Monday, February 27, 2012

Transitional Justice: Civil Society Has a Voice in Burundi

I was excited to get the photos from our Burundi Country Director, Louis-Marie Nindorera, who led a training on Transitional Justice last week. 

What’s happening in Burundi is historic.  These photos help make it real.  

Training participants
Throughout Burundi’s history, recurrent outbursts of ethnic violence have been followed by large-scale repression. The truth about the past remains unaddressed.  Burundi’s ethnic communities have been steeped in one-sided accounts of the past that hold the “other” ethnic group accountable, seeding the ground for the next round of devastating ethnic violence.

Now that vicious cycle could be coming to an end. 

After  a devastating inter-ethnic conflict that claimed more than 100,000 lives over 15 years (1993-2008), the Burundian government is on a fast track to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which was called for in the Arusha Accord in 2000.

We believe that civil society has a critical role to play in ensuring that the voices of all Burundians – particularly those of victims - are heard in the TRC process.  With funding from USAID, Global Rights helped to establish the Nongovernmental Organization (NGO) Network on Transitional Justice in 2006 to increase civil society’s understanding of, support for, and participation in the transitional justice process.

When Burundian authorities suddenly set their ambitious schedule last year to establish the TRC, we were concerned that civil society’s voices were being left out.  Fortunately, Louis-Marie was able to hit the ground running because he and the NGO Network have been a powerful voice in the intervening years to make sure that accountability remained on the political agenda.

A training member receives
 her certificate of participation
The first thing Louis Marie and his partners did was to create an electronic forum where all documents about the TRC are maintained and accessible to all the network members – the first of its kind in Burundi. 

Then, last week, twenty-five participants representing nine civil society organizations took part in the three-day training in Bujumbura.  Together, the group began to identify possible indicators of rising social tension that may occur before the TRC is established so that the cause of the tension can be addressed. 

The participants also reviewed the implementation plan of the pending TRC legislation to assess its feasibility.  They also designed an easy-to-use template that they will use to document and monitor human rights violations that could occur before and after the TRC is established, as well as to assess the effective implementation of the TRC legislation. 

Their work has just begun and they have a big job ahead.  Four follow up sessions will take place throughout the year with a lot of work in between.  I will keep you apprised of Louis-Marie’s and the NGO Networks’ progress on this historic undertaking. 

- Susan

Posted by Susan M. Farnsworth

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