Slow progress in Bu­rundi peace talks

Africa Renewal - - Africa Watch: Burundi - BY FRANCK KUWONU

Score­sof Bu­run­dian refugees con­tinue to pour into the neigh­bour­ing states of Rwanda, Tan­za­nia, Zam­bia, Uganda, and the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of the Congo, even as diplo­matic ef­forts by the African Union and oth­ers in­crease pres­sure for an end to Bu­rundi’s po­lit­i­cal cri­sis. The num­ber of peo­ple in forced ex­ile has now passed the 250,000 mark, ac­cord­ing to the UN High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees (UN­HCR), and more than 400 peo­ple have been killed since April.

Bu­rundi’s dif­fi­cul­ties be­gan in April 2015 when Pres­i­dent Pierre Nkurunziza con­tro­ver­sially ex­tended his term in of­fice.

When UN Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Ban Ki­moon vis­ited the cap­i­tal, Bu­jum­bura, at the end of Fe­bru­ary, Bu­run­dian au­thor­i­ties promised to free 2,000 po­lit­i­cal prison­ers and lift the ban on two in­de­pen­dent ra­dio sta­tions as a sign of their com­mit­ment to re­solv­ing the cri­sis.

Later, dur­ing a visit by an African Union del­e­ga­tion, the Bu­run­dian govern­ment fur­ther com­mit­ted to ac­cept­ing the de­ploy­ment of 100 mil­i­tary mon­i­tors and 100 hu­man rights ob­servers to help re­duce the vi­o­lence. The govern­ment had re­fused an ini­tial of­fer of 5,000 peace­keep­ing sol­diers in De­cem­ber.

Mean­while, in­de­pen­dent hu­man rights ex­perts com­mis­sioned by the UN have started in­ves­ti­gat­ing al­leged mass graves in the coun­try. “We have good ac­cess to govern­ment of­fi­cials, to the po­lice and also to vic­tims and civil so­ci­eties,” Christof Heyns, UN spe­cial rap­por­teur on ex­tra­ju­di­cial, sum­mary or ar­bi­trary ex­e­cu­tions, told the Ger­man broad­caster, Deutsche Welle. The govern­ment con­tin­ues to deny the ex­is­tence of any mass graves.

But while the vi­o­lence of the past year seems to have abated, hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions and tar­geted as­sas­si­na­tion are re­port­edly con­tin­u­ing on the ground. On 21 Fe­bru­ary two peo­ple were killed by gun­men while another was killed in a grenade at­tack at a mar­ket in Bu­jum­bura.

“Whereas dead bod­ies on the streets of Bu­jum­bura were a daily oc­cur­rence in the sec­ond half of 2015, many abuses are now tak­ing place un­der the radar, with se­cu­rity forces se­cretly tak­ing peo­ple away and re­fus­ing to ac­count for them,” said Hu­man Rights Watch, an in­ter­na­tional ad­vo­cacy group, in its Fe­bru­ary 2016 report on Bu­rundi. The govern­ment dis­putes the group’s find­ings.

Fears are grow­ing that the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, if al­lowed to

de­te­ri­o­rate, could cause greater tragedy for civil­ians in a re­gion with a his­tory of eth­nic con­flict. The African Union and hu­man rights groups have called for stronger in­ter­na­tional po­lice and mil­i­tary pres­ences in Bu­rundi.

How­ever, the UN­HCR said in a re­cent pub­lished state­ment, “De­spite re­cent high-level ef­forts to en­gage the govern­ment, we have not seen sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment in the se­cu­rity and hu­man rights sit­u­a­tion on the ground. The de­te­ri­o­rat­ing eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion is also a cause for con­cern which could trig­ger fur­ther dis­place­ment.”

Reuters/G. Tomasevic

Demon­stra­tors carry a Bu­rundi flag dur­ing a protest in Bu­jum­bura, Bu­rundi.

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