Burundi: despite a murder attempt against him, Pierre Clavier continues the fight for human rights

 Pierre Claver

On 3 August 2015, our friend Pierre Clavier Mbonimpa, president of the Burundian association APRODH, was victim of an assassination attempt. Seriously injured, he had to be repatriated to Belgium. His son-in-law had been assassinated on 9 October 2015 and one of his sons had been found dead on 6 November, a few hours after being detained by the Burundian police. Battered and forced to exile, Pierre Claver has still not abandoned his commitment in the defence of fundamental rights and the Rule of Law. He represents the gravity of the situation that his country is going through.

AEDH: What is the situation of Burundi on a political and human rights level, a year after the country went into a bloody political crisis, following the decision of president Nkurunziza to run for a third mandate?

Pierre Claver: This situation brought about serious violations of human rights. Between 26 April 2015 and 26 April 2016, the APRODH recorded 738 deaths. The number of victims is even higher because you must include all those who were buried in mass graves or other hidden burial places: those that have been kidnapped, tortured, raped, arbitrarily detained, summarily executed… You must also take into account the lack of freedom of expression and protest bans. This is what this bloody mandate was all about,. From 21 to 24 May 2016, the parties to the conflict were called to Arusha to negotiate (Editor’s note: the inter-Burundian dialogue was restarted under the aegis of a new mediator, the former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa). But we think that there is a false start in these negotiations, due to the choice of the present parties. An inclusive delegation is more than necessary to guarantee the success of the negotiations. Pierre Nkurunziza wants to divide people based on their ethnic backgrounds in order to stay in power. The young Tutsis are stigmatised and many are killed or kidnapped or tortured. This threatens to plunge the country in total chaos.

AEDH: APRODH was dissolved on 23 November 2015 and more than 10 Organisations for the defence of human rights have seen their bank accounts frozen. Can the Burundian civil society still play a role in the resolution of the conflict?

P.C: Yes, civil society plays and will continue to play a role because it continues to work, even in exile. The fact of having, without any legitimate reason, proceeded to the provisional ban of organisations, or frozen their accounts, does not change the work of civil society, even if, of course, it affects their effectivenesss. If civil society can be taken into account in the negotiations, it will contribute tremendously to the resolution of the conflict because it has experience observing political actors and knows their past.

AEDH: You have been a refugee in Belgium since August 2015. How do you continue your commitment now?

P.C: I am not a refugee as such, even if, obviously, I cannot return to Burundi for the time being. I came to Belgium to be medically treated and I continue to receive medical care. If the situation improves, I will be the first one to return to my country! To continue my commitment, I have set up an office with two of my colleagues where we continue to centralise reports. The structure of APRODH remains an advantage that allows us to continue to receive information. I also carry out advocacy work and the diffusion of information in Europe and elsewhere in the world.

AEDH: Last 25 April, the International Criminal Court decided to open a preliminary investigation into the situation in Burundi. What are your thoughts on this and what do you expect from the international community?

P.C: I am very satisfied with the decision of the International Criminal Court. The ICC took its time, because it had had all the necessary information for some time, but better late than never! My organisation is a member of the Burundian Coalition for the ICC. It will be able to continue to collaborate with the office of the Prosecutor of the ICC to carry out the investigation . In the light of the number of meetings regarding the situation in Burundi and the visits in the field by representatives of the institutions and international NGOs, we can hope that the Burundian situation is seen as a priority. I expect from the international community, and more particularly from the international political actors, that they persist in the same direction but also that they abandon words in favour of specific actions. The Burundian defenders of human rights also expect the support of foreign non-governmental organisations.


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