Burundi | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2002

2002 Scores


Not Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Trend Arrow: 

Burundi received an upward trend arrow due to a negotiated agreement between political parties and the installation of a transitional government.


In 2001 Burundi made a tentative step toward overcoming the civil discord that has wracked the country for years. Long-running negotiations, mediated by Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa, resulted in agreement in principle by most parties on a future democratic political solution to the conflict pitting the Tutsi minority against a Hutu majority. A transition government was installed on November 1 with President Pierre Buyoya remaining chief of state for the next 18 months and Domitien Ndayizeye, the secretary-general of the Front for Democracy in Burundi (FRODEBU), the Hutu-dominated opposition party, as vice president.

Despite this potentially important step, Burundi continued to suffer from continuing guerrilla warfare between the government and the two main armed Hutu resistance groups, the Forces for the Defense of Democracy (FDD) and National Liberation Front (FNL), which have yet to agree to a ceasefire and to the political accords. In addition, in July rebel Tutsi military opposed to the negotiations staged an unsuccessful coup attempt against the government of President Buyoya. Continued instability within the region further complicates efforts at reconciliation.

With the exception of a brief period following democratic elections in 1993, the minority Tutsi ethnic group has governed the country since independence in 1962. The military, judiciary, educational system, business sector, and news media have also been dominated by the Tutsi. Violence between the country's two main ethnic groups has occurred repeatedly since independence, but the assassination of the newly elected Hutu president, Melchoir Ndadaye, in 1993 resulted in sustained and widespread violence. Since 1993 an estimated 200,000 Burundi citizens, out of a population of 5.5 million, are estimated to have lost their lives.

Ndadaye's murder fatally weakened the hold on power of the Hutu-backed political party, FRODEBU. Negotiations on power sharing took place over the succeeding months, as ethnically backed violence continued to wrack the country. Ndadaye's successor was killed along with Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana in 1994 when their plane was apparently shot down while approaching Kigali airport in Rwanda. This event triggered the Rwandan genocide and intensified killings in Burundi.

Under a 1994 power-sharing arrangement between the main political parties, Hutu politician Sylvestre Ntibantunganya served as Burundi's new president until his ouster in a 1996 military coup led by Buyoya, who had formerly been president. Buyoya claimed to have carried out the coup to prevent further human rights violations and violence. Peace and political stability within the country continued to be elusive as armed insurgents sporadically staged attacks and the government security forces pursued an often ruthless campaign of intimidation. The search for peace eventually led to an agreement to allow a measure of political space for the parliament, which has a FRODEBU majority, and the beginning of negotiations in Arusha in 1998.

The negotiations for ending the civil war continued well into 2001. Nineteen organized groups from across the political spectrum agreed to recommendations from committees regarding the nature of the conflict, reforms in the nation's governing institutions, security issues, and economic restructuring and development. The form of the political institutions through which power would be shared and the reform of the military proved to be especially sensitive and difficult issues. Even after the signing of the accords by the last of the 19 parties in September 2000, questions about its implementation remained, which were only resolved in mid-2001. An upsurge in guerilla activity in the wake of the accords claimed hundreds of lives.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Political and civil liberties within Burundi continue to be circumscribed, although parties and civic organizations do function. President Pierre Buyoya is an unelected chief of state. The constitution was suspended when he took power, as was the legitimately elected parliament. In June 1998 a transitional constitution was put into place; it reinstituted and enlarged the parliament through the appointment of additional members and created two vice presidents. The parliament's powers remain limited in practice, although it provides an outlet for political expression and remains an important player in determining the nation's future.

The negotiated political agreement which enterered into force in November, 2001, allows Buyoya to remain president for the next 18 months and then for the presidency to be occupied by a member of FRODEBU for a subsequent 18 months until presidential and parliamentary elections are held in November 2004. In addition, Jean Minani, a leading member of FRODEBU who returned from exile, was elected Speaker of the National Assembly.

There are more than a dozen active political parties, ranging from those that champion radical Tutsi positions to those that hold extremist Hutu positions. Most are small in terms of membership. FRODEBU and the Tutsi-dominated Unity for National Progress (UPRONA) party remain the leading political parties.

Burundians continue to be subject to arbitrary violence, whether from the government or from guerilla groups. Although detailed, specific figures on the number of dead or injured are difficult to obtain, widespread violence continued in parts of Burundi in 2001. This has been documented by respected independent organizations inside and outside Burundi, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the ITEKA Human Rights League. Amnesty International issued several appeals during the year, for example, for investigations into human rights abuses allegedly conducted by both guerilla and government forces. In addition to operations of the government security forces, there has been intense activity by armed opposition groups, particularly in the province of rural Bujumbura.

Reprisals by the armed forces have often been brutal and indiscriminate, and have resulted in hundreds of extrajudicial executions, mainly of members of the Hutu ethnic group. Much of this violence has been committed in zones where the local civilian and military authorities had ordered the civilian population to leave the area because of counterinsurgency operations. The continued impunity of the armed forces and the weakness of the Burundian judicial system are important contributing factors to the violence.

Some different viewpoints are expressed in the media, although they operate under significant self-censorship and the opposition press functions sporadically. The government-operated radio station allows a measure of diversity. The European Union has funded a radio station. The Hutu extremist radio broadcasts sporadically and has a limited listening range.

Constitutional protections for unionization are in place, and the right to strike is protected by the labor code. The Organization of Free Unions of Burundi is the sole labor confederation and has been independent since the rise of the multiparty system in 1992. Most union members are civil servants and have bargained collectively with the government. Freedom of religion is generally observed.

Women have limited opportunities for advancement in the economic and political spheres, especially in the rural areas. Only 5 percent of females, for example, are enrolled in secondary school. Burundi's mainly subsistence economy is estimated to have contracted by 25 percent over the last five years. The five-year conflict and the two years of economic sanctions imposed by neighboring states have crippled the economy (25 percent cumulative negative real gross domestic product growth over the last five years), and worsened social indicators. Over the five years of conflict and economic sanctions, poverty has increased by 80 percent in rural areas and more than doubled in urban areas. Child malnutrition is estimated to be at 38 percent, and reported cases of major endemic diseases have increased by over 200 percent since 1993. Access to basic social and health services has been severely diminished.