Bishop Jean-Louis Nahimana: “The administration will not steer our work”

In recent days, some people have raised their voices denouncing cheating attempts that could jeopardize the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s independence in setting up its branches. Bishop Jean Louis Nahimana, Chairman of the commission raises some ambiguities. Iwacu made an exclusive interview with him.

Mgr-jean-Louis-Nahimana-600x537Has the Truth and Reconciliation Commission-TRC already set up its provincial, communal and hill divisions?

First of all, I would like to raise an ambiguity. There have been rumors in the last few days and we even heard people say through the media that the TRC is in the process of establishing its divisions. There is a clear confusion to be clarified.

We have not yet set up any commission in charge of those divisions. We do not have necessary and sufficient means to open offices and recruit sufficient staff.

However, while waiting for means, we opted for a plan B and decided to take small steps. We are doing some work to identify the missing or murdered people during the various crises that have rocked Burundi from independence until 2008.

The other work concerns mass graves: we would like to know what has happened in the country, how many mass graves actually exist and where they are located.

And to get there, we need agents on the ground. As it is a one month work and no more, we are recruiting people who do not ask for a lot of resources and who can help us in this temporary task of identifying the real facts.

But some socio-cultural advisors to the governors would have already been designated focal points of the TRC. Is it true? What about the selection criteria?

This is not true. I was abroad and so far, I have not signed any letters of appointment to that effect. Who else could do that in my place as the chairman of the commission?

As for the criteria, we opted for a very simple methodology. We first went over the ground. We brought together representatives of different categories of the population, namely religious denominations, civil society organizations present on the ground, not those operating in Bujumbura alone: people who really know the country.

We also need the local administration, because our agents need an official recognition first. Thus, the authorities must be warned so that the commission’s agents can work quietly under the auspices of the public administration.

In short, we are still doing the fieldwork to find out who we are working with. We cannot work without public administration. The main thing is to define its role.

No possible interference?

The representatives of the public administration will be there to prepare the ground for and protect our agents. Saying that it is the administration that is going to steer our work is confusion, an error of appreciation.

You have launched the phase of depositions while there are thousands of Burundians in exile. How do you expect to have their testimonies?

We have already taken the first step. We are going to organize a tour. We started with Europe where we have people who are working with us. We intend to work closely with the Diaspora.

As for intellectuals, we have opened a website where they can send us their testimonies online. Others give their testimonies via WhatsApp and other social networks.

What are the challenges?

Until now, the staff is insufficient. We have begun the first experiment in Bujumbura city, we started this work with nine people and with such a staff, we have to go very slowly.

That is why we have thought of being supported by volunteers, those peace-loving people, with a spirit of reconciliation so that they can support us in this work.

I do not think we should go too far too fast. We are still at the preliminary stage of building a database.

We are not really at the time of political discussions or ethnic and political interpretations of what happened in this country. We are still in the observation phase.

There are many challenges. There is also confusion between the National Land and Other Assets Commission (CNTB) and the TRC. Some people come only to ask for reparations and lost property to be recovered via the CVR without necessarily carrying about what they saw, experienced or endured.

The other challenge is much more psychological. It is linked to the current crisis in which people are traumatized and do not understand why the work of the TRC should be limited to 2008 and not expand and address current human rights violations.

As a result, there are people who are not at all encouraged to urge others to give their testimonies at the TRC.

What do you say about criticisms against TRC?

Some people are too fast and project their problems on the work of the TRC. That is a serious problem. People have expectations, perceptions. They want us to take their own pains.

Instead of screaming, isolating themselves in their misfortune or ghettos, people should bring us their testimonies.

If they do not come, we will content ourselves with what we will have gathered from the population.

I am surprised to see that people who speak a lot are not even represented all over the country up to the hill.

What is your message to the victims?

The Truth and Reconciliation Commissions are primarily set up for the benefit of the victims. It is a school where Burundians will have to learn to listen to the sufferings of each other.

If we want to put an end to cyclical crises, we must have the courage to take a retrospective look at what we have done and highlight the personal responsibilities of Burundians in these crimes.

If the victims do not take the central place in the process, we will not achieve much. If these victims do not rise to come, give their testimonies and cry their sufferings in the ears of the Burundians, this work will lead us to nothing or nowhere.

For me, the crisis we are experiencing today is a serious consequence of the painful past that Burundians carry in their hearts; a past that has hurt the collective memory. As a result, people do not have enough lucidity to manage their conflicts today.

If we really want a lasting peace, now is the time to face this past in order to curb these cyclical conflicts and to usher in a new era in Burundi, to set up a new social project.

These crises go on because Burundians are trying to dialogue by obscuring the truth and avoiding real facts.

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