Thursday, May 20, 2010

Burundi Expels Human Rights Researcher

The state of Burundi has a track record of political and ethnic-motivated violence - since it gained independence in 1962. In 1972, ethnic violence erupted between the dominant Tutsi minority and the Hutu majority. The violence displaced thousands of Burundians - predominantly Hutus - many of whom fled to neighboring Tanzania and later became known as the 1972 Burundian refugees. In 1993 - barely 20 years after the ethnic violence of epic proportions, the assassination of a Hutu President by Tutsi extremists, triggered another civil war - characterized by "acts of genocide" (according to the United Nations) against the Tutsi minority. In 1994, another President - a Hutu - was assassinated, sparking another wave of violence... Without going into the complicated history of ethnic-motivated civil wars in Burundi, the country now has another Hutu President - Pierre Nkurunziza - elected in 2005 and is relatively stable. Human Rights Watch has been on the ground - in Burundi - doing what it does best - protecting human rights by investigating and documenting human rights violations. As you would expect, the government of Burundi - like many governments - is not happy with the work of the organisation and has reached a decision to expel a Human Rights Watch researcher.

On May 19 2010, Human Rights Watch announced that the government has withdrawn the work permit of Neela Ghoshal - a researcher for the organization in Burundi. The obvious question is, why?

According to Human Rights Watch, the decision to expel the researcher came after the organization published a report about human rights violations in pre-elections violence in the country. The report, entitled "We'll Tie You Up and Shoot You", documents violence against members of political parties. The violence involves the ruling political party and the main opposition party. The report exposes untold impunity in pre-elections violence: the perpetrators are known, but no one has been prosecuted.

The government of Burundi based its decision to expel the researcher on allegations that the report by Human Rights Watch is biased against the government. Human Rights Watch, on its part, argued that the report is based on "meticulous on-the-ground research".

Human Rights Watch cautions that the history of violence in Burundi "threatens to continue" and "intensify" - if the government does not move quickly to investigate and bring perpetrators of pre-elections violence to justice.

In my opinion, the government of Burundi should reconsider the decision to expel Neela Ghoshal. Human Rights Watch is a credible and "independent" organisation. Allegations that the recent report is biased against the government and ruling party does not hold water. Above all, the government should investigate pre-election violence and and put an end to impunity.

Municipal, Parliamentary, Presidential, Senatorial and Local elections in Burundi are scheduled to hold from 21 May 2010 to 7 September 2010. It is worth mentioning that Human Rights Watch researcher - Neela Ghoshal is expected to leave Burundi by 5 June 2010.

*Photo of the President of Burundi - Pierre Nkurunziza, by World Economic Forum

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