Burundi's Human Rights & the UN
It's been more than a year since April 2015, a period in Burundi's history that was the catalyst for protests, coups, and political upheaval. The moment to start it all was when President Pierre Nkurunziza announces his reelection campaign for his third term.
My question is how and why did Burundi get to the point that the UNSC now in July of 2016 has authorized deployment of a police force to control the chaos? And why is Burundi treating this as such a threat?
History of Conflict
Gaining its independence from Belgium in 1962 did not do much for Burundi's deep ethnic divides as fostered and enforced by imperial rule. In fact post-independence, the Hutu and Tutsi division (similar to the one that was put imperially in place in Rwanda) proved to be a constant cause for ethnic cleansing murders and rebellions. In Burundi, the government in this era was Tutsi-led.
The government's ties to the ethnic divides proved too strong to stop, causing Hutu massacres in 1972-73 and 1988. Further, post civil war (1993-2000), the Burundian government tried to power-share between the two minorities through the Arusha agreement. Theoretically sound, the Arusha agreement explicitly stated their power-sharing formula and even checked the executive by placing a two term limit on presidencies.
Because of this limit, it seems only normal for conflict and uproar to arise when President Nkurunziza decided to break the agreement and run for a third term.
The Current Conflict Timeline
President Nkurunziza staged the beginning of his reelection campaign in April of 2016. Protests ensued, followed by censorship around April 27. Protesters, human rights associations, and independent radios were shut down within the capital and country. Social media censorship followed.
Protesters were then in May classed as criminals and terrorists by Burundi's security minister General Gabriel Nizigama. A grenade killed 17 including police on May 2 at a protest.
By May 5th, the Burundi supreme court decided that he was allowed to run on a technicality. Technically, the legal check on the executive requires elections by the people. President Nkurunziza was not elected by the people for his first term.
Protests proceeded to get worse thanks to tensions regarding Burundi increasing domestically and internationally. The death tolls at protests also only continued to increase. In fear that no amount of political uprising and revolution could help the situation, Burundi citizens throughout the entire conflict had and have chosen to flee and seek refuge elsewhere, primarily the East African community (Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Burundi).
Moreover, the conflict has taken a turn towards gender violence, with Human Rights Watch citing gang rapes by the ruling party to the statistic that 14 out of 70 rape victims recognized their attacker to be an Imbonerakure.
Now that the number of refugees is upwards of a quarter million, the Security Council of the United Nations had to intervene. Considering the sheer proximity of Burundi to Rwanda and the ghosts of both their Hutu-Tutsi ethnic conflicts, the UN knew its intervention was necessary to save lives of both the opposition and government.
As of July 30, the United Nations Security Council has authorized UN police deployment to ensure the stability and security of the East African nation's human rights and conflict. There however are questions as to the efficiency and possible success of this resolution. Powers, the US ambassador, believes this resolution will make the UN local bystanders to a deteriorating issue.
Notably, there were 15 abstentions from the vote, the most highlight-worthy being China, Egypt, Angola, and Venezuela. According to many of these nations, the UN's will to send UN police to Burundi is a clear attack on the nation's sovereignty and independence.
Burundi Takes Issue
Burundi has recently, as of August 3rd, found the UN resolution to send approximately 228 police to be a threat to its sovereignty. Because of this, the nation of Burundi has rejected the deployment citing violations of the UN's fundamental principles and violations of sovereignty.
To Burundi, the resolution was a clear overstep of boundaries because they originally stated they would accept 50 officers as their maximum.
If Not the UN, maybe the African Union?
In early 2016, the African Union pledged to send a peacekeeping force of 5000 only to not and instead hold a delegation talk. Despite the questionable lack of formal approval from Burundi to send in the force, the African Union was well within its rights of intervention in a member state, especially considering Burundi's grave circumstances.
The lack of active prevention and force with regards to the Burundi conflict by the African Union has proved to be a setback for the organization. When BBC talked to Stephanie Wolters of the Institute of Security Studies, she described the move as an unfortunate hindrance that will make it "take a long time before the AU can assert itself and distinguish itself from the lethargic Organisation of African Unity".
Where this conflict will lead to next, as of right now, is unknown. What is known is that both the government and the protesters of Burundi are dying because of the political conflict. What is known is that there are believed to be mass graves. What is known is that the UN in November of 2015 felt less equipped to deal with this conflict in Burundi than the Rwandan genocide.
Essentially, what is known is that the situation in Burundi continues to worsen and that those affected in the nation need and crave the hope, prayers, and best wishes of the rest of humanity.