Prisoner Release: Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement for Burundi

Protocol II, Chapter II: Article 15:

20.(a) The transitional Government shall within 30 days of the commencement of the transition establish a commission under the chairmanship of a judge to investigate, as a matter of urgency, and to make recommendations on:

(ii) The release of prisoners awaiting trial in respect of whom there has been an undue delay in the prosecution of their cases;

(iii) The existence of and release of any political prisoners.

Protocol III, Chapter III: Article 25:

2. (c) Release of all the political prisoners, closure of all the forced regroupment camps and respect for civil and political rights and freedoms shall take place from the date of signature of the Agreement

Implementation History

2003

No Implementation

Not all major parties to the conflict signed the agreement until 2003. During this three year gap, implementation of the prisoner release provision did begin.

The accord requires the release of all political prisoners within 30 days of the establishment of the transitional period. The accord provided for the establishment of a commission under the chairmanship of a judge to make recommendations on the existence and release of political prisoners.

In March 2001, Burundi’s government approached to the United Nations and asked to send experts for the commission on political prisoners.1 The government had formed a commission comprised of four Hutu and four Tutsi lawyers. Also, 10 foreign lawyers arrived to Burundi to examine case files of detainees.2 

The prisoners were not released in 2002. The Implementation Monitoring Committee (IMC), the body responsible for monitoring the implementation and verification of the implementation, suggested the lack of political will in transitional government and called for an immediate release of political prisoners.3

  • 1. "Burundi government to set up commission on political prisoners," Agence France Presse, March  25, 2001.
  • 2. "Burundi: Some 10 foreign lawyers arrive in country," BBC Monitoring Africa,  November  23, 2001.
  • 3. "Burundi: Arusha accord committee calls for release of all political prisoners," BBC Sumary of World Broadcasts, October 9, 2003.
2004

No Implementation

In July 2004, those who considered themselves political prisoners called for their immediate and unconditional release in various prisons in Burundi. According to Burundi Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons (APRODEH), "Of the 7,530 prisoners in Burundi, only 1,500 are behind bars for common law offences” (Source: Five thousand prisoners demand release in Burundi, Agence France Presse, 20 July 2004). Protest activities in prisons spread out throughout the country and in August government considered demands by more than 2,000 jailed soldiers, former rebels and militiamen to be released as provided in the Arusha accord.4 There was no report of release of political prisoners.

  • 4. "Burundi's government considers demands for release by more than 2,000 inmates who seized control of two prisons," Associated Press, August 4, 2004.
2005

Intermediate Implementation

In November 2005, the government established the 21-member commission to identify political prisoners held throughout the country and determines who were political prisoners and provide a list. The commission started to work immediately after its establishment. In fact, some political prisoners identified by the commission were released.5

  • 5. "Burundi; Commission Starts Work of Identifying Political Prisoners," Africa News, November 16, 2005.
2006

Full Implementation

On 3 January 2006, the Burundian President signed a decree on provisional immunity of political prisoners.6 On 10 January, 673 prisoners that the commission identified as political prisoners were released.7 On 14 March 2006, the final batch of 1,846 political prisoners were released. A total of 3,299 political prisoners were released.8

  • 6. "Burundi's president signs decree on provisional immunity for political prisoners," BBC Monitoring Africa, January 5, 2006.
  • 7. "Burundi conditionally releases 673 political prisoners," Associated Press, January 10, 2006.
  • 8. "Last Batch of Political Prisoners Freed in Burundi as Part of Ongoing Reconciliation Drive," World Markets Analysis, March 15, 2006.
2007

Full Implementation

Political prisoners were released in 2006.

2008

Full Implementation

No further developments observed.

2009

Full Implementation

No further developments observed.

2010

Full Implementation

No further developments observed.

2011

Full Implementation

No further developments observed.

2012

Full Implementation

No further developments observed.