Library of Congress

Law Library of Congress

The Library of Congress > Law Library > News & Events > Global Legal Monitor

Burundi: Court Permits Third Bid for Presidency

(May 7, 2015) On May 5, 2015, the Constitutional Court of Burundi decided that the country’s president, Pierre Nkurunziza, could run for a third term; six of the seven judges signed the decision. (Burundi Court Upholds President’s Controversial Third-Term Bid, FRANCE 24 (May 5. 2015).) The issue arose because Nkurunziza wishes to run for his third term, and the constitution states that the President may be elected for a five-year term and re-elected only once. (Burundi’s Constitution of 2005, art. 96, CONSTITUTION PROJECT.)

According to the Court, “[t]he renewal of the presidential term through direct universal suffrage for five years is not against the constitution of Burundi.” (Burundi Court Backs President’s Candidacy Amid Unrest, AL JAZEERA (May 5, 2015).) The reasoning behind the decision relies on the fact that Nkurunziza was appointed, not elected for his first term. (Burundi Court Backs President Nkurunziza on Third-Term, BBC (May 5, 2015).)

Reaction in Burundi to the Third Term Bid and the Decision

Duncan Woodside, a journalist for FRANCE 24, pointed out that the court contained a number of Nkurunziza supporters and opined that “[i]t was always expected that the constitutional court would vote in favour of the status quo.” (Burundi Court Upholds President’s Controversial Third-Term Bid, supra.) There have been extensive protests, beginning even before the announcement. Jean Minani of the Frodebu-Nyakuri party, which opposes extending the current administration, said that the protests would continue until Nkurunziza steps aside. “We don’t care about the constitutional court decision because we know this court is manipulated,” he added. (Id.)

Police indicated that at least six people have been killed in clashes between demonstrators and law enforcement personnel, three of them from security forces. (Id.) Civil society groups in the country put the number of dead at about twelve and said that about 30,000 individuals have left the country, fearing violence between ethnic groups. They claim police have used tear gas, water cannons, and live ammunition. The U.S. embassy also reported the use of guns and tear gas at a demonstration near its headquarters. (Patrick Nduwimana, Burundi Court Clears President To Run Again, Angers Protesters, REUTERS (May 5, 2015).)

In addition to the controversy over the constitutional provision, those protesting have argued that by running in the June 2015 election, Nkurunziza is violating the peace deal that ended the civil conflict that began in 1993 between the Hutu, who are in the majority in Burundi, and the Tutsi peoples. That agreement limited the president to two terms. (Id.; Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement for Burundi (Aug. 28, 2000), Protocol II, art. 7 (3), Institute for Security Studies Africa website.)

Reaction from the United States

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking in Nairobi the day before the Court’s decision, stated that by running for a third term, Burundi’s president is flying in the face of the country’s constitution. He added, “[w]e are deeply concerned about President Nkurunziza’s decision,” and said that the protestors “should be listened to.” (Lesley Wroughton, Burundi President Vote Bid ‘Flies in Face’ of Constitution: Kerry, REUTERS (May 4, 2015).)

Reaction from Rwanda

Louise Mushikiwabo, the Foreign Minister of neighboring country Rwanda, expressed concern about the unstable situation in Burundi. Rwanda also has both Hutu and Tutsi citizens. In the 1994 Rwandan genocide, 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed; since then the country has promised to prevent a similar slaughter in the region, and it fears being drawn into the current conflict. (Nduwimana, supra.)

Reaction to the Protests from Burundi’s President

Nkurunziza stated that the protests are an “insurrectional movement,” and he said that tough measures would be taken against the organizers of the demonstrations. (Burundi Court Upholds President’s Controversial Third-Term Bid, supra.)