Background Briefing

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The 2005 elections

Elections in 2005 were the final chapter in the transitional process established by the Arusha Accords of 2000. In the intervening period a government including the Hutu-dominated Front for Democracy in Burundi (Frodebu), the Tutsi-dominated National Unity and Progress Party (Uprona), and a number of smaller parties ruled the country. In late 2003 this government signed the Pretoria Protocol making peace with the CNDD-FDD and starting the process of integrating the former rebels into the army and the administration.

The FNL rejected the peace agreement and continued to fight government forces, which after early 2005 included former FDD combatants and became known as the Forces of National Defense (FDN).1 Fighting was mostly located in the provinces around Bujumbura, where civilians suffered abuses by all parties to the conflict.2

In March 2005, after many delays, a new constitution passed by referendum, with over 90 percent of the population in favor. The constitution assures 60 percent of seats in the National Assembly (the lower house of parliament) to Hutu, the majority ethnic group in Burundi, and 40 percent to Tutsi, who constitute about 15 percent of the population, and also reserves 30 percent of seats for women and three seats for the Twa ethnic group (which forms less than one percent of the population).3 The seats in the upper house of parliament, the Senate, are divided equally between the Hutu and Tutsi, on the basis of indirect election. The President is elected indirectly, by the two chambers of parliament.

In appointing the government cabinet positions, the President allocates posts also according to a formula of 60 percent Hutu and 40 percent Tutsi. Additionally, any party that wins at least five percent of the vote in the National Assembly elections must be granted cabinet positions in proportion to the percentage of National Assembly seats it won.4 Military posts are divided equally between the two ethnicities.

The FNL signed a ceasefire with the government on May 15, 2005, just before the scheduled beginning of local administration elections (the first in a series of electoral processes held between June and September), raising hopes for peace. But both rebel and government forces quickly violated the ceasefire and they skirmished intermittently during the election period. In some areas, FNL supporters were said to have made temporary political alliances with Frodebu members.

The CNDD-FDD won the 2005 National Assembly and local administrative elections, and Nkurunziza ran unopposed in the indirect election for the presidency.  The CNDD-FDD failed, however, to obtain a sufficiently large parliamentary bloc to be able to force amendments to the constitution.  Frodebu won about 25 percent and Uprona about 13 percent of the National Assembly seats. Once the new government was announced, both Frodebu and Uprona complained that they had received too few positions, but no changes were made.5

In the face of continuing armed hostilities with the FNL, President Nkurunziza threatened the rebels with “serious consequences” if they did not begin peace talks by the end of October.6

Power struggle inside the FNL

The FNL has always rejected rule by a government dominated by Tutsi, but there was hope that with Nkurunziza, a Hutu, as president and the CNDD-FDD—largely Hutu in membership—in control, the FNL would be more open to peace talks. Repeated FNL promises to negotiate with the government, however, have come to nothing.7 

In mid-September 2005 ninety-three people claiming to be members of the FNL denounced their leader Agathon Rwasa for not really wanting peace. In a letter to the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General for Burundi, Carolyn McAskie, they wrote:

When Rwasa tells Burundians and the international community that he will start negotiations, we who are in meetings led by the secretary general of the FNL, Jonas Nshimirimana, are told that the negotiations will serve nothing, that we must continue combat and take the country by force.8 

Signatories to the letter said that they were ready to begin negotiations. Soon afterwards, seven members of the group were reported to have been killed, apparently on the orders of Rwasa or others of his group.9 In early October the surviving signatories, joined by some one hundred others, supposedly met in Muyira, Kanyosha commune, and suspended Rwasa and his immediate circle. They chose former FNL Vice-President Jean-Bosco Sindayigaya to be president of a new FNL council to decide the future of the movement and consider peace negotiations with the government.10

[1] The FDD is the military arm of the CNDD-FDD.

[2] See “Everyday Victims: Civilians in the Burundian War,” A Human Rights Watch Report, December 2003, Vol. 15, No. 20 (A).

[3] In the direct National Assembly elections held on July 4, competition was for 100 seats. In order to ensure the 60-40 percent ethnic split, the 30 percent quota for women, and the Twa representation, a further 18 members were co-opted after the elections.

[4] Constitution of Burundi, 2005, article 129.

[5] Agence Burundaise de Presse, “Deux partis dénoncent leur sous-représentation dans le gouvernement,” September 1, 2005.

[6] IRIN, “Rwasa expelled as FNL leader,” October 12, 2005.

[7] BBC Monitoring Africa, “Burundi rebel spokesman says group ready to negotiate,” September 18, 2005; and IRIN, “Rebels Willing to Negotiate Peace, But Only with Ethnic Leaders,” September 15, 2005.

[8] Letter to SRSG Carolyn McAskie, ONUB, and Ambassador Mamadou Bah, African Union, by Abanamarimwe et l’arme du FNL, September 25, 2005. Original in Kirundi, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[9] Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, October 11, 2005; and Umuco, “Au FNL-Palipehutu, Rwasa retourne le fusil contre ses opposants,” October 3, 2005.

[10] Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, October 11, 2005; and “Procès verbale de l’assemblée générale constituante des membres et fondateurs de Palipehutu-FNL qui s’est déroule à Muyira,” Bujumbura, October 8, 2005, [online]

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