Political Crisis in Burundi Raises Risk of Renewed Ethnic Tensions
On 25 April 2015, Burundi’s ruling party, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), announced that the incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza would run for a “constitutionally-questionable” third term. The pronouncement capped weeks of tense, intermittent fighting between the CNDD-FDD’s youth wing, the Imbonerakure, and opposition parties. Concerns are mounting that the Burundian President’s long-feared decision will strike a serious if not fatal blow to the 2000 Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement ending Burundi’s civil war. Indeed, protests have proliferated in the week since Nkurunziza’s announcement, and the government’s response has accordingly grown more brutal. Amnesty International reports that the government has banned independent radio channels, killed and injured protestors, obstructed access routes to Bujumbura’s city centre, and dispersed crowds with tear gas, water cannons, and live ammunition. In anticipation of the looming electoral violence, an estimated 20,000 refugees have meanwhile fled to Rwanda alone.
As International Peace Institute (IPI) notes, though the recent fighting “has not been exclusively on ethnic lines”, the threat it poses to the fragile ethnic power-sharing agreement put in place by the Arusha Agreement could “allow disputes of this nature to reemerge with more force.” Opponents of President Nkurunziza (a Hutu) and his party assert that he is trying to consolidate Hutu power. The “extreme examples of hate speech” at a pro-government rally deplored by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, indeed indicate an increased risk of a revival of ethnic tension.
International Crisis Group describes how, in response to the looming crisis, High Commissioner Zeid, the Tanzanian president, and the UN Security Council recently visited Burundi, while the UN created an electoral mission (MENUB). Despite such action, International Crisis Group claims that “the reaction of Burundi’s partners—especially the guarantors of the Arusha agreement—is not commensurate with the gravity of the situation…they must urgently mobilize sufficient resources.” The AU’s 28 April decision to send a high-level AU delegation to “defuse current tension” and “identify practical measures” to resolve the crisis is welcome in this regard, and in line with the organization’s Responsibility to Protect. However, as IPI cautions, time is short, and “the next few weeks will test the strength of Burundi’s democracy and the resilience of the power-sharing agreement…in the meantime, the political tension is exacting a heavy human toll.”
The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for CAR warned that the country is becoming “a forgotten crisis”, with the UN receiving a mere fraction of the funds necessary to address the humanitarian situation. Civil society organizations welcomed CAR’s National Transitional Council decision to adopt a law establishing a Special Criminal Court within the national justice system. The Court will investigate and prosecute perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity in CAR since 2003. The UN Security Council renewed the mandate of its peacekeeping mission in CAR, “recalling that the Central African Republic authorities have the primary responsibility to protect all populations in the CAR, in particular from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”
Finally, a leaked UN report alleges that French peacekeeping troops in CAR sexually abused refugee children.
A report by the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea accuses the regime of increasing its material support for terrorism. Foreign Policy reports that threats of accountability for the crimes against humanity documented by the UN’s Commission of Inquiry report are “creating anxiety” in North Korea.
A series of car bombings killed at least 20 civilians in Baghdad. At least 30 Iraqi police died during heavy confrontations between the Iraqi security forces and ISIS in Ramadi, though Iraqi forces appear to be gaining ground in the city.
The UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Libya, Bernardino León, outlined for the Security Council his draft proposal for a political settlement among Libya’s warring parties. The draft is "anchored” in key principles, such as a clear separation of powers between the executive and legislative authorities. The UN is seeking to finalize the agreement before the start of Ramadan on 17 June. Meanwhile, ISIS militants killed two Tunisian journalists in Libya who had been kidnapped last year.
Mali’s main Tuareg rebel group, the MNLA, announced that it would sign a peace agreement with the government next month. However, pro-government militias (Gatia and the Arab Azawad Movement) seized Menaka from Tuareg separatists from the MNLA, threatening to derail the peace process. Tuareg rebels shot at UN peacekeepers in Timbuktu during two rebel attacks.
A committee set up to assess the level of destruction in locales recovered from Boko Haram found hundreds of decomposed bodies littering the streets, dry riverbeds, and houses in Borno State. The Nigerian military claimed to have rescued 200 girls and 93 women from the Shambisa forest from Boko Haram, though the Chibok girls abducted in 2014 are not among them. The next day, the military stated it had rescued an additional 150 women and girls.
Médicins Sans Frontières warned of impending “perpetual displacement” of South Sudanese families in Upper Nile State. UMMISS confirmed that heavy fighting between the government and the rebel group SPLM-IO had reached oil-rich Bentiu. The United Nations Special Representative for South Sudan, Ellen Margrethe Løj, urged for the release of the remaining child soldiers held by the Yau Yau militia.
ICC fugitive Omar al-Bashir won re-election. South Darfur saw fierce fighting between the Government, the Justice and Equality Movement, and the Sudan Liberation Movement-Minni Minnawi last weekend. The AU stressed the need to investigate reports of attacks on UNAMID peacekeepers last week in South Darfur. UNAMID stated that the Sudanese government was misinforming the public by claiming that UNAMID had killed 7 civilians, declaring that the UN had responded appropriately to two attacks against them by armed men.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that ISIS has shot, stoned & beheaded over 2,000 off the battlefield since it declared its caliphate. The EU’s foreign policy chief said she wants Iran to play a “major but positive” role in a Syria peace process. The UN Envoy to Syria will begin meeting with parties to the conflict in May in a fresh attempt to broker an end to the war. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar have ramped up their military and financial support to Syrian rebels, allowing the new rebel coalition “Army of Conquest” to achieve significant advances against Assad in northwest Syria, including the overrunning of a military base. Opposition groups reported another chemical weapon attack in Idlib.
ICRtoP Member the Stanley Foundation released a new policy brief “Taking Stock of R2P in the Asia-Pacific”.
ICRtoP Member the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation is holding an event to launch its 2014 Annual Report of the Latin American Network for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention on 4 May. For details and to RSVP, click here.
ICRtoP Member the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies is holding its 3rd annual professional training program on the prevention of mass atrocity crimes in June. For details, click here.
The U.S. Under Secretary General for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights gave a speech called “Making Progress: U.S. Prevention of Mass Atrocities.” Read or watch the speech here.
Above photo: "Burundi Holds Municipal Elections", 3 June 2005. UN Photo/Martine Perret