One of the many varieties of meetings I have in my role as President of the Storting is with different countries’ ambassadors stationed in Norway. The other day the Ambassador of the Republic of Burundi, Mr Pascal Ruhomwyumworo, came to my office to discuss the current political situation in his country.
Burundi has been experiencing political unrest since the spring; unrest that was sparked by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third consecutive term. Whether or not he had the right to stand for election once again is what has created such deep dividing lines in Burundian society. The political opposition and members of civil society are adamant that the constitution limits the president to two terms and that Mr Nkurunziza should step down. Against this the President has leaned on a ruling by the Constitutional Court that a third term doesn’t violate the constitution. As a result, several opposition candidates boycotted both the parliamentary elections in June and the presidential election in July.
I am deeply worried by recent developments in Burundi; something I also made clear to the ambassador. In a country with a history of civil war it’s vital that the violence does not escalate and that the Burundian people can live in a peaceful society with a government that guarantees their security. I explicitly said that it’s the government’s responsibility to guarantee the security of its people and to resolve the conflict.
Since it appears that the violence stems from both sides – factions linked with the government and the opposition – disarming these groups and focusing on constructive dialogue between the government and various opposition groups as well as civil society must be the way forward. It’s especially important that the government leads by example and makes sure that their own youth party acts in accordance with democratic principles.
The Ambassador and I discussed the situation of human rights in Burundi. Here I underlined the importance of guaranteeing such basic human rights and freedoms as the freedom of speech, the freedom of assembly and the freedom of association to all members of society, regardless of who they support or where they belong.
We actually met on the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists. This provided the opportunity to stress how important it is to facilitate for a free press; one that is allowed to say things that the government simply might not agree with or like. A free press – the fourth estate – is one of the cornerstones of any democracy.