Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Part 1: Political and Human Rights Conditions

Burundi is a constitutional republic. The parliamentary and subsequent indirect presidential elections in 2005 were judged to be generally free and fair by international observers. Parliamentary and presidential elections are scheduled for 2010. Governmental tactics apparently designed to marginalize the opposition and sideline the ruling party's own dissenters have occurred in the year prior to the elections. For example, the newly appointed National Independent Electoral Commission (NEC) is charged with preparing for and conducting free, fair, and transparent elections. While members of the NEC were nominated in January 2009 and seated in April 2009, the Senate had rejected the first slate of NEC candidates because they appeared biased towards the ruling National Council for the Defense of Democracy–Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) political party. The last remaining rebel group, the National Liberation Forces (FNL, formerly the Palipehutu-FNL), handed over weapons to the African Union troops overseeing the peace process. However, limited resources to guarantee an appropriate reintegration package to former combatants is a major security concern. The government's human rights record remained poor in 2008 and government security forces continued to commit numerous serious human rights abuses. Members of the army, police, and the National Intelligence Service were believed to be responsible for killings, torture, and beatings of civilians and detainees, including suspected FNL supporters. There were reports that security forces raped women and young girls. Impunity and life-threatening prison and detention center conditions remained problems, and there were continuing reports of arbitrary arrest and detention. Corruption at all levels is endemic. The government also has restricted freedom of assembly, expression, and association, and imprisoned several opposition leaders, journalists, and labor leaders. However, two of the three most prominent detainees were exonerated and released in the beginning of 2009. Despite the cease-fire, abuses by the FNL against civilians continued in the FNL strongholds of Bujumbura Rural, and the northern provinces of Bubanza, Cibitoke, Muramvya, and Kayanza.

Part 2: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives

The United States' priority in promoting democratic principles and practices is to strengthen institutions and laws in the country. This includes the development of a free and independent media and further professionalization of the security forces. The United States encourages increased transparency, participation in government processes by civil society, and civic education for politicians and the general public. Additional U.S. goals are to reinforce anticorruption efforts and provide women leaders from communities, civic groups, and the executive branch with necessary skills to fight corruption. Fostering a climate where respect for human rights and due process can flourish is an integral and pervasive part of these goals.

In preparation for the country's 2010 elections, the United States is fostering an election environment in which multiple parties participate in a free, fair, and transparent electoral process. Free and fair elections leading to an orderly succession are a critical element in helping ensure that the country does not return to violence.

Part 3: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance

The United States continues to maintain its vigorous support for good governance and democracy by working to strengthen the government's executive, legislative, and judicial branches as well as civil society. The United States supports ongoing land reform programs and advocacy for the adoption of a new land code, a significant way forward to addressing land tenure issues and reducing escalating land-related conflicts in areas of refugee return. In September 2008 the United States funded a two-day retreat for President Pierre Nkurunziza, both vice presidents, and all government ministers, which reinforced good governance and human rights principles. The United States continues to work with a local women's NGO to advocate for a new civil code that grants further rights to victims of gender-based violence. The United States also continues to fund programs that focus on economic and social empowerment of women and youth in refugee returnee communities in order to assist returnees in becoming fully integrated and active participants in a democratic society.

The United States supported a program that strengthened corruption monitoring by civil society, trained government officials in recognizing and reporting corruption within the government, and helped guarantee the independence of the government's fledgling anticorruption court. The U.S. Government continues to help reinforce awareness of and support for transparency following high-profile government corruption scandals. The United States continues active engagement with the government in reintegrating former child soldiers into society, including addressing their legal and psychological issues. This engagement includes U.S. programs to train judges, lawyers, and paralegals on issues related to children's rights, as well as counseling and advocacy programs for former child soldiers. In addition, the U.S. Government maintains programs to help professionalize the army and the police; included are funds to build police command posts and armories to help reduce the number of arms circulating in the population.

The United States vigorously supports efforts to promote a successful 2010 election and peaceful post-election process in the country. For example, the U.S. Government is currently negotiating a contract with a U.S. NGO to develop and implement a dynamic country-wide civic education program to ensure that citizens — including youth, university students and rural inhabitants — are aware of their election rights and responsibilities, are able to register, and are knowledgeable about know how and where to freely cast their secret ballots. In 2008 the United States provided robust support for development of a free, objective, and independent media that provides legitimate and fair discussion of ideas and candidates. In addition, the U.S. Government advocates for a balanced revision of the electoral code governing the 2010 elections. The U.S. continues to fund programs that focus on economic and social empowerment of women and youth in refugee returnee communities in order to assist returnees in becoming fully integrated and active participants in a democratic society.