Deep divisions over Buyoya’s arrest warrant
Publish date: 03 December 2018
Issue Number: 802
Diary: IBA Legalbrief Africa
Bujumbura's decision to issue international arrest warrants for former President Pierre Buyoya and 16 former senior officials over their alleged role in the 1993 assassination of Melchior Ndadaye, has sparked an outcry. Legalbrief reports that it has also heightened tensions ahead of next year’s crucial elections. Burundi asked the various countries where these men were living in exile to extradite them, saying ‘it is imperative that they are questioned on the role they played’ in the murder. ‘The findings of the inquiry show that these people were involved in this crime – its planning and preparation and execution,’ said Attorney-General Sylvestre Nyandwi. Ndadaye’s assassination triggered a brutal ethnic civil war which left than 300 000 people dead. A report on the News24 site notes that Buyoya led a military coup in 1987 and installed himself as President. He attempted to patch relations between Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups, but presided over an oppressive ruling junta consisting primarily of Tutsi.
Buyoya, an ethnic Tutsi, says it is a ploy to stir up divisions and shift attention from the current crisis. He was involved in the peace process that ended the civil war and led to the election, in 2005, of former Hutu rebel leader Pierre Nkurunziza as President. BBC News reports that the current unrest in the country was sparked by Nkurunziza's decision to run and win a third term in office in 2015. ‘I was astonished to learn about the serious accusations clearly intended to undermine my honour and integrity,’ the 69-year-old, who is now the AU's special envoy to Mali, said in a statement. The report notes that he said Ndadaye's assassination, which took place four months after the country's first democratic election, was the subject of much debate during the mediations to end the war. The subsequent peace agreement, known as the Arusha Accord, was intended to reconcile these blood feuds and bring reconciliation, he said. But by issuing of the arrest warrants, the government was using ‘diversionary tactics’ for electoral purposes, which risked plunging the country into ethnic conflict, he said. A report on the News24 site notes that Buyoya, who also ruled Burundi between 1996 and 2003, said the courts had already convicted the officers who had killed Ndadaye. News of the arrest warrants caused a stir in the Burundian capital Bujumbura, and opposition activists denounced what they said were the double standards in reviving this case. None of the Hutu former rebels currently in power was being investigated for the numerous massacres of Tutsis carried out following the assassination of Ndadaye, they argued.
Following a botched East African Community Heads of State Summit, where the facilitator of the Inter-Burundian Dialogue was to present a report on his efforts, the AU on Saturday addressed the ‘untimely judicial initiative’ and warned the East African nation against moves to jeopardise peace efforts over the matter. ‘It is crucial that all relevant actors refrain from any measures, including political and/or judicial, that could complicate the search for a consensual solution in Burundi,’ AU chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat said in a statement. An African diplomat who prefered to remain anonymous told AFP that the AU’s reaction meant that it would ‘not apply the warrants issued by the Burundian justice system’. However, a report on the Africa News site notes that Burundi’s ambassador to the UN, Albert Shingiro, has called out the organisation for interfering in the country’s political affairs. ‘We strongly urge some actors of the international community to refrain from infantilising Burundi by interfering in its political affairs without being invited,’ said Shingiro’s tweet to AU head Moussa Faki Mahamat. He added that ‘they must bear in mind that Burundi is a great country with a brave people, jealous of its dignity and sovereignty’.
Analyst Prime Ndikumagenge points out that the unresolved assassination was back in the news in October when the country marked its 25th anniversary. In a BBC News column, he notes that a number of low-ranking soldiers were found guilty of his killing in 1999, but some people feel true justice has not been done. ‘Last week, the government arrested four former senior military officers and a civilian – and then issued the international arrest warrants. Most of those on that list are also retired army officers or former officials once in the top leadership of the predominantly Tutsi Uprona party. Most of them are now living in neighbouring Rwanda or Belgium, the former colonial power. The government boycotted the last round of regional talks on the latest crisis in October, angering East African neighbours. But while the arrest warrants are likely to further complicate relations with the African Union, they could prove a popular move ahead of general elections scheduled for 2020.’