More ICRtoP Resources on Burundi...
Press Statement: Burundi Needs More Rhetoric on Responsibility: International community must act now to prevent atrocity crimes
Blog: #R2P10: The Burundi crisis and the risk of regionalization
Blog: RtoP at 10 Blog: Elect to Act, Why the Unrest in Burundi Cannot be Ignored
Crisis in Burundi
A. African regional/sub-regional
B. UN, EU, US
C. International civil society advocacy
Burundi is a tiny, landlocked nation in Africa, just south of Rwanda, that shares a border with Tanzania to the east and south and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west. It is most often linked to its northern neighbor because of the similarities in ethnic divisions between Hutus and Tutsis and other histories of violence. However, while the world was engrossed by the 1994 Rwandan genocide that spurred a plethora of international debate and attention, much less is commonly known about the Burundian Genocide in 1972, its 1993-2005 civil war, and the tremendous repercussions of each that are still being felt today. Roughly the size of the state of Maryland in the United States, Burundi's population is estimated to be around 10 million people with a population growth rate of 2.5%, nearly double the world average. Furthermore, returning refugees who fled during the civil war are placing additional strains on the country’s limited land and resources. The 2014 Global Hunger Index (GHI) categorized the levels of hunger as “extremely alarming” due to “persistent food insecurity, high inflation, a high poverty rate, and poor levels of education.”
Most recently Burundi has become embroiled in violence as the current president, Pierre Nkurunziza, is seeking a third presidential term with elections set to begin in June 2015. Civilian protests against his decision began in late April 2015 and at least 30 people have reportedly been killed. In addition to the violent repression of protests, thousands of Burundians have fled to neighboring Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in fear of persecution. At the present time, none of the four atrocity crimes (genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing) within the scope of the Responsibility to Protect are being perpetrated; however, many civil society, regional, and international actors are concerned about the potential risk for their commission.
There is grave concern amongst those monitoring the current situation as they believe that it has the potential to revert the country back into civil war and lead to even further devastation. The Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes, published by the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect (OGPRtoP) in 2014, is a new tool to help identify the risk for atrocity crimes and lead to early warning and reporting. The Framework identifies elections as one of the potential triggers for the commission of atrocity crimes, which is currently a source of tension in Burundi. To gain a more comprehensive understanding of the risks that are presently identifiable in Burundi, read a recent blog publication by the ICRtoP that shows the practical use of the Framework of Analysis in helping with the prevention of atrocity crimes and violations.
The current ethnic divisions in Burundi between the Hutus and the Tutsis can be traced back to when it was a colony of Belgium from 1916-1962. Under Belgian rule, the minority Tutsi population, roughly 14%, were favored and given enormous privileges enabling them to gain control of the military, government and most importantly, land. Hutu land chiefs were stripped of their rights and claims which further pitted them against the Tutsis. As the Tutsis continued to build on their government and military monopoly, the tensions came to a head in the spring of 1972. A small group of radicalized Hutu intellectuals, mostly operating from Tanzania, spurred a rebellion aimed at retrieving power from the ruling Tutsi and would subsequently launch attacks that killed hundreds of Tutsis in a matter of days. As a result, then-President Michel Micombero deployed the military and carried out attacks on Hutus, killing hundreds of thousands across Burundi. While the exact number of deaths range, most estimates hold that around 200,000 were killed by the end of August 1972.
Civil War: 1993-2005 and the Arusha Peace Agreement
In July of 1993, the Hutu Front of Democracy in Burundi (FRODEBU) candidate Melchior Ndadaye became the country’s first democratically elected president. His presidency lasted less than three months, as he was assassinated in October of that same year by Tutsi extremists. Intense inter-communal fighting broke out between Hutus and Tutsis as a result of the assassination and a UN Security Council fact-finding mission to Burundi undertaken in 1994 estimated that the failed coup attempted to kill some 50,000 people, both Hutu and Tutsi. Burundi saw another president killed in early 1994, when newly elected Hutu president Cyprien Ntaryamira and Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana both died when their plane was shot down near Kigali (an event that would come to mark the beginning of the Rwandan genocide). A follow-up Security Council mission to Burundi in 1995 reported“The political and security situation remains precarious and is potentially explosive…Those extremists have usurped the political initiative, at the expense of the moderate elements who constitute the majority of the population and have been silenced through threat and intimidation. This is the root cause of continuing political instability in the country.”
