Press Statement from Special Envoy to the Great Lakes, Thomas Perriello (November 10, 2015)

November 10, 2015

I came to Bujumbura to express grave concerns the United States has over the deteriorating political crisis here in Burundi but also to express our hope that his great country can rediscover a path to peace and shared prosperity.   On this trip I have met with government officials, religious leaders, diplomats and humanitarian responders in an effort to prevent a fragile situation from worsening.  The U.S. government is alarmed by the violent and incendiary language used by the Burundian government as well as violence committed by security forces and anti-government actors.  Rhetoric and actions that incite division and violence – whether here or abroad – is being carefully watched by the international community.  Leadership that prevents the escalation of violence as happened this last weekend is most welcome.

It is crucial for all parties to respect their commitments to an internationally-mediated dialogue with no pre-conditions without delay.  This is the only viable way to return Burundi to the path of peace and prosperity.  The international dialogue will complement the Inter-Burundian dialogue, thereby increasing the likelihood of the success.  The United States reiterates its vigorous support for efforts to restart the regional dialogue amongst Burundian stakeholders under the leadership of Ugandan President Museveni, as outlined by the East African Community and the African Union (AU). On this trip, as with others I have taken to the region, I will meet with regional officials to stress the importance of their leadership in reducing pressure and bringing Burundi back from the dangerous precipice of war or prolonged conflict.  The U.S. government believes that a comprehensive, inclusive dialogue, as laid out in the AU’s October 17 communique, is the best means of restoring peace and stability at this time.

When I was here three weeks ago, I noted that the U.S. government is deeply disturbed by the repressed state of the media and civil society in Burundi and highly concerned for the safety of all journalists.  Since then several more journalists have fled due to harassment, including a Voice of America stringer.  Several others have been jailed just in the past week including one from Radio Isanganiro, Blaise Celestin Ndihokubwayo, who is still in custody after his arrest on Saturday.   A vibrant and independent media is an indispensable element of democracy, and we call for the immediate reopening of all independent media and assurance of protection for Burundian journalists.

The world is now watching what happens here in Burundi at the most senior levels, and we are encouraged by the apparent restraint shown this weekend after a week of inflammatory rhetoric.  We particularly thank the Burundian military for its professionalism and neutrality at this time.  We are encouraged that both government and opposition actors affirm that this crisis is political rather than ethnic.  We call on all Burundians to avoid divisive language and to commit themselves to a joint solution to usher in a bright future of stability, unity and abundance.  Such a future will only be possible if violence and repression of human rights are denounced by all involved parties.  The United States remains committed to the people and progress of Burundi.