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What Difference Would the Peacebuilding Commission Make: The Case of Burundi, Gareth Evans

Presentation by Gareth Evans, President, International Crisis Group, to EPC/IRRI Workshop on Peacebuilding Commission and Human Rights Council, Brussels, 20 January 2006

Developments over the past four years have been promising, and give Burundi its best chance since independence in 1962 to produce lasting peace. The international community has played an important role, in particular since the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, in stabilizing the situation and preventing a similar catastrophe in Burundi – whose internal political dynamics may be different, but whose area, population size and ethnic composition (85 per cent Hutu, 14 per cent Tutsi) very closely mirrors that of its neighbour. My own organisation – the International Crisis Group – has been deeply involved: present in Burundi since 1998, we have published more than a dozen major reports recommending domestic and international action related to refugees and displaced persons, upheavals in the political landscape, electoral processes, and other transition issues.

But for all the international community’s efforts, the absence of coordinated approach by negotiators, donors, NGOs, peacekeepers and international agencies has resulted in delayed response, wasted resources, and missed opportunities. This is where Peacebuilding Commission’s role can be key: Burundi is one of the first countries that could and should benefit from improved international coordination of the kind the Peacebuilding Commission has been created to provide.


Burundi’s history since independence, from Belgian administered UN Trusteeship, in 1962, has been marked by political instability and widespread violence. Ruled by military regimes led by Tutsis for most of time since then, the country has found it extraordinarily difficult to find adequate political and economic mechanisms for power-sharing and peaceful dispute resolution. Weak political structures and socio-economic inequalities made ethnicity the main means of political expression. Major ethnic purges in 1965, 1972, 1988 and 1993 killed between 500,000 and 1 million Burundians, both Hutu and Tutsi. About 800,000 Burundians, mostly Hutu, fled after these attacks to refugee camps in Tanzania. In 1980, the PALIPEHUTU party was founded in these camps as voice of Hutu resistance to Tutsi regime. In 1991, its military wing, the FNL, began launching large scale attacks.

President Pierre Buyoya (a Tutsi leading the UPRONA party, who had seized power in a 1987 coup) made a first attempt at multiparty democracy in 1993. But then, when Melchior Ndadaye, a Hutu from the FRODEBU party, was elected president only to be assassinated by hardline Tutsi soldiers four months later, the country descended into communal violence. Over next decade, civil war raged in Burundi as Hutu rebel movements – FDD and FNL – gained strength, fuelled by recruits and financing from the refugee camps and Burundi’s countryside. Over 200,000 more people died in that war.

Following protracted negotiations, a transitional government came into being in November 2001, with power-sharing arrangement that effectively divided executive and legislative power between FRODEBU (Hutu) and UPRONA (Tutsi). Both CNDD-FDD and FNL initially rejected the agreement, but peace talks with the rebels were launched again and by October 2003, all rebel movements and political parties – except FNL (which continues to fight on to this day) – entered the transitional government.

The new constitution ratified by referendum in February 2005 adopts a quota system for all government institutions, giving the Tutsi minority an overrepresentation in order to protect its rights and interests. There are two vice-presidents, a Hutu and a Tutsi. Forty per cent of government posts are reserved for Tutsis, 60 per cent for Hutus. Army is shared equally between the two ethnic groups, a hugely important development for the Hutu population as Hutus were appointed to command positions for the first time.

Power sharing is between ethnicities and not political parties: this is designed to encourage the parties to become multi-ethnic, and this is beginning to happen - while CNDD-FDD is still clearly a Hutu dominated party, a number Tutsis have left UPRONA and other smaller Tutsi parties to enter it. The local and legislative elections held in mid-2005 saw the previous Hutu-Tutsi divide replaced by tensions between the two Hutu-led parties, CNDD-FDD and FRODEBU. While there were a number of assassinations of members and officials from both parties, there was little overtly ethnic violence during the campaigns, and turnout was very high.

The elections caused a radical shake-up of the political landscape. Former Hutu rebels of CNDD-FDD won 58 per cent of votes in local and legislative elections. FRODEBU only won 22 per cent of votes, as compared with 71 per cent during last elections in 1993, and UPRONA, which had been in power one way or another for much of past two decades, received only 7 per cent. Pierre Nkurunziza, from CNDD-FDD and the only presidential candidate, won over 90 per cent of votes in parliament.

Challenges Ahead in Building Lasting Peace

Notwithstanding all the positive developments over the past five years, the absence of integrated and coordinated international strategy for post-conflict reconstruction has allowed a variety of problems to fester:

Political: The overwhelming CNDD-FDD election victory provides it with temptation to monopolize power and marginalize others. The main challenge will be to create a system where grievances can be redressed through democratic process and not through violence or ethnic mobilization. CNDD-FDD has already suggested it may seek to change the ethnic quota system in the constitution, and has slighted both FRODEBU and UPRONA by not appointing a representative number of ministers from these parties, with FRODEBU threatening to leave the government. If CNDD-FDD, dominated by former Hutu rebels, marginalizes other political tendencies - while controlling the economy - it could fuel discontent and destabilize the country.