After the death of Ntaryamira, a power-sharing agreement was reached between the Hutu government and Tutsi military on 10 September 1994, which confirmed Sylvestre Ntibantunganya as interim President of the Republic until elections that were supposed to take place four years later. However, violence between the two groups continued during this time, and in 1996 another coup was launched by Pierre Buyoya, a Major in the Tutsi army who overthrew Ntibantunganya. Amnesty International reported that 6,000 civilians had been killed as a result of the ensuing violence.
While many informal attempts to end the conflict were carried out both inside and outside of Burundi, it was not until 28 August 2000 that the major parties to the conflict signed the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement for Burundi. Subsequent ceasefire agreements were reached, following the Arusha Peace Agreement, which saw an end to the initial violence in 2005. The Arusha Peace Agreement contains five important protocols addressing the root causes of the conflict and ways to implement sustainable peace through democratic elections and political institutions. As per the Agreement, the Parties accept as binding: I) Nature of the conflict, problems of genocide and exclusion and their solutions; II) Democracy and good governance; III) Peace and security for all; IV) Reconstruction and development; V) Guarantees on the implementation of the Agreement.
2004 Gatumba Massacre
On 13 August 2004 at the Gatumba refugee camp near Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, at least 150 Congolese refugees, mostly women and children, were killed along with another 106 wounded in attacks carried out by the Forces for National Liberation (FNL). The FNL is a predominantly Hutu rebel group and was one of the last Burundian rebel groups to disarm in 2009. However, some fighters have remained active in Burundi and the eastern Congo. The victims were mostly Banyamulenge, Congolese Tutsi who fled the Congo due to violence. According to Daniel Bekele, the African director at Human Rights Watch, “The Gatumba massacre was a direct and deliberate attack on unarmed civilians.”
Accountability/Truth and Reconciliation
Over 300,000 people were killed as a result of the civil war, and both the 1972 and the 1993 mass killings are considered to be genocides as indicated in the final report from the International Commission of Inquiry for Burundi, presented to the Security Council in 2002. Despite these crimes, adequate steps have not been taken at these levels to hold perpetrators accountable and assist victims and their families.
On 4 December 2014, Burundi’s Parliament elected eleven members to a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to look into the decades of killings it has faced since independence in 1962. The Burundian TRC has been long overdue and has faced continuous setbacks and delays. Furthermore, its establishment was boycotted by opposition politicians from the Tutsi minority who feel the TRC protects the President’s ruling party and “ignores the element of justice contained in the Arusha Peace Accord.”The TRC will have four years to establish the truth about ethnic killings from 1962-2008, identify and map mass graves, propose a reparations program, and promote reconciliation and forgiveness. This will be an extremely difficult undertaking in a society currently experiencing a high degree of unrest and uncertainty with the presidential elections not far away.
Work of BNUB
In 2004, Security Council Resolution 1545 authorized the deployment of a peacekeeping mission known as the United Nations Operation in Burundi (ONUB) to help oversee the implementation of the Arusha Peace Agreement. The previous work of ONUB and the United Nations Integrated Office in Burundi (BINUB) was carried over to the United Nations Office in Burundi (BNUB) on 1 January 2011. BNUB ended its operations in Burundi on 31 December 2014. BNUB’s work included “facilitating dialogue between the Government and the extra-parliamentary opposition, and helping the Government of Burundi to professionalize its security forces. Working with the civil society, BNUB promotes the respect of human rights and prepares for the establishment of transitional justice mechanisms.”
The progress in Burundi has been praised by the UN and others as many democratic practices outlined in the Arusha Peace Agreement have come to fruition. After BNUB ended its operations in December 2014, the UN Electoral Observation Mission in Burundi (MENUB) was established on 1 January 2015. It was tasked with overseeing the upcoming electoral process beginning in May 2015 and keeping the UN Secretary-General informed. While many continue to laud the nation for its successes, the warning signs are mounting that a return to violence is certainly not out of the question.
