21 August 2017

Burundi: Requisitioning or Dispossession?

Agents of the National Intelligence Service (SNR) "seized" two cars from former 1st Vice President of Burundi, Bernard Busokoza. They say it is for investigative reasons. The cars' owner speaks of persecution for political reasons.

"I ask that my cars be restored to me." I do not know what I am accused of except politics based misunderstandings. I cannot be a victim of my political opinions." This is the appeal of the former First Vice President of the Republic, Bernard Busokoza, in exile now. On Wednesday, 2 August 2017, SNR agents showed up at SOGERBU garage in Bujumbura to "requisition" two vehicles of this big political name of the platform of the opposition in exile, CNARED Giriteka. He had left them in the garage when he fled. The first car is the Mercedes Benz brand with license plate C3244A and the second a Jeep Toyota V8 (A4400). According to the owner, both cars have a value of USD 200,000.

Witnesses say SNR agents were led by Vital Baranyanka. When signing the chit, the latter indicated that he was an officer of the judicial police (OPJ) at SNR. "According to these agents, my cars are the subject of an investigation," says Bernard Busokoza. He also says he sent friends to the SNR to inquire about the situation. "They said they were going to give back my cars." But it was a lie. According to the information I have, the license plates would have been changed and the cars disappeared. "Bernard Busokoza wonders why he is being harassed while the government claims that Burundi is a state governed by the rule of law. He sees it as a way to persecute him. "This is not the first time they do this."

Total confusion...

Bernard Busokoza says the hopes of recovering his property start to fade. However, he assured that he informed the Burundian Ombudsman, Edouard Nduwimana, as well as the chief of staff at the SNR, but he received no reply.

Juma Rukumbi, Spokesman for Burundi Ombudsman, said he was not aware of the case. "Maybe he made a verbal complaint without informing us." Iwacu tried to reach Edouard Nduwimana, unsuccessfully.

The reply of the spokesman for the Ministry of Public Security, Pierre Nkurikiye, is laconic: "I don't want to dwell on the issue. If he feels wronged, may he bring the case to the court. "Agnès Bangiricenge, Spokesperson for the Office of the Attorney-General of the Republic, said they had not yet received a file on the case. "Maybe it is still in the police."


For Charles Nditije, President of CNARED, this does not only concern Bernard Busokoza. "It is a program that aims to persecute all opponents of Pierre Nkurunziza's third term." He does not understand how investigations can be conducted into cars parked in a garage. For him, these cars were stolen like other property of the opponents. "This project is reflected in the language used by the authorities throughout the country." He gives the example of the Speaker of the Senate who urged the Imbonerakure-youth wing affiliated to the ruling party CNDD-FDD- to "work" and promised that they will inherit the property of the opponents. He also mentions the decision of the Mayor of the city, Freddy Mbonimpa, authorizing the setting up of military positions in the plots of the refugees. According to him, it is a project that has been prepared long before. He gives a warning to those who are buying these illegally acquired property.

Phénias Ningaba, Spokesman for Sahwanya Frodebu party, wonders whether investigations are being carried out on the property of a person or on the person themeselves. "The safety of property and persons is the responsibility of the State. For me, it is the state that will answer. "Concerning the response of the spokesman for the Ministry of Public Security, he sees it as a way of escaping his responsibilities.

Gabriel Rufyiri, president of OLUCOME, a local NGO, says it is the state that is the guarantor of the property of the refugees." In the case of Bernard Busokoza, Rufyiri speaks of a contradiction to the speech by the President of the Republic reassuring refugees that their property will be kept well.

However, the president of OLUCOME says: "Investigating a material object is normal, but the latter must be the object of a crime. Moreover, the seizure must be accompanied by an official report."

Three questions to Lawyer Dieudonné Bashirahishize

The lawyer at the Bar of Burundi and Rwanda, member of the board of directors of the East Africa Law Society and chairman of the Collective of Lawyers of Victims of Crimes of International Law committed in Burundi (CAVIB), considers this "seizure" to be illegal and with multiple consequences.

What is your comment on this behavior of SNR agents?

In a State governed by the rule of law, the public authorities in general and the judiciary in particular are responsible for the security of property and persons. In Burundi, the rule of law has given way to arbitrariness, assault and terror. A person of the opposition, who is dehumanized through the hate speech, has almost no right in Burundi, starting with the right to life. It should not come as a surprise that the property of these people who are described as "enemies of the country" or even worse "Mujeri" have their properties despoiled, vandalized or plundered.

In Burundi, things go wrong. The National Intelligence Service is above judicial power and takes advantage of the state of impunity in the country. This explains the fact that the Attorney General will not dare to open an investigation to protect the property of this Burundian currently in exile. The presidential police have a right of life and death and a fortiori, the right to illegally seize what they want especially when the property belongs to the exiles.

Have these officers broken the law?

The basic law, which is the Constitution in this case, has been violated. Article 36 of the Constitution protects the property of all Burundians without distinction. If it were true investigations that were at the origin of this irregular seizure, which turned into dispossession, not only the judicial police or the prosecutor's office would be leading the operation, but also a trial indicating the number of the judicial file and the reason for the seizure would have been presented.

The legal consequence would have been to take the seized rolling stock to the premises of the judicial institution investigating the case. The fate of the property seized was to be determined by a fair trial.

If the cars'license plates have already been changed without any final judgment and in which all guarantees of the right to defense have been respected, it follows that the law has been systematically violated. The State of Burundi, which has appropriated these vehicles via the SNR, will be responsible. And this without sparing the persons involved in these acts of vandalism that will be pursued individually by means of proceedings for recourse. It is deplorable that the Burundian taxpayer suffers by paying for the property stolen by state services in violation of all ethics and republican laws.

What can the consequences be?

It is both paradoxical and surprising that authorities who welcome the work of the national commission-CNTB, whose objective is to return the property to the refugees, supervise at the same time the police in the process of seizing the property of refugees. Between declarations of reconciliation and acts of dispossession emphasized by other crimes against humanity, the true nature or image of the regime is revealed in these contradictions.

Another probable consequence is that this illegal act is interpreted by other members of the security forces close to the regime as the beginning of the looting of the property left by the refugees. By opening a Pandora's box, the consequences will be incalculable and the government will respond to national or international justice and history.

The SNR should reduce this overzealousness and avoid having a short memory. To believe that half a million refugees will stay abroad for eternity is a serious mistake. This country belongs to all Burundians, irrespective of their opinions. Robbing Peter to pay Paul with hatred and without respect for the law will create more problems than it will solve. Such practices will only continue the vicious cycle of mismanagement, hatred and violence that has been going on for decades. With powers that rule the country under the obsession of a sad past, Burundi will remain for a long time under the law of the jungle.

Written by Fabrice Manirakiza and Desiré Sindihebura and translated by Pierre Emmanuel Ngendakumana


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