Economic: The power reconfiguration means that hundreds of politicians and administrators have lost their jobs. Burundi’s economy is focused around the state: state-run enterprises are the largest employer and generator of income. Marginalization of this mostly Tutsi elite could cause future problems if they cannot find business opportunities elsewhere. Burundi remains the fourth poorest country in world, and depends on tea and coffee for 90 percent of its GNP. While international aid is returning after many years of boycott, corruption is endemic at all levels of government and could stifle growth and fair sharing of resources.

Land conflict: The return of refugees in politically and economically volatile situation could spark renewed violence. More than 450,000 Burundian refugees live in camps and settlements in region, mostly in Tanzania, with another 117,000 displaced internally. Another 158,000 refugees have already returned to Burundi since 2002. Returning refugees are likely to clash with those who took over their land after their departure. The judicial system does not have either the resources or laws needed to deal with massive returns.

Transitional justice: The Arusha Agreement of 2000 and subsequent peace talks agreed to set up mechanisms for justice and reconciliation, namely a war crimes tribunal and a truth and reconciliation commission. UN has proposed two mixed bodies: a truth commission and a special court within Burundian justice system, each composed of three international and two Burundian judges. But CNDD-FDD has repeatedly indicated that forgiveness should be priority rather than justice or accountability.

Army integration and demobilization: While army integration has proceeded smoothly, demobilized combatants must be reintegrated into society in order to prevent harassment of the population or involvement in conflicts. Around 18,000 soldiers have been demobilized to date, but many lack economic opportunities and pose potential threat.

Dealing with the FNL: There remain up to 2,000 FNL combatants in Burundi. When FNL blocked negotiations, the new government decided to seek a military solution in October 2005. The ensuing clamp-down targeted both FNL combatants and civilians in their area of operations: several hundred FNL combatants have been captured or killed, and over a thousand civilians were also detained, increasing resentment against new regime. If not dealt with correctly, disaffected politicians and ex-combatants could rally to FNL.

Maintaining the Commitment of the International Community During and After the Withdrawal of Peacekeepers: The initial African Union peacekeeping which commenced in 2003, was replaced in May 2004 by the UN Mission in Burundi (ONUB). Operating with around 5,500 military personnel, 100 international police and 350 international civilians, its priorities have been achieving a comprehensive ceasefire, assisting the preparation of election process; facilitating the DDR program and working with donors on development issues. Following last year’s elections, the new Government has requested ONUB to withdraw by end of 2006. The Secretary-General will present next month a detailed breakdown plan on how that can be done

The Role of the Peacebuilding Commission

As ONUB prepares to leave, the Peacebuilding Commission becomes the focus of attention as the best available vehicle now for coordinating international assistance, and generally ensuring that the international community will stay the course. How is this likely to work?

First step: Organizational Committee creates country-specific Working Group for Burundi. The assumption is that the full cooperation of the country in question would be required: Burundi welcomed creation of Peacebuilding Commission, but hasn’t pronounced itself on the Commission’s role in Burundi.

The Working Group would desirably have some 20-25 participants, including members of the Organizational Committee (hopefully not all 31 of them in practice, although the General Assembly resolution of December 2005 makes clear that they are formally members); together with representation from Burundi; countries in region (DRC, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania are logical, but Burundi might object); IMF and World Bank; African Union; the SRSG for Burundi, and other UN agencies and programs as UNDP, UNICEF, Commissioner for Human Rights, OCHA, UNHCR, and DPKO; and perhaps some NGOs, although their formal representation may be hard to achieve.

The Support Office of about 20 professionals will establish agenda for meetings based on Secretary General’s input. Given the large number of participants, it will be essential there be good preparation.

- Since the General Assembly refused to approve the request of the SG for new resources for an office of between 18 and 25 people, the Secretariat is looking into the options. Most likely they will borrow personnel from other UN agencies (which is unfortunate, because offices rarely agree to sends their best people elsewhere) or seek funding from foundations. The hope is to get experts in the various areas of post-conflict reconstruction, especially in capacity building for governments. The SG may well go back to the GA in March and ask again for resources, but the Secretariat cannot wait until then to start recruiting.

The Burundi Working Group could be expected to meet several times over the first few months, then probably once every two months thereafter. Sub-groups might be established for each priority area. The Support Office will assemble information generated from these meetings and identify gaps and overlaps in projects and funding, working closely with UN SRSG and Resident Coordinator in Bujumbura in support of existing on-the-ground coordination bodies. It would recommend elimination or consolidation of programs where overlaps occur, and identify individual actors to fill in gaps.

Where there are urgent needs or areas falling through the cracks, the Support Office would urge the Organizational Committee to apply resources from Peacebuilding Fund. UN officials expect Fund to generate about $250 million a year, and perhaps up to $40 million would be available for Burundi in any given year. This will not be used for humanitarian relief, but would likely focus on building state capacity – ensuring that ministries have resources, training, and infrastructure needed – or to support one-off expenditures like stipends for reintegration of combatants.

