1 March 2016

East Africa: Civil Society Urge EAC Leaders to Prioritise Burundi Crisis

Photo: EAC
Flags belonging to the EAC member states.

Two days before the 17th ordinary East African Community (EAC) Heads of State Summit, 17 regional Civil Society Organisations have expressed concerns that the crisis in Burundi is not on the agenda of the upcoming EAC Heads of State Summit.

An EAC communiqué announcing the Summit did not mention the Burundi crisis among the list of items to be considered by regional leaders when they meet.

A joint statement issued Monday morning by Burundian Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and International Organisations to the Summit indicates that the groups are joining their voices "to address the EAC Heads of State."

"We are deeply concerned that the Burundi crisis is not on the Agenda of the Summit despite the worsening situation and request that it be given due priority," reads part of the statement.

"We urge the Summit to ensure implementation of the decisions taken by the three Extraordinary Summits on the situation in Burundi."

Among others, the groups also call on the Summit to support the establishment of a credible investigative mechanism to independently examine all allegations of human rights violations in Burundi, as recommended by the Sub-Committee on Regional Affairs and Conflict Resolution of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) last November.

The groups' joint statement was issued during their press conference in Arusha, Tanzania where EAC leaders are scheduled to meet, on Wednesday.

"Ending the crisis in Burundi must remain a top priority for the Heads of State of the EAC, who are meeting later this week in Arusha," the statement adds.

All-inclusive inter-Burundian dialogue

Shortly after the press conference, Donald Deya, Chief Executive Officer of the Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU), a continental membership forum for African lawyers, told The New Times that the way out for Burundi is all-inclusive inter-Burundian dialogue and a mediated settlement carried out in a neutral venue to which all Burundians feel secure to negotiate, including the Burundians currently in exile.

"Those in exile include Women leaders, Youth Leaders, CSO Leaders, political Opposition, and even some members of the ruling CNDD-FDD Party! The negotiation should proceed on a day-to-day basis, without a break, until an Agreement is reached," Deya said.

"This is the way in which Kenya undertook the mediation in 2008. That is why the mediation was successful in less than two months."

Deya as well set the record straight as regards what civil society groups have recently stressed regarding Burundi membership with the EAC.

They did not call for expulsion of Burundi from the EAC but, instead, had called for sanctions, as provided for in Art. 143 and suspension, as provided for in Art. 146 of the EAC Treaty.

Deya explained section two of Article 146 "clearly provides that it is the benefits of EAC membership that are suspended, but the obligations are not suspended."

Suspension, he said, is for a limited period (which could be renewed) and it is to force the said member state to comply with EAC obligations.

Deya said the Burundi Government is under obligation to implement fully the decisions of the three previous EAC Extraordinary Summits on Burundi, including speedy mediation.

"Unless it complies, it should suffer sanctions, including suspension."

What the Treaty says

Article 143 : Sanctions, stipulates that a Partner State which defaults in meeting its financial and other obligations "under this Treaty" shall be subject to such action as the Summit may on the recommendation of the Council, determine.

Article 146: Suspension of a Member, also states that the Summit may suspend a Partner State from taking part in the activities of the Community if that State fails to observe and fulfill the fundamental principles and objectives of the Treaty including failure to meet financial commitments to the Community within a period of 18 months.

"A Partner State suspended, in accordance with paragraph 1 of this Article, shall cease to enjoy the benefits provided for under this Treaty but shall continue to be bound by membership obligations until the suspension is lifted," reads section two of Article 146.

On the other hand, Article 147: Expulsion of a Member, stipulates that the Summit may expel a Partner State from the Community for gross and persistent violation of the principles and objectives of this Treaty after giving such Partner State twelve months' written notice. Upon the expiration of that period, the Partner State concerned shall cease to be a member of the Community unless the notice is cancelled.

Burundi's crisis has progressively deteriorated since April 2015, when President Pierre Nkurunziza was nominated by his party the National Council for Defence of Democracy - Forces for Defence of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) to stand for election for a third term in office, and violent repression by security forces of the protests that ensued.

Hundreds of people have died since the beginning of the crisis and thousands arrested in the government crackdown on suspected opponents.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 245,265 people have fled from Burundi to neighboring countries as of February 24.

The ever-increasing numbers of refugees are just one sign that the crisis is taking on a regional dimension with a serious impact on citizens from East Africa in general, and from Burundi in particular, the civil society groups say.

Last November, six civil society organizations, all registered within the EAC, filed and served a Citizens' Petition to the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), requesting the Assembly to seize itself of the deteriorating political, human rights and humanitarian situation in Burundi.

After deliberating on the matter and holding public debates EALA's prayers to the Summit included: that the Assembly requests the Summit to affirm that the Community has a duty of care and responsibility to protect the people of Burundi from violence and guarantee the safety and security of all citizens and persons in Burundi

Another was that the Summit considers facilitating and supporting the establishment of a credible investigative mechanism to independently investigate all allegations of human rights violations in Burundi.

A high-level five-member African Union heads-of-state delegation was in Bujumbura last week for talks aimed at bringing an end to a crisis triggered by President Pierre Nkurunziza's decision in April last year to run for a third term' which he won in an election in July.

On Saturday, the delegation led by President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, announced that Burundi has agreed to the deployment of observers and military monitors from the African Union (AU) as part of peace restoring efforts. The AU will deploy 100 human rights observers and 100 military monitors to Burundi to monitor the situation, a statement issued by the South African Presidency said.

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