After a year of a political crisis, the East African Community last week declared Burundi safe enough to host its activities.
But human-rights organisations believe it is a “false calm” in which violence could erupt at any time due to the economic slowdown and ethnic tensions. They say the country is governed through repression that is hidden from the public eye.
The Intra-Burundi Dialogue resumed in Arusha on Tuesday, but representatives of five parties that participated in Burundi’s general election boycotted the second round of peace talks facilitated by former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa.
The government officials walked out protesting the presence of some participants they accuse of planning to overthrow President Pierre Nkurunziza’s regime.
Mr Mkapa had travelled to Belgium to meet key opposition stakeholders in an effort to end to the crisis that has rocked the country for more than a year. But this did not go down well with the government, which maintains that it will not negotiate with those who organised the failed coup last year.
“The long awaited truth will not come from Arusha, because the dialogue outside the country is for selfish politicians,” said Jelase Ndabirabe, spokesman for the ruling party CNDD-FDD.
However, members of civil society criticised the government’s rigid stand on the talks.
“It is not for the government to refuse to dialogue with people who are opposed to its policies. Dialogue is normally with those you have a disagreement with, and not your allies,” said Gabriel Rufyiri, a civil society leader.
As the dialogue stalled last week, Burundi’s Foreign Affairs Minister Alain Nyamitwe said the main issues to be discussed in the Intra-Burundi Dialogue are the return of refugees and preparations for the 2020 elections, adding that the government does not recognise the opposition in exile.
On July 7, Human Rights Watch released a report accusing Burundi intelligence services of torturing opponents, at their headquarters and in secret locations.
“The Burundian intelligence services have a long history of torture, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, and other human-rights abuses against suspected government opponents, going back many years. However, torture and ill-treatment appear to have become more widespread, and torture techniques more brutal and frequent, following a failed coup in May 2015,” the report states.