Many of the current problems Burundi’s civil society faces today center around land. With around 10 million people packed into just 10,475 square miles and the return of refugees previously driven out by violence and conflict, the amount of land one possesses is vital to their survival. Burundi also contains a very high internally displaced persons (IDPs) population, further exacerbating complex ownership issues. Most of the population relies on subsistence farming and many barely have enough to sustain themselves and their families. Aside from interethnic disputes over land, quarreling amongst family members also often ends in violence. Though the National Commission for Land and Property (CNTB) was created as a neutral, third-party to try and resolve the arguments over who owns vacated lands, it has been difficult for the Commission to keep up with the demand. Furthermore, its policies have been inconsistent, leading to additional grievances and claims of corruption. Pacifique Nininahazwe, a political analyst and civil society leader, described the complexity of the situation by saying, “The commission's problem is that the returning Hutus are getting back their land without restitution to those who got the land legally. Those who got the land legally from the government should be compensated. You cannot solve the problem of a landless person by making another person landless.”
Current Civil Unrest and President Pierre Nkurunziza
Most recently Pierre Nkurunziza has declared that he will seek a third presidential term after being nominated by his ruling party, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy–Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD). His decision to run was validated by the Burundian constitutional court. However, reportsclaim that the judges were under heavy pressure and in some instances even received death threats from senior government officials to rule in favor of Nkurunziza. The Arusha Peace Agreement, from which the current constitution is based upon, stipulates a two-term limit which means that seeking a third term is a violation of both the agreement and the constitution. Nkurunziza and his supporters claim he is eligible to run as he was elected by Parliament and not “by universal direct suffrage”as indicated in the agreement.
On 26 April 2015, protesters took to the streets to express their disapproval with Nkurunziza’s decision and the police responded by firing teargas. The protests continued throughout May 2015 and into June 2015. The most recent figures show that at least 30 people have been killed as a result of violent clashes with police. Furthermore, there has been a widespread censorship of media outlets, such as radio stations and the internet, trying to report on the current situation and warn appropriate parties. There are also reports of people, even children, being arrested arbitrarily.
The current political situation in Burundi has the potential to destabilize the entire country and place thousands of innocent lives in danger. The main opposition group, the Alliance of Democrats for Change (ADC), has claimed that the President and his party have been arming the Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the current ruling party, and allowing them to carry out attacks on the population. The violent reputation of the Imbonerakure is a major cause for concern and could incite ethnic violence at any moment. Tutsis are being targeted because of their ethnicity in what is further evidence that tensions between Hutus and Tutsis still exist. A report by Amnesty International highlights past human rights abuses of the Imbonerakure and details the powerful influence they hold over the police and civil society. One refugee, recalling the moment she decided to flee, stated, “One day, in a bar, one of them told me that if the president gave him the signal, he will clean his rifle with the blood of Tutsi…There is a lack of food and shelter here [Rwanda], but I will never go back to Burundi," she said. "Even if we are forced to go, I prefer to struggle and to die here.”
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) since early April 2015, more than 100,000 Burundians have sought refuge in neighboring Rwanda, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) as pre-election violence and intimidation spread ahead of the upcoming elections. The influx of refugees currently being experienced by the neighboring states is placing the entire region in an exceedingly difficult situation. Overcrowding in refugee camps has led to an outbreak of cholera in Tanzania, where 31 people have been confirmed dead and reports of another 3,000 experiencing symptoms.
Not only is the crisis affecting civil society, but the economy has also been severely impacted. Since street protests began, businesses across the capital have been unable to operate and in an attempt to force Nkurunziza out, protesters have begun barricading shops so as further damage the economy. Tax revenues for the month of May fell one third below target, highlighting the crippling effect of the protests. More than half of Burundi’s national budget is dependent upon foreign aid and because of Nkurunziza’s refusal to step aside, Belgium, Burundi’s largest foreign aid donor, warned it would cut off all aid if he continues on his current path. Gilbert Niyongabo, a professor of economics at the University of Burundi does not see the economic situation improving and stated that, “We expect an economic collapse in a month.”Many analysts also believe that even if Nkurunziza were to step aside and the crisis came to an end, the economy may already be irreparably damaged. Referring back to the Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes, economic instability has the potential to further exacerbate the risk and commission of atrocity crimes.
