Town Hall Meeting
U.S. Town Hall Meeting: May 11, 2015
May 11, 2015
Thank you for coming to our Town Hall meeting. We have invited you to come here today to discuss the current political turmoil in Burundi. As everyone is aware, there have been major protests in Bujumbura and some other areas of Burundi since April 26. The situation in Bujumbura is certainly growing more tense and we would like to take this opportunity to share with you the Embassy's position and role during this crisis and provide you with recommendations for your personal safety.
Protests have been ongoing since the announcement of the third term candidacy of President Nkurunziza. There are reports police have used live fire to disperse protestors, and as of last Friday a total of 21 individuals have been killed since the protests began 16 days ago. The United States deplores the violence that is flaring up during otherwise peaceful protests. We feel strongly that the protesters can communicate their message without anger and violence, and that the government should permit peaceful protests, marches and dissent. Arbitrary detentions of protesters must stop, and protesters must be allowed the space to express themselves without fear of reprisal. The government's blanket declarations that all opposition is insurgence and terrorism and that all protesters are enemies of the public is decidedly inflammatory and pushes the opposition further into a corner.
The United States feels that the path of dialogue, peace, and non-violence is the only path through which Burundi can find its way out of the current political crisis. Political dialogue is critical but unfortunately is lacking at a time when it is desperately needed. The U.S. Embassy is working with partners like the United Nations to try to jump-start dialogue between the ruling party and members of the opposition.
We have called on the police to exercise restraint and refrain from the excessive use of force to deter protesters. We have called on the government to ensure space for peaceful protests and to respect freedom of assembly, expression, association and the press. We continue to urge the government to immediately lift restrictions on independent media so that they can quickly resume broadcasts as well as to restore access to social media for the Burundian people.
You may have seen reports that a group of university students are gathered outside the U.S. Embassy. You likely noticed them on your into the Embassy today. The number of students gathered near the U.S. Embassy is approximately 150 - 200. The U.S. Embassy will not request the students leave the vicinity of the Embassy so long as they remain peaceful and calm. The Embassy is working with the government to reinstate the students' stipends and to reopen the universities so they can continue their studies, and with international organizations and NGOs including the Red Cross and the World Food program to ensure their access to food, water and shelter.
The United States calls on the Burundian government to respect the rights of all individuals and the ability of peaceful political parties and their candidates to campaign, hold meetings and rallies, and express their views. We continue to urge all parties to participate in the legislative and national elections and ensure these electoral processes are inclusive, transparent, credible, free, and conducted in an environment without threats, intimidation, or violence. We have urged all parties to engage seriously in dialogue to establish the framework for a peaceful and credible electoral process. We will continue to support the Burundian people's peaceful pursuit of their human rights and fundamental freedoms.
We understand that this is a stressful time for all U.S. citizens residing in Burundi. It is very difficult for individuals and families to carry on with their lives in a time of uncertainty. Many of you are experiencing the additional stress of having to temporarily close your businesses or find education alternatives for your children following the closure of some schools. It is important to be aware and concerned for your and your family's security, but it is crucial not to panic. Violence is currently not targeting foreigners in general or U.S. citizens specifically.
It is critical to stay up to date on current events and to avoid all demonstrations. Be aware of your surroundings and tune into local and social media. We strongly recommend that U.S. citizens traveling to or residing in Burundi enroll in the Department of State's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). The Embassy has sent five security-related warden messages regarding the unrest since April 26. If you are not receiving our messages please contact one of the consular staff here today.
We are not currently sending any of our Embassy staff or family members home. However, it is important for you to make plans and consider your options for departing Burundi if you choose to do so. It is never a wise plan to rely on the U.S. Embassy for evacuation. It is always better to leave a country while you are able to do so safely and easily. If you or your family members do not feel safe, you should consider making plans to leave, at least temporarily. This is always a personal and individual decision for private U.S. citizens. Our consular officer Kate Kigudde will speak more about consular support during a crisis, but it is important to remember that if you stay in country and the U.S. Embassy organizes an evacuation, you will not be able to bring many of your belongings or any of your family pets. We understand that these can be difficult decisions for people and we strive to give you all the information and tools you need to make the right decision for you and your family.
Later today our Consular Officer, Kate Kigudde, will outline some of the key services our Embassy in Bujumbura can provide to U.S. citizens in their time abroad and during times of political turmoil. Our Security Officer, Sarah Cloeter, will now discuss the current security environment and share our recommendations for personal safety. Please join me in welcoming Sarah.
U.S. Town Hall Meeting: May 11, 2015
United States Citizens gathered at U.S. Embassy Bujumbura on the afternoon of May 11, 2015 for a U.S. citizens' town hall meeting. Ambassador Liberia made remarks, with a focus on security during Burundi's election season. The Regional Security Officer made remarks on the local security environment and shared recommendations for personal security precautions. The Consular Section Chief spoke about the consular services that are available to U.S. Citizens. After the meeting, U.S. Embassy staff registered citizens to vote at the American Citizens Services table.