Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Mass Killings and Allegations of Genocide Hit Burundi By Lizabeth Paulat

“Africa will NOT allow another Genocide to take place on its soil.” This was the communication from the African Union’s Peace and Security Council. However, even as members of the council met, extrajudicial killings were taking place in Burundi.
Photos, media reports and refugees tell harrowing tales of the political violence gripping the country. They speak of men being dragged out of their homes at night and killed on the street. Of neighbors and parents vanishing without a trace. It is a situation that calls for immediate and concerted international action. However, so far, according to sources, peacekeepers within the country have not been allowed to do their jobs.

Burundi descended into political chaos after President Pierre Nkurunziza made a bid for his third term in office, despite the fact that the Burundian constitution only allows a president to serve for two terms. The nation’s high courts allowed his third term on a technicality. Not long after, the streets of Burundi’s capital erupted in protests and an attempted coup. However this was all shut down under the strong arm of Nkurunziza’s government.

Now the goal of his administration seems to be crushing dissent. Burundians both inside and outside the country are calling the targeted killings genocide. One Burundian activist told the International Business Times, “The world needs to understand there absolutely is a genocide underway in Burundi, against a part of the population who is opposed to the third term.”

Burundian government officials and alleged militias are now going house to house to try to root out the opposition. Unlike genocides suffered in both Burundi and Rwanda before – which pitted Hutus against Tutsis – many are saying this is not an ethnic conflict but a political one. Although it has the potential to pit ethnicities against each other, at the moment both sides of the political spectrum have both Hutus and Tutsis in them, which many believe is mitigating the ethnic component for now.

Last Friday around 87 people were killed in Bujumbura, the nation’s capital, when gunmen stormed a military base. While the government has blamed most of the violence on opposition militias and praised the “professionalism” of the police and military, accounts from those on the ground as well as journalists inside the country are telling an entirely different story.

Around 220,000 Burundians have fled the nation to neighboring Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda. Many refugees say that they were not personally involved with the opposition but feared for their life because a close friend or family member was. It is estimated that around 400 people have been killed in the conflict so far, but these numbers are also likely to be low considering the nature of the killings, which often occur at night and in people’s homes.

However, despite this international pressure is working. It should be noted that during the first genocide very little media attention was given to Burundi, with few knowing that Rwanda wasn’t alone in ethnic cleansing. These days, a mass of stories have helped raise awareness. And this awareness has translated into actions with the US urging the UN’s Human Rights Council to address the problem. Since then, the UN has agreed to send a convoy of investigators to the country.

The world cannot let up on this pressure, and must continue to call for peace and an end to political violence in Burundi. We cannot sit by again and again as genocidal warning bells go off in Burundi. We ignored it the first time, but this time around we have a chance to put pressure on our representatives to do more.

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