In a new report released by the police, more than 450 people have been killed in the country in unrest that began a year ago.
In the report, which was released last week, police disclose that “the report at the disposal of police shows that 451 people have been killed since the start of the crisis, including 77 police officers and 374 civilians.” The police report added that 59 of its officers had been jailed over the last year for “serious misconduct.” While the report did not detail their actions, opponents of the Burundian government have accused the police of violently suppressing protests and dissent. While the government has denied this, it does say that the police have pursued opponents who have taken up arms.
The crisis emerged when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced in April 2015 his plans to run for a third term in office. Despite criticism that the move violated the country’s constitution and a peace deal that that ended the civil war in 2005, he went on to win the elections in July. The president’s camp has maintained that a court ruling had declared the former rebel-turned-president eligible to seen another term. Over the past year, at least three rebel groups have emerged, one of them is led by army officers who launched a failed coup last May. The violence, which diplomats say includes tit-for-tat killings of pro-government supporters and political opponents, has so far largely been driven by political differences, however diplomats and residents of the capital city Bujumbura, which as seen the worst of the violence, have disclosed that there are growing signs of ethnically motivated killings. Burundi has an ethnic Hutu majority and Tutsi minority, the same split as in neighboring Rwanda, which was torn apart by genocide in 1994.
On Wednesday, the United Nations human rights chief disclosed that 31 people have been killed in attacks in Burundi this month, decrying an increase in violence in the East African country.
In a statement, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein disclosed that “some 31 people have been killed in attacks so far in April, compared to a total of nine people in the last month.” He added, “I fear that the increasing number of targeted assassinations will inevitably exacerbate the already extremely dangerous spiral of violence and unrest in Burundi.”
In the latest incident, which occurred Monday 25 April, gunmen killed a brigadier general who was a senior adviser to the vice president.
Tit-for-tat attacks between President Pierre Nkurunzia’s security forces and his opponents escalated a year ago when he announced a disputed bid for a third term in office, a bid that he went on to win in July. The UN has disclosed that more than 400 people have been killed since then and more than 250,000 have fled the country. Earlier this week, the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced that it would investigate the ongoing violence in Burundi.
It has been a year since Burundi plunged into chaos, however peace efforts remain deadlocked as the country remains divided and violence continues.
While the Burundian government is insisting that a year of unrest is at an end, with the capital Bujumbura relatively calm after a string of attacks, which included a failed coup in May 2015, tensions across the country remain high, with the international community warning of the risk of a new explosion of violence. Hundreds of people have been killed and a quarter of a million have fled the country in the wake of President Pierre Nkurunziza’s controversial decision last April to run for a third term in office, a vote that he won last July despite opposition boycotts. According to presidential press chief Willy Nyamitwe, “after the election fever and the violence that accompanied this process, the situation has returned to normal,” adding that “now the time is to work for development and the fight against poverty.” On the ground sources have reported that after weeks of battles between security forces and those opposed to the president’s third term, the capital is certainly calmer, adding that the once near-daily grenade attacks have also decreased. While the government crackdown over the past year involved the brutal repression of street protests, today, security forces stem opposition more discreetly after rights groups reported dead bodies being found on the city’s street on an almost daily basis. Last month, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein disclosed that reports have emerged that the use of torture has increased since the beginning of the year, adding that many people now “live in terror.” Diplomats have also disclosed that the crushing of the opposition has further undermined any respect for the law, with one official describing how “power is now in the hands of a small hard core,” mainly top generals close to President Nkurunziza since they fought together in the bush in the 1993 – 2006 civil war between the mostly Tutsi army and predominately Hutu rebel groups. The UN has reported that more than 400 people have been killed since the beginning of the crisis, adding that thousands more have been arrested and more than 250,000 have fled abroad. Rights groups have also indicated that torture and extrajudicial killings have become commonplace. Despite efforts to bring the opposition together under the main umbrella opposition group CNARED, whose leaders are in exile, it remains split and there seems to be minimal chance that there is a solution in the near future. The international community, while critical of what has happened in Burundi over the past year, has also been unable to find a real solution to the ongoing crisis, and the Burundian government seems to be exploiting these divisions. Despite repeated calls for “inclusive dialogue,” the government has remained defiant and has refused to sit down with the opposition in exile, which it accuses of being behind the violence. Without a concrete solution, the pressure across Burundi will continue to mount, with analysts already warning of a “potentially explosive situation” amidst the continued violence with fears that the conflict is increasingly based along ethnic lines.
The African Union (AU) has abandoned its plan to deploy 5,000 peacekeepers to help restore stability to troubled Burundi. Officials have disclosed that they would instead encourage political dialogue between Burundi’s opposing sides. Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza had fiercely opposed the AU’s plans to deploy peacekeepers. His decision last April to seek a third term in office has led to ongoing violence and fears that Burundi is sliding into ethnic conflict. According to United Nations figures, at least 439 people have died and 240,000 have fled abroad since last April.
The AU could have deployed troops without Burundi’s consent, a clause in its charter effectively allows it to intervene in a member state because of grave circumstances, which include war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity, however it would have been the first time it had done so. Top AU diplomat Ibrahima Fall has disclosed that such a move would have been “unimaginable.” After the bloc’s meeting in Ethiopia, AU Peace and Security Council Chief Smail Chergui stated that “we want dialogue with the government, and the summit decided to dispatch a high-level delegation.”
The announcement comes just days after human rights group Amnesty International published satellite images last week, stating that the images were believed to be five mass graves near Burundi’s capital, where security forces were accused of killing scores of people in December 2015. A fact-finding mission by the AU has reported arbitrary killings, torture and the “closure of some civil society organizations and the media.”
Timeline of Events
- April 2015: Protests erupt after President Pierre Nkurunziza announces that he will seek a third term in office.
- May 2015: Constitutional court rules in favor of Mr Nkurunziza, amidst reports of judges being intimidated. Tens of thousands flee violence amidst protests.
- May 2015: Army officers launch a coup attempt, which ultimately fails.
- July 2015: Elections are held, with Mr Nkurunziza re-elected. The polls are disputed, with opposition leader Agathon Rwasa describing them as “a joke.”
- November 2015: Burundi government gives those opposing President Nkurunzia’s third term five days in order to surrender their weapons ahead of a promised crackdown.
- November 2015: UN warns it is less equipped to deal with violence in Burundi than it was for the Rwandan genocide.
- December 2015: 87 people killed on one day as soldiers respond to an attack on military sites in Bujumbura.
- January 2016: Amnesty International publishes satellite images which it says are believed to be mass grave located close to where December’s killings took place.