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Great Lakes Policy Forum—Meeting Summary—January 15, 1998

Speakers: John Prendergast, National Security Council, Jacques Bacamurwanko, National Council for the Defense of Democracy, Henri Simbakwira, Embassy of Burundi, and Loretta Bondi, Human Rights Watch
January 15, 1998
Council on Foreign Relations

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[Note: A transcript of this meeting is unavailable. The discussion is summarized below.]

The meeting featured reports and updates from John Prendergast of the National Security Council; Jacques Bacamurwanko, a representative of National Council for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD); Henri Simbakwira; the first counselor of the Embassy of Burundi; and Loretta Bondi, Human Rights Watch advocacy director.

Secretary of State’s trip to Africa:

Secretary of State Albright’s trip to Africa showed a real escalation of interest in Africa by the administration. It will be followed by a presidential visit. The trip was focused on Central Africa. She strongly stated that we shared responsibility for the Rwandan genocide and would not let it happen again. According to one report, she emphasized critical support for key governments and raised with all the need for democratic reforms and respect for human rights. Engagement does not mean endorsement.

The visit emphasized enhancing African capacity to prevent conflict. This includes both the African Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI) and non-military programs, such as the African Growth and Opportunity Act. Those in the region see a coalition of destabilizing forces from Sudan to Angola, and see the need for regional cooperation to resist them. In the northern part of the region the secretary met with Sudanese opposition and with victims of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Gulu, Uganda.

During the trip many interlocutors expressed gratitude for IMET and other aid to military capacity and reform, including human rights training. The secretary also proposed the Great Lakes Justice Initiative, an important part of the support of conflict prevention capacity. Finally, the secretary laid the groundwork for the president’s trip, which will be a major event.

One participant asked how the Rwandan government received the message on human rights, especially in view of the reception of Mary Robinson , and asked for more information on the Justice Initiative. According to the answer, the reception was very positive, and it is unclear what happened to create such a negative end of High Commissioner Robinson’s visit. On the justice initiative, the USG is seeking private partners in the United States, including the ABA, police, judges, and others.

Burundi:

According to one point of view, the CNDD is a coalition of groups and individuals fighting for restoration of democracy under Burundi’s March 1992 constitution. The CNDD’s military wing, the Force de la Defense de la Democratie (FDD) attacks military targets. The main obstacle to peace is the Tutsi military and its allies. The CNDD believes in the need to resolve the conflict through negotiations between the two main belligerents, CNDD and the army. CNDD does not consider itself to be a genocidal Hutu organization. CNDD believes that the current military leader Pierre Buyoya set out to destroy democracy and deceived the international community into thinking he was a moderate. Nonetheless, CNDD believes that there is a huge potential for peace and reconciliation in Burundi.

According to another point of view, the CNDD’s rebellion is unjustifiable, and its goal is to massacre the population. Most of its victims are civilians, not the military. this point of view states that the government has restored security and promoted economic progress. The government’s first priority is dialogue, but the CNDD responds with gunfire. In the recent attack on Gatumba, the CNDD killed both army and Hutu civilians. This attack was carried out by CNDD with elements of the ex-Rwandan and Zairian armies, including genocidal elements.

One participant asked why the CNDD used such tactics to launch its message. The answer given was that there is a need for negotiation precisely because there is a conflict. If the international community believes there is no more conflict, there will be no pressure for negotiations.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) Arms Project report on Burundi:

The research focused on the supply of light weapons to both sides in the conflict in Burundi. There are traffickers at work from Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and various Eastern European countries. Many work through partners in Belgium. Logistics include Tanzania and South Africa. Direct aid comes from several governments. Russia, China, North Korea, the United States, and France have provided military assistance, though the latter two claim their aid ended in 1996. France’s aid has been rerouted. Rwanda, Tanzania, and Congo-DRC have allowed rebels to establish bases. China’s aid through the port of Dar Es-Salaam is the most egregious.

Other countries commit acts of omission. Belgian and South African arms traffickers have not been pursued. They are multinational, with bases in Belgium, cargo from Eastern Europe, and customers all over the world.

There is some good news. The Belgian parliament has started a debate on the role of Ostend in arms trafficking. There is a new draft law in the Belgian Senate. South Africa has started an investigation of HRW’s charges. The European Parliament has passed a resolution supporting all the report’s recommendations, including an arms embargo against all sides in Burundi, enforced by observers at key points. HRW supports a regional conference that might establish an arms control regime in the region.

One participant asked why the U.S. government was not acting more concretely to stop arms flows in the region. According to another participant, the United States is examining an embargo and considering reinvigorating the commission of inquiry that examined arms flows to Rwanda.

According to one participant the Belgian government fully cooperated with and supported the HRW report and would like to implement the recommendations. Crimes committed through Ostend are something the government would like to end.

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