Burundi is a constitutional republic transitioning from a post-conflict nation to a developing country after more than a decade of civil war. Presidential and parliamentary elections in 2005 were judged free and fair by international observers, and President Nkurunziza is the country's first democratically elected president to serve in office for more than one year. The government's human rights record remained poor despite improvements in some areas. Members of the National Defense Forces, the police, and the National Intelligence Service were responsible for killings, torture, and beatings of civilians and detainees, including suspected Party for the Liberation of the Hutu National Liberation Front (FNL) supporters. There were isolated reports that security forces raped women and young girls. Impunity and life-threatening prison and detention center conditions remained problems, and there have been continuing reports of arbitrary arrest and detention. The government has continued to hold some political prisoners and political detainees. The government restricted freedom of assembly and association, although there were fewer such cases than in 2006, and some journalists continued to exercise self-censorship. Security forces continued to harass opposition members. Despite the cease-fire and the general lack of hostilities between the government and the FNL, abuses by the FNL against civilians continued. These abuses included killings, kidnappings, rapes, theft, extortion, the recruitment of children as soldiers, and the use of forced labor.
The U.S. government's priority is to support the country's young democracy by maintaining strong advocacy of good governance practices and democratic principles. The United States encourages the development of a system in which the executive branch invites the participation of civil society, NGOs, and other stakeholders in policy-making processes, which furthers anticorruption efforts, and recognizes the value of public oversight and a free press. The United States' goal is to encourage greater transparency and governmental accountability by increasing the organizational and technical capacity of relevant stakeholders, promoting greater information sharing by the government, and expanding media coverage of major policy and reform issues through greater civic education.
The United States continues to advocate for and support the development of a dynamic and independent (including financially independent) media. As the country prepares for national elections in 2010, the U.S. government will work to foster a campaign climate that includes the participation of multiple parties in a transparent electoral process leading to an orderly transfer of power. The U.S. also promotes democracy and freedom by focusing on anticorruption efforts. The newly formed and untested Office of the Inspector General (OIG) will benefit from comprehensive training in performing financial audits and recognizing financial irregularities. For civil society groups, the program focuses on developing investigative, communication, and technical skills to further efforts to expose corruption, and on developing a constructive public relations strategy to inform the public about corruption incidents. This program will conclude with a joint seminar for the OIG and anticorruption civil society groups in order to foster positive relationships and build confidence among these like-minded organizations.
The U.S. is continuing its support of a major government reform program aimed at improving policy development, implementation, and oversight with particular attention to building constructive relationships among the executive branch, civil society, and the media. This program is intended to help ameliorate the concentration of political power in the executive branch and identify ways to promote wider stakeholder participation, greater transparency, and fuller accountability as it pertains to public policy. The U.S. government works with civil society organizations, various media outlets, and directly with members of the executive branch to effect these changes. The U.S. Government also sponsors a formal public radio coalition allowing media outlets to report on a wide range of significant political, social, and economic developments. The media outlets, by working together, share a greater sense of independence from outside political pressure.
In light of 2010 presidential and parliamentary elections, U.S. programs will focus on helping to consolidate electoral platforms and creating opportunities for civic watchdog groups to participate in election monitoring and civic education. The United States will increase support for electoral and political processes that promote the legitimate discussion of ideas and a peaceful transfer of political power that reflects the will of the people. In order to help ensure this outcome, the U.S. Government will continue projects that support an independent and competent election administration; promote a level playing field among competing political parties; support active, independent, and uncensored media coverage; and provide concrete technical assistance for the execution and monitoring of a free and fair election.
To help advance fundamental human rights, U.S. programs will support the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as the office undertakes a large reintegration and resettlement program in the country. More than 110,000 refugees are expected to return voluntarily to the country after a 15-year absence and another 45,000 after a 40-year absence in Tanzania. Land claim disputes will increase dramatically. The United States is working with UNHCR and others to support programs to adjudicate land disputes clearly and fairly. The U.S. government will offer technical support to the Land Commission to increase its efficiency and organization as returnees and internally displaced persons lay claim to property abandoned years ago. Additional programs will support public sensitization campaigns so that local populations understand their rights and the role of the Land Commission in settling disputes.
In support of grassroots efforts to effect change, the U.S. government will continue to sponsor a program to strengthen civil society advocacy and watchdog groups. These groups are working to address legal and policy reforms in a post-conflict country. Issues of particular concern are local governance and accountability, impunity, inheritance rights, and the role of women in government. Additionally, U.S. programs support legal clinics that give assistance to local populations that might not otherwise have access to professional legal aid.
To support respect for the rule of law, the U.S. embassy also sponsors call-in radio programs on human rights, creating a vital forum for public dialogue. Through such programs, local populations are sensitized to issues pertinent to a post-conflict society, including identifying and reporting on human rights abuses. The U.S. government will also continue active engagement with the government and the public to assist them in understanding trafficking in persons issues.