Hate speech leaves Burundi prone to atrocity
from OMEGA SSUUNA in Bujumbura, Burundi
BUJUMBURA, (CAJ News) – THERE is an international outcry following the deteriorating political situation in Burundi, the East African country that is teetering on the brink of a recurrence of mass atrocities and civil war.
On the back of escalating, widely-condemned hate speech, the volatile country has witnessed months of violence triggered by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s successful but controversial bid to win a third term in office.
The opposition said Nkurunziza’s bid to extend his term was in defiance of the constitution, as it barred the president from running for another term.
However, Nkurunziza’s allies said his first term did not count as he was elected by parliament and not directly by the people.
Amid an opposition boycott he was elected in July.
His retention of power has prompted a dramatic surge in killings, arrests and detentions.
The latest in the horrific turn of events has been the killing of the son of Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, one of Burundi’s most prominent human rights defenders.
Welly Nzitonda was reportedly arrested by police last Friday morning and his body was found that afternoon in the neighbourhood of Mutakura later in the day.
Mbonimpa himself narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in August and is still undergoing treatment abroad.
One of his sons-in-law was also killed in October.
“This assassination reinforces fears that there is a systematic policy of targeting members of the opposition, journalists, human rights defenders and ordinary citizens perceived to be opposing the Government.
“So far there has been complete impunity for these crimes,” United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said in an interview.
At the centre of the crisis are some politicians fanning violence through hate speech, a trend reminiscent of the genocide and civil war that rocked the country in 1972, ten years after independence from the Belgian administrative authority, and the 1990s.
The 1972 skirmishes claimed the lives of an estimated 200 000 to 300 000 Hutus.
Years later, a decade of civil war followed, as the Hutu formed militias in the refugee camps of northern Tanzania. An estimated 300 000 people were killed in clashes and reprisals against the local population.
“Burundi again faces the possibility of mass atrocities and civil war,” the Belgian-based International Crisis Group (ICG) has warned.
The international community is thus wary of hate speech returning the country to the pungent eras.
“France is very concerned about the continuing deterioration of the situation in Burundi, which is characterized by the increase in acts of violence and violations of human rights. France condemns hate speech. (This), including community connotation is unacceptable,” a government spokesperson said.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German Foreign Minister, decried the prevalence of hate speech during the political upheavals.
“The reports from Burundi of recent days concern me greatly. Constantly escalating violence and hate filled public statements by responsible politicians in Bujumbura threaten to lead to a total destabilisation of the country. The situation brings to mind the very worst memories of terrible civil wars and massacres,” he said.
It is envisaged dialogue could be key in resolving the crisis and avoid a catastrophe.
The African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) believes the only a genuine and inclusive dialogue, based on the respect of the Arusha Agreement, would enable the Burundian stakeholders to find a consensual solution to the crisis facing the country as well as preserve peace and
consolidate democracy and the rule of law.
AU has appointed President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda as the mediator.
John Kirby, the United States Department of State Spokesperson, said his country welcomed calls by the AU and UN Security Council’s call for inclusive dialogue to resolve the strife afflicting Burundi.
He said the United States stressed the Security Council’s call for any dialogue to be inclusive and represent the voices of the citizens of Burundi.
“We also welcome the Security Council’s strong condemnation of all violations and abuses of human rights and acts of unlawful violence committed in Burundi, both by security forces as well as by militias and other illegal armed groups, and its expressed determination to seek accountability for the perpetrators of such acts,” said Kirby.
– CAJ News
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