With the prospect of impunity looming over the country's peace negotiations, Burundian NGOs vigorously sought to ensure that the Arusha Peace Accord would guarantee accountability for the grave violations that have plagued Burundi since 1972. The issue of how to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice is an intensely divisive one.
Human rights groups have recognized that virtually all communities have been victimized, and now have an even greater role to play in breaking the cycles of "negative solidarity" (denial of abuses by one's own group) by emphasizing that some measure of even-handed justice, truth and reconciliation is indispensable to sustainable peace.
The Arusha Accord envisaged three mechanisms to address impunity: an international judicial investigation and International Criminal Tribunal both under UN Security Council auspices, and a national Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Their effectiveness in bringing social reconciliation and sustainable peace will require the engagement of a variety of socio-political institutions and organizations, including civil society groups.
IHRLG launched a transitional justice training, technical assistance and advocacy program to prepare Burundian NGOs to
- Advocate effectively for measures to ensure accountability for past violations;
- Furnish transitional justice mechanisms with vital information, and evidence that neither the formal judicial system nor the international monitors are in the position to collect;
- Address the lack of civic education and information about transition processes in order to safeguard against derailment due to the propagation of misinformation or extremist rhetoric;
- Generate active and informed discussion at the grassroots level about the transition process and sensitive issues including prosecutions, reparations and land compensation; and
- Create an active constituency of individuals and communities committed to reinforcing human rights protections during Burundi's peace implementation and democratic transition processes.
Our international workshop for our local partners is a recent example of IHRLG's transitional justice activities. Workshop participants examined the lessons learned from the International Criminal Court of Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia; compared the successes and failures of truth commissions implemented in other countries; and outlined a strategy for civil society involvement in the transitional justice process, in light of the already commenced political transition period.