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Establishing the Truth
Edith Kaze,
Development Program Officer, HROC-Burundi, Quaker Peace & Social Witness Peaceworker

Burundi is currently in the process of establishing a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) such as the one pioneered in South Africa by Desmond Tutu. The purpose of a TRC is to expose past atrocities while also achieving reconciliation between oppressors and oppressed. Having lived through years of seemingly endless despair and unspeakable atrocities, it would be easy to assume that Burundians would welcome such a Commission. This, however, could not be further from the truth. Of those few who know about this mechanism, many remain skeptical that it could ever be fair in its proceedings. With the current political climate, where affiliations are everything, the thought of a commission that does not guarantee outcomes favorable to those in power is an inconceivable notion to many.

There is still hope though. Those in civil society and Quaker organizations familiar with the history of TRCs considered this the perfect opportunity to make suggestions about this instrument. Sensing the impact of such an institution, Quaker organizations which constitute the Quaker Peace Network ( QPN-AFRICA), wished to contribute to development of a TRC which, at its essence, shares Quaker values and is conducive to sustainable peace.

Since January 2012, activities have taken place to raise awareness about the TRC and set plans in motion. With years of experience in forgiveness, trauma healing, development, reconciliation and peace building, QPN-AFRICA felt adequately placed to provide insight during the TRC’s conception. By November 2012, QPN-AFRICA submitted written recommendations for the attention of its drafters. The recommendations covered most aspects of the commission and its mission -- structure; staff; gender and age sensitivities; work ethics; the accessibility of proceedings; elements of justice, punishment and reparations; welfare of participants and the end of the TRC’s mandate. Significantly, QPN-Africa also encouraged the TRC designers to take into account and draw inspiration from the expertise and successes of Quaker organizations and other agencies while drafting the psycho-social support provisions.

As transitory staff at HROC-Burundi, which is part of QPN-Africa, I had the opportunity of working alongside some truly brilliant minds in the drafting of these recommendations. I rubbed shoulders with representatives from numerous Burundian and international peace organizations. It was impossible not to be in awe of these organizations, knowing the work that they do. As we sat together week after week chipping in ideas, I felt an immense sense of responsibility. Although QPN-Africa is one amongst many organizations bringing suggestions regarding the TRC, there is still a possibility that our words could strike a chord. With this in mind and aware that our views could affect many lives, careful thought and consideration were absolute musts.

HROC-Burundi is laying the ground work for a project which combines its approach to healing with TRC teachings. Such a project is needed because there remain a lot of people who are in the dark about the Commission and what it will mean to them personally. HROC’s project would demonstrate that, with the right approach, healing can be instrumental to a successful TRC. Additionally, HROC-Burundi plans to ensure that: all the population from the grassroots upwards are informed about the TRC and are emotionally and psychologically prepared for it; that there is available support before, during and after its implementation; that this support can be easily accessed by all; that all who wish to be involved in proceedings can do so and feel they have benefited from it.

All in all, we hope the coming days will bear good fortune. QPN-Africa continues to hope that the TRC will come to be and embody upstanding values. HROC-Burundi will also be keeping a look out for this much needed blessing and be ready to pave the way for the reconciliation journey of the Burundian people with its new project.