- Discussions on the use of the Peacebuilding Fund are on-going. All agree that the Fund has to occupy a clearly defined niche and not compete with other funds such as the Post-Conflict Fund of the World Bank, the Office of Transitional Initiatives at USAID, or the multi-agency Multi-Country Demobilization and Reintegration Program managed by the World Bank. The key to the Fund is that it be non-earmarked and able to be used rapidly. A number of countries are interested – one Scandinavian country, for example, has said it will give some $30 million – but the money is not in the bank. It is being debated as to what body will control the Fund.

The Commission’s relationship with UN Security Council still largely undefined, in the end it will remain an advisory body with only the power to recommend. Since the UNSC is “seized” with Burundi, one of the Commission’s key roles will be to feed information and ideas into UNSC resolutions. Having this connection to UNSC may be key to getting institutions like IMF and World Bank to effectively cooperate with Commission. The relationship with ECOSOC is symbolically important, but of less practical significance to the extent that it has no executive authority.

Possible Specific Areas of PBC Focus

Taking into account the challenges described above, there are a number of key areas which the Support Office could and should identify as priorities for PBC attention. The hope is that each participant in the process will identify existing and projected programs in the areas in question, gaps they cannot meet, and best practices from elsewhere that could be applied in Burundi, with the Working Group, backed by the Support Office, pulling the threads together, identifying who should do what, when and how, and then closely monitoring progress.

Economic reconstruction and diversification. Economic reconstruction of Burundi goes hand in hand with processes of reconciliation and resettlement of refugees and internally displaced persons. The Commission should focus on targeting international resources toward highly visible projects – whether roads, health clinics, schools, or housing – to give Burundians confidence that peace has its benefits. These programs should empower Burundian government economic decision-makers with skills and resources they need to create macroeconomic conditions needed attract domestic and foreign investment. It is essential to create job opportunities for ex-combatants, refugees, and unemployed civilians alike.

- In this area, the Commission can apply strong pressure on donors to meet their past commitments. Reports indicate that of $1.1 billion pledged at donor roundtables for Burundi since 2000, only 66 percent has been disbursed.

Good governance. The hope here is that the Commission will coordinate work by national authorities, UNDP and others on a plan of technical assistance to rebuild the administration to restore confidence in government at the national, provincial and local levels. There is a need to ensure that the government has resources to do its job without exploiting the very people they are expected to serve or engaging in corrupt practices. This involves building an effective legislature and judiciary to balance the power of the executive, and creating a culture of accountability, transparency and respect for human rights in government. While international technical oversight and assistance is needed, at the end of the day Burundian institutions – courts, ombudsman, parliamentary committees, free press – will be the main pillars of good governance.

National reconciliation and accountability. The Commission can help facilitate the process of national reconciliation. A mixed court and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, together with traditional local institutions, are key steps towards national reconciliation. The Peacebuilding Commission can support these institutions and share experiences elsewhere with similar processes, such as South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission and gacaca system in Rwanda. Ensuring accountability is essential to rebuilding respect for rule of law and eliminating a culture of impunity.

- A particular focus on rebuilding civil society will be important here. Interest-based groups were among the first casualties of ethnic-based conflict. Groups that draw together academics, lawyers, teachers, unions, women, and others are important contributors to gluing society together and can serve as safety valves to permit the redress of grievances. Such groups can also be key to resolving conflicts where government mediators cannot, through so-called “track two” negotiating exercises. For example, international NGO Search for Common Ground has 100 people involved with radio broadcasts for reconciliation through Studio Ijambo, Women’s Peace Center, Youth Project, and Integrated Victims of Torture.

Land Reform. A great deal of international cooperation will be needed with the government if comprehensive land reform is to be effectively delivered. Laws on land tenure need to be revised to provide a coherent framework for the arbitration of disputes over land. The courts need technical and financial assistance, while the traditional institution of bashinganahe needs to be invigorated for local dispute resolution. Land reform and the resettlement of over 500,000 people will require considerable international financial assistance and oversight to ensure that land conflicts do not destabilize Burundi. The rights of women will need to be given a particular emphasis in land reform, as they are often disadvantaged.

Security. In support of Burundi’s security sector reform, the Commission could use funds to assist programs to reinsert ex-combatants into society by offering them training in various trades, facilitating their access to credit, and creating follow-up mechanisms to monitor their reintegration. It should share successful reintegration models from other post-conflict situations.

- The Commission could possibly also prove to be a useful mechanism for drawing all the key regional actors into process of dialogue on challenge of post-conflict reconstruction in Burundi, helping to prevent spill-over from armed combatants, refugees and arms flows.

In all of this, the Commission will need to strike a balance between international engagement and respect for sovereignty, negotiating how much it can intervene in with what the new government may perceive as strictly domestic matters. The abovementioned matters generally coincide with the five-year program recently released by Burundian government defining “priorities for good governance and socio-economic revival” - but it remains to be seen how smoothly the process can proceed.

The roles identified here just for one country are a tall order for an institution that doesn’t even have offices, staff or a clear vision yet. They are especially difficult for an institution whose costs beyond basic operations will come from a voluntary fund rather than assessed contributions. All countries and international institutions must embrace new Peacebuilding Commission as full partner, and donors in particular must provide generous funding for the Support Office and Peacebuilding Fund for operations in Burundi and beyond.