Burundi, UN agree on truth commission, tribunal

May 23, 2007

BUJUMBURA, May 23 (Reuters) – Burundi has agreed to set up a truth and reconciliation commission and a tribunal to try people who committed crimes during the central African nation’s 12-year civil war, the United Nations said on Wednesday.

Louise Arbour, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said Burundi would set up the two bodies soon and that the government had agreed not to give amnesty for war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity and other serious violations.

“I think this is an important element in the process of peace, justice and reconciliation in Burundi,” Arbour said at a news conference at the end of her five-day visit to Burundi.

The coffee and tea-growing central African nation is emerging from the ashes of civil war that began in 1993 and killed more than 300,000 in a clash between rebels from the Hutu majority against the dominant Tutsi minority.

Analysts say one of the biggest tests for President Pierre Nkurunziza’s government is whether it will carry out a thorough reconciliation process, which is likely to implicate some of its allies and perhaps senior officials.

Nkurunziza himself was a Hutu rebel leader.

“The country needs a more reinforced justice system that will inspire confidence in the population that impunity is eradicated, that they can turn to their state institutions for protection and reparation,” Arbour said.

Even since Nkurunziza took power in August 2005 after his election, the culmination of a U.N.-backed peace plan, Burundian security agents have been implicated in assassinations, torture and extrajudicial killings.

The truth commission and the tribunal will be set up after national consultations to be led by a nine-member panel with three members each from the government, the United Nations and civil society groups.

Arbour said negotiations were still ongoing as to how the two bodies would work together, and on the scope of freedom and authority the tribunal’s prosecutor would have.

“The United Nations advocates of course a large degree of independence for the prosecutor to conduct inquiries,” she said.

Donors are meeting in Burundi on Thursday and Friday, and the watchdog Human Rights Watch this week urged them to make ending impunity a condition of aid.

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