Senator Coons Criticizes Decision by President of Burundi to Seek New Term, Urges Him to Respect Protestors’ Rights (May 11, 2015)

May 11, 2015

Washington – U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, issued the following statement following mass demonstrations by Burundians in recent days regarding the decision by Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza to pursue a third term in the country’s June 26 presidential election, in apparent violation of the country’s 2005 constitution.

“Africa is turning a page in its history, away from an era in which individual politicians matter more than institutions, standards, and public opinion – as Nigeria’s recent watershed election demonstrated. By ignoring the two-term limit in both Burundi’s constitution and the Arusha Agreement – which helped end the horrific civil war that killed hundreds of thousands of Burundians between 1993 and 2005 – President Nkurunziza puts at risk the future of his people and the wider region to advance his personal political agenda.  It is absurd to suggest that in a country of more than 10 million people there is only one person capable of serving as its elected leader, which is the message the President and his supporters are conveying.

“Just as troubling has been the reaction by the President and members of the country’s police force to the thousands of Burundians who have rejected his third-term aspiration.  The violent crackdowns on street protestors that have resulted in at least 20 deaths, the arrests of hundreds of political opponents, and the shutdown of social media and independent news outlets are employing worn-out tactics of popular repression, which are utterly inappropriate on a continent that is moving inexorably towards a brighter and more democratic future.

“President Nkurunziza should immediately order a halt to the persecution of protestors and lift all restrictions on the free speech and press rights of his citizens.  He should also disband his ruling party’s militia, the Imbonerakure, which is threatening and engaging in violence against peaceful Burundian citizens.  With Burundi’s series of national and local elections set to commence later this month, I also call on the Burundian opposition to act responsibly, by avoiding violent rhetoric and actions and using the ballot box to express their well-founded dissent.  The Burundian people deserve a peaceful, prosperous future, and if those in power and in the opposition make the right choices, they will secure it.”