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Efforts for dialogue Former Swiss minister on mission to troubled Burundi

Protests erupted when President Pierre Nkurunziza ran for a third term in 2015


Former Swiss cabinet minister Pascal Couchepin left Tuesday on a five-day mission to crisis-hit Burundi as an envoy for the International Organization of Francophone States (OIF). 

This “information and contact” mission is expected to meet with senior government officials, heads of institutions, civil society representatives and international partners, according to the OIF. 

Couchepin, 75, has previously led two similar missions to Burundi in June and September 2015 to try and help find a way out of the country’s crisis. As OIF special envoy to the Great Lakes region of Africa, he is accompanied by a team of high-level francophone experts, says the OIFexternal link.

Country in crisis

Burundi has been in a deep political crisis since 2015 when President Pierre Nkurunziza ran for a third term, that his opponents deemed unconstitutional, and declared himself winner of elections boycotted by the opposition. At least 1,200 people have been killed in the violence and political repression that followed, according to the International Criminal Courtexternal link (ICC), which has opened an investigation into suspected crimes against humanity in Burundi. The ICC Prosecutor also alleges thousands of illegal detentions, widespread torture and the displacement of 400,000 people between April 2015 and May 2017. A United Nations Commission of Inquiryexternal link has also accused Burundi of crimes against humanity. Authorities in Burundi denied access to the UN investigators. 

Burundi has become increasingly isolated from the international community, refusing to let the UN investigators into the country and becoming in October this year the first country to pull out of the ICC. Many countries including the European Unionexternal link and Switzerlandexternal link have imposed targeted sanctions on senior figures in Burundi. In July 2016, the OIF temporarily suspended multilateral francophone development aid to Burundi, except for “programmes benefitting the civilian population directly or which can help to re-establish democracy”. and agencies

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