UN chief takes aim at Burundi leader’s bid to extend rule

Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza plans to make changes to the constitution that could see him hold onto power for another decade or more. (AFP)
Updated 06 February 2018

UN chief takes aim at Burundi leader’s bid to extend rule

NEW YORK: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is sharply criticizing a bid by Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza to make changes to the constitution that could see him hold onto power for another decade or more, according to a report obtained by AFP on Tuesday.
Guterres said the opposition and civil society groups must be included in any decision to change the constitution to avoid a flareup of conflict in Burundi.
“While it is the sovereign right of Burundi to amend its constitution, I strongly believe that such an important undertaking must be conducted in an inclusive manner that seeks to achieve a maximum possible participation and consensus among the key political stakeholders,” said the report sent to the Security Council on Monday.
The council is due to discuss the report on February 26.
In power since 2005, Nkurunziza ran for a third term and was re-elected in 2015 despite provisions of the Arusha peace accord that set a limit of two five-year presidential terms.
The decision to run for a third term sparked violence in Burundi that has left hundreds dead, and sent more than 400,000 Burundians fleeing across borders, mostly in Tanzania.
Nkurunziza has launched a campaign to hold referendum on a new constitution probably in May 2018 that would set a limit of two seven-year presidential terms.
Several opposition leaders have either boycotted the talks on the constitutional changes or raised questions about their legality.
The constitutional changes would provide for changes to the ethnic quotas between Hutus and Tutsis that were outlined in the hard-won Arusha peace accord that ended the civil war.
“Durable peace comes with addressing the underlying root causes of the crisis, not by jeopardizing the foundations of relative normalcy, such as the Arusha Agreement, which brought a decade of peace to the country,” said Guterres.
The UN chief said he was “deeply concerned” that talks between the government and the opposition remain deadlocked and said it was crucial that all sides “most especially the government” engage in a dialogue.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa are leading a regional effort to end the crisis in Burundi but the report said the mediators had not made significant progress.
The UN rights office continues to receive allegations of killings, enforced disappearances and torture, primarily by state security, the report said.
A UN commission of inquiry set up in 2016 has found that crimes against humanity had been committed in Burundi.


Indian president disregards protests, signs citizenship bill into law

Updated 29 min 10 sec ago

Indian president disregards protests, signs citizenship bill into law

  • The new law lays out a path of Indian citizenship for six minority religious groups from the neighboring countries
  • The law seeks to grant Indian nationality to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Parsis and Sikhs who fled the three Muslim-majority neighboring countries

NEW DELHI: A divisive citizenship bill has been signed into law in India, a move that comes amid widespread protests in the country’s northeast that could force the cancelation of a visit by Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Two people were killed and 11 injured on Thursday when police opened fire on mobs in Assam state torching buildings and attacking railway stations. Protesters say the law would convert thousands of illegal immigrants into legal residents.
The new law lays out a path of Indian citizenship for six minority religious groups from the neighboring countries of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Indian President Ram Nath Kovind gave his assent to the bill late on Thursday, signing it into law, an official statement said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has planned to host Abe at a meeting in Assam next week as part of a campaign to move high-profile diplomatic events outside Delhi to showcase India’s diversity.
Japan’s Jiji Press reported on Friday that Abe is considering canceling his trip. India’s foreign ministry said it was not in a position to comment on the visit which was originally planned for Dec 15-17.
A movement against immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh has raged in Assam for decades. Protesters say granting Indian nationality to more people will further strain the resources of the tea growing state and lead to the marginalization of indigenous communities.
Japan has stepped up infrastructure development work in Assam in recent years which the two sides were expected to highlight during the summit. Abe had also planned to visit a memorial in the nearby state of Manipur where Japanese soldiers were killed during World War Two.
Critics of Modi’s Hindu nationalist government say the bigger problem with the new law is that it is the first time India is using religion as a criterion for granting citizenship and that it excludes Muslims from its ambit.
The law seeks to grant Indian nationality to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Parsis and Sikhs who fled the three Muslim-majority neighboring countries before 2015.
The Indian Union Muslim League party has petitioned the Supreme Court saying the law was in conflict with the secular principles of India’s constitution that guaranteed equality to all without any regard to religion. No date has yet been set for the hearings.
The party said the law is “prima facie communal” and questioned the exclusion of minorities such as Rohingya Muslims who were just as persecuted as other faiths listed in the law.