2001 Scores

Status: Not Free
Freedom Rating: 6.0
Civil Liberties: 6
Political Rights: 6


In 2000 Burundi continued to teeter between continuing violence and political instability on the one hand, and the prospect that successful multi-party negotiations would offer a framework for resolution of the country's long-standing crisis of governance on the other. Long-running negotiations in Arusha, Tanzania, mediated by Nelson Mandela and assisted, at one stage by President Bill Clinton, resulted in agreement on a future democratic political system by most, but not all, parties to the conflict pitting the Tutsi minority against a Hutu majority. Militant Hutu extremist groups have refused to fully accept the Arusha agreements, and have continued to stage intermittent guerilla attacks inside Burundi. 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. Cyprien Ntaryamira, Ndadaye's successor, was killed along with Rwanda president Juvenal Habyarimana in 1994 when their plane was apparently shot down while approaching Kigali airport in Rwanda. The event 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 by former President Pierre Buyoya in a 1996 military coup, which Buyoya claimed to have carried out 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 Arusha negotiations on ending the civil war continued throughout 2000. After lengthy negotiations a peace agreement was concluded. 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. Even after the signing of the accord by the last of the 19 parties in September, questions about its implementation remained. There was lack of agreement on specifics, for example, regarding the 30-month transitional period until new national elections are held. Two key Hutu guerrila groups refused to sign on to the agreement. An upsurge in guerilla activity in the wake of the accord claimed hundreds of lives.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Citizens of Burundi cannot change their government democratically. Political and civil liberties within Burundi continue to be circumscribed, although parties and civic organizations do function. President 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. Until a final Arusha agreement enters into force, it is not clear when the next presidential and parliamentary elections will be held, or under what conditions.

There are more than a dozen active political parties, ranging from those that champion extremist Tutsi positions to those that hold extremist Hutu positions. Most are small in terms of membership. FRODEBU and the Tutsi-domintaed 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 2000. 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 was 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 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.

Citizens have also been subject to arbitrary displacement from their homes. In September 1999, after a major relocation exercise near the capital, Bujumbura, the United Nations estimated there were more than 800,000 people – 12 percent of the population – in these sites. The government began to close some of the controversial resettlement camps in 2000.

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. Approximately 80 percent of Burundi's population is engaged in subsistence agriculture, with few links to the modern economy.

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