One step forward, two steps back in Burundi peace process
by OMEGA SSUUNA in Bujumbura, Burundi
BUJUMBURU, (CAJ News) – THERE appears to be no end in sight to the deadly political upheavals characterising Burundi as the tiny East African country takes more steps backwards than forward to rediscover peace.
This has dashed hopes brought about by the intervention of fellow African countries and President Pierre Nkurunziza, elected controversially in a one-candidate election in 2015, agreed to dialogue with his political rivals.
Months later, little if anything has changed.
The African Union (AU) heads of state mission visit to Burundi this month month had little to show for it.
There was no mention of the deployment of a larger and more robust AU force in the troubled country despite this being a key agenda item for the visit.
However, the Nkurunziza’s government finally accepted the deployment of a full complement of human rights and military observers, which it had agreed to in mid-2015.
Former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa was also appointed to assist the East African Community-led talks between Burundian parties but there is still no date for resuming the talks, nor is there clarity on who will attend.
Nkurunziza still maintains that he will not speak to the “armed opposition.”
This is tag he applies freely to most of his political opponents.
Head of Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, noted the killings have continued unabated.
“The number of people killed in Burundi continues to steadily grow, as does the number of people forced to flee their homes,” said Al Hussein.
He believes the violations have in fact worsened.
“Targeted attacks are also on the rise and are now taking place in neighbourhoods of Bujumbura that were previously considered to be safe,” said Al Hussein.
More than 300 people have been killed since April last year in the run up to Nkuruniza’s controversial retention of power.
The casualty figures are a tenth of the civil war that rocked the country in 1972, ten years after independence from the Belgian administrative authority.
More than 280 000 Burundians have sought refuge in neighbouring countries or have been internally displaced.
Police presence is heavy in the capital Bujumbura and search operations continue in some neighbourhoods, often accompanied by killings, arbitrary arrests, ill-treatment and sometimes extortion as well.
Recently, authorities suspend ten non-governmental organisations, including several organisations working on peace and human rights issues, such as torture and the rights of women and children.
The General Prosecutor has requested various banks to suspend the accounts of the NGOs targeted by the ministerial decree.
“The sad reality is that Burundian civil society has been significantly weakened since the beginning of the crisis. Many human rights defenders and civil society activists have been killed, assaulted, arrested, threatened or forced to flee the country,” said Al Hussein.
Hate speech fanned by political leaders is on the increase.
The deteriorating situation has compelled human rights groups to appeal to the international community to act urgently to avoid genocide in Burundi.
Most prominently, the United States imposed sanctions against perpetrators of the crisis.
The Executive Order provides the authority to block the assets of those who, among other things, have engaged in or provided material support for actions that threaten peace and security, undermine democratic processes, or who are responsible for or complicit in human rights abuses against civilians.
Ned Price, US Secretary Council Spokesperson, is hopeful such measures will curb the violations.
“Burundi is on the precipice, but there is a clear path available to Burundi’s leaders to avoid further violence and reach a political solution to the crisis,” said Price.
The US official added, “Now is the moment for all sides in Burundi to demonstrate the strength and leadership necessary to put aside violence and engage in an nternationally-mediated dialogue outside Burundi,” said Price.
“As President Obama said in his recent message to the people of Burundi, now is the time to stand against violence and to begin the hard work of uniting,” he said.
The European Union in March postponed direct financial support for Burundi for not doing enough to find a political solution to the continuing conflict.
European Union (EU) aid to Burundi from 2014 to 2020 is estimated at $480 million.
Burundian Foreign Minister, Alain Nyamitwe, Burundi expressed disappointment.
“Of course as a government we were not happy because we believe we are addressing the situation on the ground using the minimum means at our disposal and we believe that all we needed was more of an encouragement because our aim is to protect and safeguard the interest of the people of Burundi,” Nyamitwe said.
Hopes though have been retained.
“There is still a chance and hope that Burundi can avoid a fully-fledged civil war. This is why I urge all actors involved in the current crisis to refrain from violence and to engage in a meaningful and truly inclusive dialogue,” said Zeid.
Belgium, which colonized Burundi until independence in 1962, remains hopeful dialogue is will resolve the impasse.
The volatile country has witnessed months of violence triggered by Nkurunziza’s successful but controversial bid to win a third term in office. The opposition argued Nkurunziza’s bid to extend his term was uconstitutional, 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.
– CAJ News
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