Cablegate: Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Slow Progress


DE RUEHJB #0249/01 1360917
P 150917Z MAY 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: During comprehensive consultations with
Representatives from the Ministry of Justice, the Steering
Committee of the Transitional Justice Mechanism, civil
society, the international community and NGO organizations
April 16-18, Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Clint
-- encouraged the Government of Burundi (GOB) to hold
National Consultations on the creation of a Truth and
Reconciliation Commission (TRC) with a goal of establishing a
working Commission in 2011;
-- questioned transferring supervision of the TRC from the
Office of the First Vice President to the Office of the
-- agreed that a Special Tribunal to try those found guilty
by the TRC is not yet necessary but should be considered as a
possibility for the future; and
-- sought NGO input on an interim campaign to raise public
awareness of TRC-related issues before a TRC is established
in 2011. END SUMMARY.

Background: Slow Progress for Establishment of TRC

2. (SBU) The 2000 Arusha Accords, the agreement that
established the framework for peace in Burundi, called for
the creation of a TRC and a Special Tribunal. The 2006 UNSCR
1606 called for the creation of both a TRC and a special
chamber in the Burundian judicial system to adjudicate crimes
against humanity, war crimes, and accusations of genocide.
In 2007, the Government of Burundi (GOB) decided to establish
a Tripartite Steering Committee for National Consultations on
Transitional Justice Mechanisms comprised of two
representatives each from the GOB, the UN and Burundian civil

3. (SBU) The Committee has submitted a plan for national
consultations to the UN and is awaiting financing from the
Peacebuilding Fund before starting the consultations.
Consultations are scheduled to take three months to organize,
six months to complete, and three months to draft a report.

4. (SBU) Civil society and international community
representatives told Amb. Williamson that the GOB should work
to put in place all of the appropriate mechanisms for a TRC
prior to the highly anticipated 2010 presidential and
parliamentary elections, with the goal of starting TRC
operations in 2011.

5. (SBU) Several interlocutors expressed concern that the
methodology for national consultations is unknown and that
the results could be manipulated by the government to
discourage establishing a TRC. Others speculated that many
in the current administration, having been rebels themselves,
are implicated in crimes that occurred during the war and
would prefer that a TRC not hold them accountable for their
actions. Several individuals said that the current
administration does not view a TRC as a mechanism to solidify
peace and will therefore attempt to block its creation. Some
NGO members stressed in conversations with Amb. Williamson
that individuals may still be wary of speaking their minds
for fear of recriminations and suggested that perhaps the
time is not yet ripe for national consultations.

President Assumes Control of TRC

6. (SBU) Until March, the Office of the First Vice President
had been leading TRC-related negotiations with the UN and
organizing activities for the Steering Committee. The Chief
of Staff in the First Vice President's' office, Pie
Baribwegure told Amb. Williamson that the President's office
has not indicated to the First Vice President why it has now
assumed control of the dossier. He noted that it seems
likely the TRC process will be politicized now that the
Office of the President has assumed responsibility.

7. (SBU) Special Advisor to the President Amb. Joseph
Ntakirutimana however, told Amb. Williamson that different
approaches to Truth and Reconciliation processes are
necessary for different countries, and Burundi is no
exception. He continued that it is possible that after
consultations, the public may decide they don't want a TRC or
a Special Tribunal. Ntakirutimana maintained that the entire
process is already politicized and that even ex-political
leaders and civil society members have political agendas.
Thus, according to Ntakirutimana, the TRC will never be a
non-partisan mechanism.

Special Tribunal Could Complicate Matters

8. (SBU) Civil society and NGO representatives told
Ambassador Williamson that the notion of a Special Tribunal
for perpetrators of war crimes is controversial. While many
members of civil society believe that a special tribunal
should be created at the same time as a TRC, others feel it
is best to leave the idea of a Special Tribunal or a special
chamber open as an option, but not operationalize such a
mechanism in the near future. If the Special Tribunal
existed simultaneously with a TRC, the threat of immediate
punishment could dissuade the current administration from
establishing a TRC.

TRC Public Awareness Campaign

9. (SBU) Several NGO representatives responded favorably to
Amb. Williamson's idea of conducting a public awareness
campaign to help prepare the public for an official TRC in
2011. Should the government not host such a program,
individual groups suggested hosting non-governmental projects
to educate the population, collect testimonials and help to
resolve land conflicts before a TRC is established.


10. (SBU) COMMENT: Although President Nkurunziza frequently
states that national consultations will soon be underway, the
Steering Committee has not communicated well with the public
and its operations and objectives are perceived as opaque.
Indeed, one of the government appointees to the Steering
Committee refused to meet with Amb. Williamson to discuss the
consultations, and a second government appointee told PolOff
in a private conversation that the Committee is frequently
the victim of political interference. Nevertheless, unless
National Consultations are conducted transparently and with a
well-known and understood methodology in an environment where
individuals feel free to express themselves without fear of
retribution or recrimination, it will be a pointless
exercise. While awaiting the creation of the TRC in 2011, a
public awareness campaign could well be useful so that the
public receives unbiased and non-partisan information on the
design and role of a TRC in contributing to peace and
stability in Burundi.

11. (SBU) Further, postponing the creation of a Special
Tribunal until after the completion of work by the TRC seems
prudent. Simultaneous processes could destabilize the
already-precarious political situation that reigns in
post-conflict Burundi. END COMMENT.

12. (U) This cable has been cleared by Ambassador Williamson.


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