On 13 May 2015, Major General Godefroid Niyombare told reporters in the capital Bujumbura that he had “dismissed”Nkurunziza from power and was working with civil society and religious leaders to form a transitional government. However, Nkurunziza was in Tanzania at the time discussing his country’s political situation and laughed off reports of a coup. Upon Nkurunziza’s return to Burundi, Major General Niyombare was arrested along with another senior army officer and police general on 15 May 2015. Twelve soldiers who had supported the coup were killed as a result of the fighting between them and the police.
On 23 May 2015, political opposition leader Zedi Feruzi was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting. His death brought up staunch criticism from the international community, including the UN Security Council, who issued a press statement condemning the attacks and ongoing violence.
Since Nkurunziza announced his decision in late April 2015, many leaders across the continent and internationally have urged him to reconsider and warned about the deteriorating situation within Burundi.
A. African regional/sub-regional response
The government of Rwanda issued a press release on 4 May 2015 expressing its concern over the situation in Burundi and relaying its fears about its difficulties in dealing with the influx of refugees crossing the border.
On 14 May 2015 the Peace and Security Council of the African Union (AU) issued a decision on the situation in Burundi stating, “the strong condemnation by the AU of all acts of violence, including the ongoing clashes in Bujumbura between factions of the army, attacks against civilian populations and other abuses, as well as the destruction of public infrastructure and other property.”It also welcomed ongoing UN efforts and wished for a return to the Arusha Peace Agreement to find a long-lasting political solution to the crisis.
Civil society groups suspended their dialogues with the government on 25 May 2015 as evidenced by a statement from the Forum for Civil Society Reinforcement (FORSC) saying, “Civil society organizations will no longer participate in dialogue as long as the government continues to hold this bellicose attitude, similar to that of terrorists.”The decision came after opposition leader, Zedi Feruzi, was assassinated on 23 May 2015.
On 25 May 2015, the East African Community (EAC), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), the AU, and the UN issued a joint statement condemning the acts of violence in Burundi. They called “on the Government to guarantee the security of all citizens, respect their human rights and exercise restraint at all times and in particular while handling demonstrations.”
On 31 May 2015, the EAC held a summit meeting calling for the postponement of the upcoming elections and again reiterating its wishes for a stop to the violence. As a result of this meeting, a spokesman for President Nkrunuziza said they would consider postponing the elections and reschedule them for a later date.
B. UN, EU, US response
The UN, EU, and US responses have all been similar in their disapproval with Nkurunziza’s decision and warning about the ongoing violence that continues to devastate the country.
In his trip to Burundi on 15 April 2015, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, stated, “I therefore urge the country’s politicians, and the rank-and-file political activists, to ensure the political debate, while naturally heated, never reaches the level of inciting hatred or violence…I urge the President and the ruling party, as well as opposition leaders, police and military to place the future well-being of the country as a whole before their own personal political desires.”Most recently, on 15 May 2015 Prince Zeid warned of the possibility for further violence after the failed coup attempt and urged, “the Burundian authorities to ensure that security forces comply fully with the country’s international human rights obligations and international standards on policing demonstrations.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been very vocal in warning the international community about the situation in Burundi. He recently condemned the killing of the aforementioned opposition leader, Zedi Feruzi, and also stated, “These acts of violence constitute a stark reminder of the need for all Burundian political leaders to address the current political crisis with the highest sense of responsibility and to place peace and national reconciliation above partisan interests.”The UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, after a recent trip to Burundi, “strongly encouraged Burundian parties to use their influence to prevent any action that could increase the risk of violence against individuals or groups on the basis of their identity, including political affiliation, religious and ethnic identity,”particularly given the history of ethnic violence in the country.
