Burundi violence intensifies, rights groups demand international police presence


Burundi’s authorities are targeting perceived opponents with increased brutality. Government forces are killing, abducting, torturing, and arbitrarily arresting scores of people at an alarming rate, Human Rights Watch said today:

As the capital, Bujumbura, descends into new levels of lawlessness, patterns of human rights abuses have shifted. Whereas dead bodies on the streets of Bujumbura were a daily occurrence in the second half of 2015, many abuses are now taking place under the radar, with security forces secretly taking people away and refusing to account for them.

“The Burundian police, military, intelligence services, and members of the ruling party’s youth league are using increasingly brutal methods to punish and terrorize perceived opponents,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Government forces and the ruling party are treating suspected opponents with extreme cruelty and viciousness, which could further escalate the violence.”

Recently, the violence has become more ethnic-based and potentially explosive, the New York Times adds:

Burundi’s government is led primarily by Hutus. Many of the recent victims, who even include cadets at the government military academy, have been Tutsis. The United States and European countries have imposed sanctions on several Burundian officials in an effort to prevent more atrocities, to little effect.

In Burundi’s deepening political and human rights crisis, the government’s violent clampdown on civil society has left hundreds of people dead, jailed or disappeared, crushed free speech and independent media, and created a climate of fear where human and worker rights defenders have been forced into silence or exile, the Solidarity Center’s Kate Conradt writes:

Trade union members are among the hardest hit by the ongoing repression, which came to a head when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced a run for a third term in office last April. Leaders of the General Federation of Burundian Unions (COSYBU) currently living in Rwanda report that more than 700 union members have followed them into exile in the country.

To stop the spiral of violence and bring about the changes needed, the AU High-level Delegation, as well as Burundi’s international partners, should use leverage in four key areas, the International Crisis Group suggests:

  1. Diplomacy: stronger, more consistent, better coordinated.

International pressure on Burundi has been inadequate, and attempts at mediation since the start of the crisis, have been fragmented and faltering. The government has been able to play one institution off another. It is therefore vital that the AU, the East African Community and the UN speak with one voice. Whoever plays the role of lead international mediator needs to have the full backing of all three organisations, devote considerable energy to the task, and be willing to pass tough messages to the government and the opposition.

  1. Sanctions: targeted and benchmarked.

Like the diplomatic effort, sanctions on Burundi have been uncoordinated and half-hearted. In particular, the AU, which has the greatest leverage given that regime and opposition leaders travel and have assets in the region, has delayed implementing the decision taken by its Peace and Security Council (PSC) in the communiqué of 17 October 2015 to impose targeted sanctions in the hope the situation would improve. ….

  1. International presence: increased, keeping an intervention force on the table.

The recent announcement that the small contingent of AU observers in Burundi will be increased is welcome. But it should be only a beginning. More observers are needed, at least the proposed 100 envisaged by the AUPSC in its 17 October 2015 communiqué. …In addition, the AU and UN should put in place robust monitoring in refugee camps in neighbouring countries, where reportedly most recruitment is taking place. Rwanda is alleged to be backing the armed opposition according to a recently leaked UN Group of Experts Report, as well as other research. The Rwandan government denies this, but is concerned about Tutsis being targeted in Burundi.

  1. Funding: responsible, accountable.

Burundi’s army makes a significant contribution to the AU’s peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and also contributes to the UN mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). Funds for these missions are paid directly to the government, which takes a large share before paying its soldiers. This money provides a vital lifeline to the regime enabling it to resist international pressure – including from the organisations paying its troops. Crisis Group research indicates that the government is rewarding Imbonerakure militia for their participation in violent acts with posts in the police and even the army. The risk of them being further rewarded with much prized spots in AMISOM is apparent, reinforcing the need for effective vetting prior to deployment.  RTWT

The Solidarity Center is a core institute of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

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