Burundi | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Burundi

Burundi

Freedom in the World 2005

2005 Scores

Status

Partly Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

5.0

Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

5

Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

5
Trend Arrow: 


Burundi received an upward trend arrow due to agreement on the constitutional basis for restoration of a democratic political system

Overview: 


Burundi continued its very slow progress in 2004 towards resolving the multifaceted crisis that has plagued the country since 1993. A broad-based agreement was reached regarding the specifics of renewed democratic institutions that would balance the interests of the majority Hutu and minority Tutsi populations. National elections are due in 2005, but this process could be delayed since a constitutional referendum had not taken place by the end of 2004 as planned. Sporadic violence in the country and in the region continued to threaten the process.

With few exceptions, the minority Tutsi ethnic group has largely governed this small African country since independence from Belgium 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 - the Tutsi and the majority Hutu - has occurred repeatedly since independence. However, the assassination of the newly elected Hutu president, Melchoir Ndadaye, in 1993 resulted in sustained and widespread carnage. Since 1993, an estimated 200,000 Burundi citizens, out of a population of 5.5 million, have lost their lives.

Ndadaye's murder fatally weakened the hold on power of the mainly Hutu Front for Democracy in Burundi (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 - FRODEBU and Unity for National Progress (UPRONA) - Hutu politician Sylvestre Ntibantunganya served as Burundi's new president until his ouster in a 1996 military coup led by Pierre Buyoya, who had formerly been president. Buyoya claimed to have carried out the coup to prevent further human rights abuses 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 parliament, which has a FRODEBU majority, and the beginning of negotiations in Arusha, Tanzania, in 1998.

In 2000, the negotiations, mediated by former South African president Nelson Mandela, resulted in agreement in principle by most parties on a future democratic political solution to the conflict. Nineteen organized groups from across the political spectrum agreed to recommendations from committees on 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. In October 2001, the National Assembly adopted the transitional constitution and a transition government was installed the next month, with President Buyoya temporarily remaining chief of state and Domitien Ndayizeye vice president. The failure of key elements of the Hutu-dominated Forces for the Defense of Democracy (FDD) and National Liberation Front (FNL) to participate in the transition resulted in both continued negotiations and violence.

As a result of the South African - mediated negotiations, by the end of 2002, most of the factions had agreed to stop the violence and participate in transitional arrangements leading to national elections to be held in late 2004. In April 2003, Buyoya stepped down and was replaced as president by FRODEBU secretary-general Ndayizeye. In October, the FDD, one of the two remaining rebel groups that had refused to participate in the peace process, reached an agreement with the government. Although hopes were raised that Burundi's civil strife could be nearing an end, the FNL continued to engage in guerilla activities.

In 2004, the security situation remained relatively calm in most of the country. Demobilization of ex-combatants continued, and some refugees returned, especially from Tanzania. Sporadic fighting continued, however, near the capital of Bujumbura. In August 2004, agreement was reached on the shape of new democratic institutions and the holding of elections. Continued political infighting, as well as delayed logistical preparations, resulted in a delay in the first scheduled poll, a constitutional referendum. By the end of November 2004 there was yet to be a date determined for this election.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 


Citizens of Burundi cannot change their government democratically. Political rights continue to be circumscribed, although parties and civic organizations do function. Burundi does not have an elected president or parliament. As part of the negotiated political agreement, which entered into force in November 2001, President Pierre Buyoya was replaced in April 2003 by Domitien Ndayizeye for the subsequent 18 months until presidential and parliamentary elections, originally scheduled for November 2004, are held. The National Assembly is to be 60 percent Hutu and 40 percent Tutsi, with three additional deputies from the Twa ethnic minority and a minimum of 30 percent of the deputies being women.

Delays in the electoral process have been a highly sensitive issue. Many protagonists have insisted that they be held as soon as possible, but others emphasizing the technical problems inherent in organizing legitimate elections within a short time frame, and the need for inclusiveness. Tasks to be performed include conducting an electoral census, registering voters, adopting the post-transition texts on the constitution, disarming combatants, and presenting parties' political programs.

In June 1998, a transitional constitution reinstituted and enlarged the parliament through the appointment of additional members and created two vice presidents. The parliament's membership was subsequently changed to reflect the entry of additional opposition parties into the political process. Its powers remain limited in practice, although it provides an outlet for political expression and remains an important player in determining the nation's future.

There are more than two 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 UPRONA remain leading political parties.

Some government revenues and expenditures have not been regularly listed on the budget, contributing to corruption problems. Burundi was not ranked by Transparency International in its 2004 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Some different viewpoints are expressed in the media, although media outlets operate under significant self-censorship and the opposition press functions only sporadically. The government-operated radio station allows a measure of diversity. The European Union has funded a radio station. The press group Reporters Sans Frontiers placed Burundi 92 out of 116 countries in its 2003 press freedom rankings.

Freedom of religion is generally observed. The ongoing civil strife and the predominant role of the Tutsi have impeded academic freedom by limiting educational opportunities for Hutus.

There is a modest but important civil society with a key area of focus on the protection of human rights. The Transitional Constitution provides for freedom of assembly; however, the transitional government occasionally restricted this right in practice. 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.

The judicial system is seriously burdened by a lack of resources. Not surprisingly, given Burundi's recent history, there are far more existing and potential cases than can easily be handled by the current judiciary, and many of them are highly sensitive politically. Many crimes go unreported. Conditions in prisons continued to be poor and at times life-threatening.

Burundians continue to be subjected to arbitrary violence, whether from the government or from guerilla groups. Detailed, specific figures on the number of dead or injured are difficult to obtain. However, the continuation of widespread violence in parts of the country in 2004 has been documented by respected independent organizations inside and outside Burundi, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the ITEKA Human Rights League.

According to statistics published by the Central Bank in Bujumbura, most economic indicators have sharply declined since civil war broke out in 1993. The gross domestic product has dropped by 50 percent, and about 67 percent of the population are currently living below the poverty line. Access to basic social and health services has been severely diminished.

Women have limited opportunities for advancement in the economic and political spheres, especially in the rural areas. As part of the negotiated political agreement, parties also agreed that parliament would be composed of 30 percent women. Only 5 percent of females are enrolled in secondary school. Widespread sexual violence, including rape, against women occurs, according to Amnesty International.