Bishop of Durham speaks on impact of sanctions on Burundi

The Bishop of Durham spoke in a debate on the imposition of sanctions on Burundi on 19th January 2022, asking that the government consider the impact of sanctions on the poor and keep existing regulations under review:

The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, I rise to make some comments—I should probably explain why a bishop is doing so. I have been a regular visitor to Burundi since 2000. I have made a number of visits, which have largely been to church leaders, but one occasion included meeting President Nkurunziza when he was in power. I have therefore experienced the deep poverty of Burundi first hand—and it is very deep. It is one of the five poorest nations on earth. My visits are not confined to staying in the capital city—it was Bujumbura but is now Gitega—but include going out meeting ordinary people in villages around the nation.

I fully understand why sanctions were placed and I am not opposing them being continued. I am pleased to see the changes being made. However, I note the significant impact that these sanctions can inadvertently have on the poorest in the nations and their unintended impact on civil leaders, such as church leaders and others, who feel slightly constrained in what they are able to see and do. I am concerned that, in speaking up for their nation, they might be thought to support things that we may not wish them to support.

In agreeing that these should go forward, I hope that the Government will keep them under regular review, so that they can be lifted as soon as possible, because there is no doubt that the new regime is behaving very differently from its predecessor. Yes, there are more moves that could be made around human rights. However, it is definitely going in the right direction and I think that the more encouragement it can be given by recognising and accepting that—this is one small step in that direction—the more it will help the leadership to serve the nation to the very best.

I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will recognise the important place of the church and other civil society in the life of Burundi and encourage them through other means. Ongoing support through overseas aid and so on is significantly important and is often best delivered by organisations such as Christian Aid and Tearfund and through the local churches—obviously, my particular connection is with the Anglican Church, but other churches as well. It is very rare that I get a chance to speak up for the wonderful nation of Burundi and its people. This is an opportunity, so I hope the Minister will address the questions that I have raised.


Extracts from the speeches that followed:

Viscount Eccles (Con): My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. I have not had the pleasure of going to Burundi, but I have had a lot of experience in sub-Saharan Africa. I want to go rather farther than the right reverend Prelate; in fact, I want to ask my noble friend on the Front Bench what the purpose of these sanctions is. They have been in existence since 2015—I think I am right in saying that, because of course there were European Union sanctions dated 2015—and it seems to me that these sanctions are a carryover from our membership of the European Union.

When we think about Burundi, with its 12 million people and its poverty—it is way, way down the list of states; there is abject poverty in much of Burundi—it does not seem very relevant that the United Kingdom’s policy towards it should be, as it were, led by sanctions. Can the Minister say whether we have actually designated anybody under these sanctions in the past? This seems an automatic reaction to what has happened in the past.


While going through this 50-page document and thinking to myself, “What is our Government’s policy towards Burundi?”, I came to the conclusion that this sanctions regime is basically irrelevant. It has nothing to do with the interest of our Government in what happens in sub-Saharan Africa and Burundi. I end by saying that the fertility rate in Burundi at the moment is 5.1, which means that its population doubles every 30 years or so. At the moment, the lifestyle and well-being of the Burundian people is not improving and, as far as I can see, the only active interest this country is taking in Burundi is that taken by the Church—well done the Church. I hope that when my noble friend replies, he will forgive me and widen his reply somewhat from the narrow purposes of this regulation. If he does not feel that it is the right time to do that, I should be very grateful for a letter on the subject of HMG’s policy towards Burundi.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con): I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to today’s insightful and timely discussion. I will try to address the questions raised in order. In particular, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham for sharing his personal experiences and commend the Church’s work, of which I am obviously aware, not just in Burundi but across Africa.

In essence, this debate has been about why we have not removed the sanctions and why we have not gone slightly further. I will try to answer those points in order. The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, asked why we have not removed Burundi sanctions. I take the point from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham about unintended consequences, which is a good point and was very well made. The UK remains concerned by reports of human rights violations and abuses being committed against the political opposition and other critical voices. We are also concerned about the treatment of human rights defenders in Burundi. Breaches of human rights, coupled with impunity for perpetrators, compromise gains made towards long-term stability—in all countries.

The Lord Bishop of Durham: I thank the Minister for giving way. I asked about the interaction with our continued overseas aid. I recognise that he will not have the answer, but I would be grateful if he could write.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom: I happily commit to write on that and apologise that I do not have the answer.

As I set out in my opening speech, the Burundi (Sanctions) Regulations 2021 maintain essentially the same effects as the previous regime. The UK Government are pleased to work with the Government of Burundi on priority issues, which obviously include human rights. We continue to call on the Government of Burundi to co-operate with all UN human rights mechanisms and, as I have just mentioned, to facilitate the reopening of the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Burundi. With that, I commit to write if I have missed anything and thank noble Lords for their participation today. I commend these regulations to the Committee.

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