Press Release

Breakthrough for Women at Burundi Peace Negotiations

Meeting Between UN Experts and Peace Negotiators in Arusha, Tanzania Ensures that Women will not be Ignored in Peace Negotiations

For immediate release
Date: 27 June 2000

Media Inquiries:
Oisika Chakrabarti, Media Specialist, UN Women Headquarters, +1 646 781-4522,

United Nations, New York — All 19 political parties involved in the Burundi peace negotiations have agreed that women should participate in the peace process and their concerns regarding the implementation of the peace accord should be taken into account. This commitment is the outcome of a recent meeting, led by a high-level team of UN experts, which was held in Arusha, Tanzania on June 23.

Convened by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the UN team of experts was invited to the Arusha peace talks by negotiation facilitators, headed by former South African president Nelson Mandela. The six-member UN team included leading experts from South Africa, Uganda, Guatemala and Eritrea who had negotiated peace accords in their own countries, as well as two technical experts from UNIFEM.

The UN experts provided advice to the 19 political parties on how to strengthen women's participation in the peace process. During the meeting they addressed substantive concerns like the protection of women's rights under the new constitution, women's contribution to the economy, and the importance of women's role in conflict resolution.

"The voices of Burundi women must be heard in the peace process," said Dr. Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Director of UNIFEM. "Their rights must be guaranteed in all of the mechanisms that will guide Burundi's peaceful development."

At the June 23 meeting, UNIFEM announced that it would convene an all-party Burundi Women's Peace Conference and invited each negotiating party to send two women delegates to the conference. The conference will take place in Arusha within the next three weeks and will be jointly organized with the Mwalimu Nyerere Foundation.

Over the last two years, delegates from the 19 parties have been meeting regularly under the leadership of former president Nelson Mandela to negotiate Burundi's peace. As peace negotiations draw to a close, women's issues have finally been highlighted.

"It is never too late to include women and their concerns in the peace process," said Joseph Butiku, Executive Director of the Mwalimu Nyerere Foundation. "The delegates affirmed their concern about the negative impact of the conflict on Burundi women and children and recognized women's potential to contribute to the healing, reconstruction and development of Burundi society."

In an interview with Hirondelle News Agency in Arusha, Leonard Nyangoma, leader of the Hutu-led political group CNDD, said that he wished the UNIFEM team had "come earlier and stayed longer." However, he thought the team's advice had served as a "big consciousness-raising exercise" and that it would have an impact on Burundian politicians.

UNIFEM has been working in Burundi since 1994 to assist women refugees and victims of violence. The agency has also been assisting the first group of seven women who were granted Permanent Observer Status at the Arusha talks in 1999.

"Since 1997, virtually all parties to the negotiations categorically refused to include women in the negotiations. Women constitute more than half of the Burundi population and will ultimately vote their concerns," said Ruth Perry, the first female African Head of State of Liberia and Vice Chair of one of the negotiating committees. "This breakthrough must be given immediate support to develop a wider process of engaging women throughout Burundi on issues relating to their security, their inclusion and their human rights."

Over the past month, UNIFEM has also provided support to promote the participation of women in the Middle East Peace Process. Most recently, Dr. Heyzer headed an international delegation to Jerusalem, to support Palestinian and Israeli women's efforts to formulate a common vision for peace in the region.