Burundi government has approved changes to the constitution that could pave the way to a potential 14-year extension in President Pierre Nkurunziza’s stay in office, senior officials said Thursday.
President Pierre Nkurunziza, burundian educator and former leader of a Hutu rebel group has been President of Burundi since 2005
Ministers, meeting on Tuesday in an extraordinary session, gave their agreement in principle to the proposed reforms, they said. The present constitution derives from the country’s 2000 peace agreement, which was signed in the northern Tanzanian town of Arusha to end a 12-year civil war that claimed more than 300,000 lives.
According to AFP, The planned changes do not touch ethnic and gender quotas required for the government, parliament or police, “but they no longer make a reference to the Arusha peace agreement,” said one of the officials, who like the other sources spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Arusha accord stipulates clearly that no president can govern the country for more than 10 years.
But Burundi is mired in a deep political crisis, triggered when opposition groups, determined to defend the Arusha requirement, protested against elections in April 2015 that enabled Nkurunziza to stay on for a third five-year term.
AFP quotes a knowledgeable source: The draft constitution changes say “the president of the republic is elected for a seven-year term which is renewable” but adds, “no president can govern for more than two consecutive terms.”
In theory, this could mean that Nkurunziza could be elected in 2020 and be re-elected seven years later, together making a 14-year additional run.
Another source said that the ministers also agreed that the draft constitutional text — the fruit of a year-long consultation exercise that drew in proposals from 26,000 people — would be submitted to a referendum “very quickly, probably in February next year.”
The report of the year-long inquiry, created by the UN Human Rights Council in September 2016, based on more than 500 interviews with victims, witnesses and other sources revealed that Burundian officials at the highest level should be held accountable for crimes against humanity. The commission said there were reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity had been committed since April 2015, when President Pierre Nkurunziza said he would seek a new term in office.
The principal perpetrators of human rights violations were the defence and security forces, while the National Intelligence Service had carried out extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests and detentions, enforced disappearances, acts of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and sexual violence. “The National Intelligence Service reports directly to the President and its operations are managed by a senior administrative officer,” the report said.
Torture methods included “beatings with clubs, rifle butts, bayonets, iron bars, metal chains or electric cables”, the report said. Victims were also raped or forced to eat faeces.
Comedian or president
A man of the people working to rebuild the country, one of the poorest in the world? It has been reported that diplomats arriving for official meetings with Mr Nkurunziza have been whisked away from the capital, Bujumbura, into the countryside, where they find the president digging in the fields with local farmers.
“The man’s simplicity is remarkable, and he always draws attention, mingling with village people in the remote rural areas where he spends most of his time,” his official biography on the Burundian government website says. This has made him more popular in rural areas, but not in the capital, where most of the opposition resides.
Before the civil war, Mr Nkurunziza, who had graduated in sports education, was a teacher and assistant lecturer at the University of Burundi. Now a born-again Christian, the father of five.
He and his wife Denise were once reported to have washed the feet of some of those among the crowd. It is not only the people who the president believes have put their faith in him. Mr Nkurunziza was sentenced to death in absentia by a Burundian court in 1998 for laying land mines, but received an amnesty under the peace accord that ended the fighting.