What Can the International Community Do About the Burundi Crisis?

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With all efforts to resolve the Burundi crisis appearing to have reached stalemate, blood continues to flow in the conflict-ridden country.

The United Nations, European Union, US and African Union (AU) have all been heavily involved in dialogue, but so far little has been done to calm the ongoing violence stemming from the nation’s capital, Bujumbura. Meanwhile, human rights groups have been highlighting the atrocities taking place Burundi and figures suggest the situation is only getting worse. So the question is: what can the international community do about the Burundi crisis?

 

The continued failure of dialogue

One thing made clear by Burundi’s ongoing crisis is that continued dialogue is failing to end human rights violations in the country. The UN released yet another statement on the conflict yesterday. “One year into the political crisis, UN agency warns thousands of people still fleeing country” reads the title.

This “warning” is about as much strength as the UN has shown since violence broke out in Burundi last April. While a visit to the country by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in February only made the body’s ineffectiveness more obvious. Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza publically promised to hold talks with opposition groups in a bid to end the violence. Those talks never happened and the idea has barely been mentioned since.

 

When sanctions don’t work

The US and the European Union have been a little more active in their attempts to alleviate the Burundi crisis. Sanctions were placed on four individuals last year by the US for prolonging the conflict . While the EU, Burundi’s largest donor and a major source of income for the country, is doing its best to withdraw aid that directly reaches the government and help fund its efforts against the rebels

Burundi’s answer to such sanctions has been cold resistance, insisting the regime will survive, even without EU funding.

 

Intervention proves difficult

Burundi’s resolute stance against sanctions and warnings from international powers reached new heights earlier this year when the AU proposed sending peacekeeper troops into the nation. It was a move that would break the convention of countries requesting assistance before peacekeeper deployment, relying on a clause in the AU constitution to keep it in line with international law.

Burundi’s response was to condemn the prospect a threat of invasion, a proposed act of war that would be responded to appropriately. The message was clear: stay out of Burundi or you’ll have a war on your hands.

The AU eventually voted against the move but the UN has since proposed sending in armed police officers and monitors into the country. The Burundi government has been more open to this particular proposal, accepting that “a few” UN police officers could help stabilise the country –  a far cry from the proposed 3,000 armed force the UN initially proposed.

Unfortunately, it’s a point of divide that runs right along the country’s civil dispute. Various rebel groups in the country want peacekeeper troops deployed while the government refuses to entertain the notion.

 

The reports from rights groups continue to roll in

New reports from rights groups on the situation in Burundi seem to be published every week. The death count rises, more people are being abducted and tortured, while the list of human rights violations continues to grow.

One thing has changed, though. The number of corpses being found on the streets of Burundi’s capital has drastically declined. The centre stage of Bujumbura has been swapped for prison complexes across the country. The human rights violations taking place in Burundi have moved out of public view, but the number of missing people only grows bigger.

One other shift has take place since violence first broke out last April – at least from the outsider’s perspective. What started as a political battle has turned into an ethnic conflict within the space of a year. The shift has prompted concerns the country could be heading for an ethnic genocide, the likes which haven’t been seen since the atrocities that took place in Rwanda in 1994.

The UN failed to act back then and the danger of history repeating itself is very real.

 

Featured image:

By KALOU KAKA – Kalou Kaka, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26575933