The United States has deeply regretted the decision by Burundi’s ruling party, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy–Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), to disregard the term-limit provisions of the Arusha Agreement by naming President Pierre Nkurunziza as its candidate for a third presidential term.
“With this decision, Burundi is losing an historic opportunity to strengthen its democracy by establishing a tradition of peaceful democratic transition,” United States State Department said in a statement this weekend just moments after riots broke out in Bujumbura with opposition rejecting Nkurunziza’s move to hold onto power.
The Arusha peace accords were signed by parties in the Burundi Conflict on 21 June 1998 under the facilitation of the late Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere, and subsequently Mr. Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, on behalf of the States of the Great Lakes region and the international community.
According to Article 7 of the Accords, “The President of the Republic (Burundi) shall exercise regulatory power and shall ensure the proper enforcement and administration of legislation.. She/he shall be elected for a term of five years, renewable only once. No one may serve more than two presidential terms.”
According to the Accords, the “Constitution shall provide that, save for the very first election of a President, the President of the Republic shall be elected by direct universal suffrage in which each elector may vote for only one candidate.”
Nkurunziza’s supporters say he was appointed by Parliament to serve the first term in office and the second reign through adult suffrage. They now claim since he was elected once through adult suffrage, he can still stand for another term.
But opposition say this tantamount to manipulation and abuse of power.
Regional leaders and the international community maintain Nkurunziza must uphold the spirit of the Arusha Accords to maintain stability in the country recovering from decades of war.
The Arusha Accords provided that, “The Parties commit themselves to refrain from any act or behaviour contrary to the provisions of the Agreement, and to spare no effort to ensure that the said provisions are respected and implemented in their letter and spirit in order to ensure the attainment of genuine unity, reconciliation, lasting peace, security for all, solid democracy and on equitable sharing of resources in Burundi.”
In the statement, the United States promised to continue supporting the “Burundian people’s peaceful pursuit of their democratic rights and freedoms,” adding, “We regret this significant missed opportunity, but the hard work of building democratic practices and institutions must continue.”
The U.S. added: “In that spirit, we urge all parties to participate in the legislative and national elections and ensure these electoral processes are inclusive, transparent, credible, free and conducted in an environment without threats, intimidation, or violence.”
The western power further specifically called on the Burundian government to “respect the rights of all peaceful political parties and their candidates to campaign, hold meetings and rallies, and express their views. We also call on the Burundian government to respect the right of the media to report freely on the electoral process and campaigns.”
United States pressed Nkurunziza’s government to “cooperate fully with the UN Electoral Observer Mission (MENUB) and all international and domestic electoral observers throughout the entire electoral process, as well as on the election days.”
All parties in Burundi were urged to abide by the non-violence charter signed March 9 and refrain from any violent acts, including hate speech or other provocations, that could feed the climate of fear and instability.
“We renew our calls on all candidates, their supporters, and Burundian citizens to reject all forms of violence, and on the national police, the Burundian military, and all security force personnel to provide security in an impartial manner throughout the electoral processes.”
Over 15,000 Burundians have since fled the country in fear of the ruling party’s militant youth group Imbonerakure.
Rwandan officials said over 800 refugees cross into their country every day.
United States commended the neighbouring countries for their efforts to receive the almost 15,000 Burundians who have fled the country over the past month, and encourage their continued close coordination with UNHCR and support to provide asylum to those fleeing political violence and persecution.
“We urge all regional actors to refrain from any acts that could contribute to the climate of instability in Burundi,” U.S. noted.
“The United States will continue to monitor the situation in Burundi closely and take targeted measures, including, where appropriate, by denying U.S. visas, to hold accountable those individuals who participate in, plan, or order violence against the civilian population. Violence has no place in democratic elections, and perpetrators of such violence will not be welcome to travel to the United States and risk being held accountable in a court of law for any crimes for which they are responsible.”