The Burundi Policy Reform Project carried out a study tour to South Africa in partial fulfillment of requirements under the project’s Victims of Torture Component Task 5.3.5. The 19 participants from Burundi who visited South Africa from August 1 to August 9 had a series of extraordinary introductions to torture victims in South Africa and community-level efforts to meet the needs of victims along with institutions in Johannesburg and Cape Town that focus on issues related to torture and other forms of violence. The participants also visited judicial and human rights institutions established within the framework of transitional justice for the post-conflict South African society.
At the Khulmani Support Group, the Burundians learned how torture victims and survivors of apartheid-era political violence have organized to lobby and advocate for community-level reparations, prosecutions of perpetuators and investigations of disappeared persons. The Steve Biko Center for Bioethics is a university-based institution focusing on issues related to medical torture. The participants found the Center’s work to be relevant to situations existing in Burundi and were anxious to have additional information, follow-up and future cooperation on the subject of medical torture and related ethical issues. The Trauma Center for Survivors of Violence and Torture impressed upon the Delegation that the healing of memories is a necessary ingredient in the rehabilitation of survivors and victims of torture. Participants expressed their satisfaction with the opportunity to interact with torture victims from District Six in Cape Town. The Burundians learned that South Africa has virtually eliminated torture through specific prohibition at the constitutional level. The point was reinforced that torture issues can be most effectively addressed through the mechanisms of a transitional justice program. At the same time, the Delegation was exposed to varied public, civil society and community-based approaches to treatment, rehabilitation and reparations for survivors and victims of torture.
Through meetings and dialogue with representatives of The South African Human Rights Commission, The Human Rights Institute for South Africa, The Foundation for Human Rights, and The International Center for Transitional Justice, the Burundian Delegation obtained detailed information on the South African Constitution, the role of the Constitutional Court, The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), and prosecutions for apartheid-era crimes through the justice system. Objective panel presentations and discussions on the strengths and weaknesses of the truth and reconciliation process and the broader transitional justice process were obtained from The Foundation for Human Rights and The International Center for Transitional Justice. The Delegation heard that victims of political violence were not adequately included in the TRC process, and that the TRC emphasized truth seeking and pardons to the extent that perpetuators of political crimes were not prosecuted sufficiently.
The Delegation was visibly impressed with the opportunities to meet with Albie Sachs, Justice on the Constitutional Court of South Africa and Bishop Desmond Tutu, social activist and former Chairman of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Both of these famous persons gave advice and counsel to the Delegation on the necessity to end impunity and to work toward peace and reconciliation in Burundi.
The participants in the Study Tour to South Africa were unanimous in their assessment of the trip as highly substantive and motivational toward bolstering their individual and collective efforts against torture, ending impunity and moving towards transitional justice in Burundi. Upon returning to Burundi, the participants immediately began the process of follow-up, information dissemination and recommendations resulting from the South Africa experience. The major issue raised by the participants is that of determining those mechanisms of transitional justice that are appropriate to the Burundian political and social context. They realized that Burundi cannot duplicate the South African experience, but lessons from South Africa are certainly applicable in crafting those transitional justice mechanisms that will serve