Political Rights: 5
Civil Liberties: 5
Status: Not Free
Population: 6,100,000
GNI/Capita: $100
Life Expectancy: 43
Religious Groups: Christian (67 percent), Indigenous beliefs (23 percent), Muslim (10 percent), Protestant (5 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Hutu [Bantu] (85 percent), Tutsi (14 percent), Twa [Pygmy] (1 percent)
Capital: Bujumbura

Ratings Change
Burundi's political rights rating improved from 6 to 5, and its status from Not Free to Partly Free, due to the increased political role for a majority Hutu party and the agreement of one of two remaining rebel groups to join the government and participate in the political process.


The year 2003 saw significant movement toward resolving the multifaceted crisis that has plagued Burundi since 1993. The country's political space expanded as an ethnic Hutu became president as part of a power-sharing accord. All but one guerilla faction joined the political 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 violence. 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 opposition 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, 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 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 parliament, which has a FRODEBU majority, and the beginning of negotiations in Arusha in 1998.

In 2000, the ongoing negotiations in Arusha, 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 as 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 continued negotiations and violence.

The year 2003 saw some successes in resolving the crisis that has wracked the country since 1993. As a result of 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, President Buyoya stepped down and was replaced 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.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Political rights within Burundi continue to be circumscribed, although parties and civic organizations do function. Burundi does not have an elected president or parlia ment. 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 are held, in November 2004.

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 powers remain limited in practice, although it provides an outlet for political expression and remains an important player in determining the nation's future. As part of the agreement, the parliament's legitimacy was heightened by the nomination to it of key political figures. Jean Minani, a leading member of the opposition Front for Democracy in Burundi (FRODEBU) who returned from exile, was chosen by the National Assembly to be speaker.

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.

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 Hutu extremist radio broadcasts sporadically and has a limited listening range. 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. Academic freedom has been constrained somewhat by ongoing civil strife.

There is a modest but important civil society with a key area of focus on the protection of human rights. 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 existing judiciary, and many of them are highly sensitive politically. Many crimes go unreported.

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 the country in 2003. 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 in parts of the country by armed opposition groups.

Apart from using artillery and small arms, government forces have also used helicopters to bomb areas of suspected guerilla presence. More than 30,000 civilians are displaced in the area around the capital and in urgent need of assistance. 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. For example, the Burundian army admitted killing 173 civilians in the central province of Gitega in September 2002.

According to Human Rights Watch, Burundian army soldiers forced more than 30,000 civilians from their homes in Ruyigi province in eastern Burundi in late April and early May, and authorities refused to allow humanitarian aid groups to provide assistance to the displaced persons, who are suffering from malnutrition and disease. Much of the military's 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.

The prolonged conflict has crippled the economy (25 percent negative gross domestic product over the last five years) and worsened social indicators. According to the Burundi Chamber of Commerce, the country's GDP has fallen to $620 million dollars, half the figure for 1991. 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. Only 5 percent of females are enrolled in secondary school.

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