The Burundian government has released thousands of people classified as "political prisoners" by a new political commission. The prisoners had been charged with taking part in ethnically-motivated murders in the wake of the assassination of Burundi's President Ndadaye in 1993. Following the discourse of post-Apartheid South Africa, murderers who claim that they committed murder for "political" reasons will be entitled to preferential treatment within the judicial system.
South Africa's "Truth and Reconciliation Commission" awarded amnesties to thousands of self-confessed killers, many of them agents of the Apartheid regime who had murdered and tortured opposition activists in the 1970s and 1980s. By admitting what they had done, and by asserting that they had done it for "political" reasons, these self-confessed murderers were able to escape justice for their crimes.
At the time of the TRC's formation, the South African public was assured that suspected criminals who refused to testify before the commission would be prosecuted, as criminals, in a normal criminal court. But more than a decade after the end of minority rule, the vast majority of Apartheid killers remain free.
The Burundian government has, for a number of years, been talking of its intention to create a "Truth and Reconciliation Commission" following the South African model, while at the same time promising that the worst of the country's war criminals will face prosecution in a special chamber within the Burundian domestic courts.
Although South Africa's TRC has been aggressively promoted by its proponents as an unmitigated success, the victims of Apartheid have been rather less enthusiastic. Surveys have shown that the vast majority of victims opposed the granting of amnesties to those who had tortured them or murdered their loved ones.
It's clear what the appeal of a TRC is for Burundi's political elite, a great many of whom are themselves guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity and, in some instances, genocide. Whether the promise of a "war crimes chamber" is anything more than a political device which will, like the promises made in South Africa, be dropped at a later date, seems less clear. In a statement issued on February 2nd, the Burundian government has asserted that justice will only be done "where a pardon is impossible". This is hardly an encouraging precedent.
If the purpose of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation commission was to achieve justice, then it was an unmitigated failure. Awarding an amnesty to a self-confessed killer, "political" or otherwise, is not justice - it is a denial of justice. We've yet to see what the long-term social consequences of this denial of justice will be.
A wholesale denial of justice in Burundi would, of course, perfectly suit the country's political elite, both Hutu and Tutsi, who have maintained their power through murder, and manipulating others into murder, for the last four decades. This is not a reason for the international community to collaborate with such efforts.
Article eight of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which the United Nations is supposedly committed, states that victims of human rights abuse have an inviolable right "to an effective remedy by a competent tribunal". Seeing the killer of one's mother, father, son or daughter walk free from prison is not an "effective remedy", and knowing that the killer claims that they committed their crime because of a political ideology will be no consolation. A "political" killer is still a killer.
The Nazi elite who oversaw the genocide of millions of European Jews in the 1940s were motivated by a political ideology, but this was never accepted as a valid excuse for their crimes. Neither was this the case in Bosnia, Kosovo, Cambodia or post-1994 Rwanda. If we accept that, in Burundi, political motivations can excuse mass-murder, then we are not only setting a dangerous precent - we are descending into hypocrisy.Click here to support the call for a war crimes trial for Aloys Nzabampema and independent investigation into the UN Burundi corruption scandalclick here to email UN Burundi spokesman Penangnini Toure and ask him about the progress of the corruption investigation allegedly under wayTake action - Fax your MP!
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, AfricaClick here to support the call for a war crimes trial for Aloys Nzabampema and independent investigation into the UN Burundi corruption scandalclick here to email UN Burundi spokesman Penangnini Toure and ask him about the progress of the corruption investigation allegedly under way