Burundian peace were also "frustrated by the opposition's decision to boycott elections in which the international community had invested heavily."

This frustration, according to the HRW report, left many international partners disengage from Burundi. As a consequence, many of these countries had "not actively urged the government to respect the rights of opposition parties."

Some pressure is however coming from the region, where the East African Community (EAC) is gaining foothold and establishing a common market that includes Burundi. EAC neighbours have encouraged Burundi to carry through on its promises to build stronger institutional mechanisms to protect human rights.

"If Burundi wants the world to see it as a democracy, its leaders need to avoid the temptation to govern as a de facto one-party state, and instead guarantee space for the political opposition and other dissident voices," HRW's Rona Peligal commented. "International donors and Burundi's neighbours should make it clear to Burundi's ruling party that it must work with its critics, rather than silence them," she added.

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