On 25 April 2015, the United States issued a press release communicating their “deep regret”in the actions taken by the Burundian ruling party (the CNDD-FDD) to disregard the term-limit provisions of the Arusha Agreement. Furthermore, they called on the Burundian government “to respect the right of the media to report freely on the electoral process and campaigns.”
On 29 May 2015, the U.S. condemned recent violent grenade attacks in the capital and said, “Violence and militias have no place in the democratic process. For this reason, the United States has taken steps to impose visa restrictions against individuals responsible for inciting violence, including by those who support the actions of the Imbonerakure.” The U.S. further urged the Burundian authorities to consider delaying the election.
On 18 May 2015, the European Union (EU) council condemned the coup attempt in Burundi and also expressed its “deep concern”at the situation. Ten days later on 28 May 2015, High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini issued a statement informing that the EU Election Observation Mission (EOM) had been suspended because of “restrictions on independent media, excessive use of force against demonstrators, a climate of intimidation for opposition parties and civil society and lack of confidence in the election authorities.”
Civil society advocates
Since the outbreak of violence in Burundi, civil society organizations (CSOs) have been committed in their reporting of impunities and acts of violence that have been perpetrated either by the government or militia groups.
Human Rights Watch (HRW), a member of the ICRtoP, has issued several dispatches reporting on the violence in Burundi, mostly pertaining to the government crackdown on protesters. On 27 April 2015 they reported on the violent way the police had been dealing with protesters. On 15 May 205 a dispatch was released detailing the media blackout and censorship that had left many without any knowledge of the recent occurrences in the country. On 29 May 2015 they issued a dispatch highlighting the abuses currently being experienced by the civilian population at the hands of the police. ICRtoP Member International Crisis Group came out with a report on 29 May 2015 detailing the events of the current crisis and laying out five potential scenarios that they believe Burundi could head toward. Meanwhile, two reports from ICRtoP Member Oxfam, one released on 17 May 2015 and another on 25 May 2015, detail the horrible conditions many Burundians are experiencing in the camps such as overcrowding, the cholera outbreak, poor sanitation and hygiene, and a lack of clean water to name a few. Following the failed coup attempt by Major Niyombare, ICRtoP member Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, issued a statement calling for the AU Peace and Security Council and the UN Security Council to "urgently convene and respond to the situation."
On 14 May 2015, after the incidents of pre-election violence and reported abuses committed by the police, the Burundian CSO Bangwe et Dialogue detailed the dangerous conditions protesters are facing, writing, “The firing of live ammunition in particular have amounted to a score of deaths among the demonstrators with several wounded.” On 21 May 2015, the African-based NGO RAFAL (Francophone African Network on Small Arms) issued a publication detailing the repercussions of the failed coup attempt in Burundi and warned neighboring countries and the international community that their failure to act decisively could be costly.
Amidst pre-election violence and pressure from the international community, the East African Community (EAC) held an emergency summit on 31 May 2015 on the situation in Burundi and called for a postponement of the elections to quell the crisis. On 4 June 2015, Burundi agreed to postpone both parliamentary and presidential elections. However on 9 June 2015, 17 political opposition parties rejected the proposal put forth by the commission to hold presidential elections on 15 July 2015. They called for Nkurunziza to step down and also criticized UN mediator Said Djinnit, calling for him to resign and saying he failed to adequately deal with the crisis.
The ongoing crisis in Burundi is not showing any signs of subsiding. Extremely concerned about the violence being experienced by Burundi’s civilian population, the UN Human Rights Commissioner Prince Zeid al Hussein issued a press release on 9 June 2015, warning about the “increasingly violent and threatening actions”being committed by a pro-government militia. He further cautioned that such responses“could tip an already extremely tense situation over the edge.”
As a recent press release by the ICRtoP stated, the international community has an opportunity to match its rhetoric on prevention with actual action, in line with its Responsibility to Protect. However, despite the warning signs, international actors have so far failed to take the action necessary to prevent atrocities and protect populations.
Special thanks to Sean Murphy for his work in writing this page.