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AU Calls for Further Postponement of Burundi Election

Protesters march who are against Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza and his bid for a third term, in Bujumbura, Burundi, June 4, 2015.
Protesters march who are against Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza and his bid for a third term, in Bujumbura, Burundi, June 4, 2015.

The African Union has called for a postponement of Burundi’s July 15 presidential election, saying a new date should be decided through negotiations between the government and opposition.

Erastus Mwencha, deputy chairperson of the African Union commission, said the proposed date is based on information the AU gathered through consultation with all stakeholders, including a report from leaders of the East African community.

The election date, originally June 26, was changed by presidential decree following an electoral commission proposal.

Violent protests in Burundi have taken place since President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term, a move the president’s critics say would violate a two-term limit in the constitution.

Nkurunziza’s supporters argue he is eligible to run again because he was appointed by lawmakers to his first term in office, and not elected by a popular vote.

Mwencha said the AU believes a new election date should be determined by a consensus among the Burundian stakeholders.

“The main approach of the African Union has been that [we should] let the people and the institutions of Burundi solve their problem and solve it within the constitution, solve it within the laid down procedures, and they must then make sure that they create a conducive environment under which an election can take place, including the issue of third term,” he said.

Mwencha also confirmed the AU will send about 50 military experts to Burundi to ensure that no human rights violations have been taken place there.

One assignment of the experts, according to one account, is to “verify the process of disarming the militia and other armed groups."

“We are going to send some observers particularly to make sure that the parties conduct themselves in a manner that does not endanger the population,” Mwencha said.

He described a South African court’s attempt to prevent Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir from leaving South Africa as a “non-event” that the media tried to make an issue of.

Bashir flew home Monday from South Africa defying a Pretoria court order to remain in the country until it decided whether he should be arrested on war crimes and genocide charges.

Mwencha said the African leaders had no knowledge that a drama was being played out in the South African courts outside the summit. He said when a country agrees to host the AU summit, it signs what is called a “host agreement” which extends privileges and immunities to all those attending the meeting.

“For purposes of the meeting, the venue of the meeting is an extended territory of the African Union. And so, President Omar al-Bashir was within the territory of the African Union. So, the court could not have had any jurisdiction in that unless the South African government reneged and does not live by the African Union statute,” Mwencha said.

Mwencha said leaders who normally do not have relations with the United States attend U.N. General Assembly meetings in New York understand they are not on U.S. territory for the purpose of that meeting. Otherwise, Mwencha said the international community would demand that the U.N. move from New York.

He said the African Union supports the principle of the ICC as evidenced by its decision to try former Chadian President Hissen Habre on crimes against humanity that he is alleged to have committed. But, Mwencha said the AU is concerned about he called ICC “double standard.”

“You tell me which leaders are being taken to court right now by the ICC? Now those are the double standards that we are talking about. If indeed it is alright that the leaders in the West can have immunity while they are still in office, it should be the same all over the world. And we say, if there is a problem, follow the accused leaders after they have left office, like it is happening all over the world,” Mwencha said.

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