Last week, street violence broke out in Burundi over President Pierre Nkurunziza’s move to secure a third term in office. Protesters object that Burundi’s constitution, signed in 2005 after a long and brutal civil war, stipulates a maximum of two terms. But the president says that his first term doesn’t count as one of these because he was appointed, not elected.
Given the recent, bloody history of Hutu-Tutsi conflict in Burundi’s civil war and in neighboring Rwanda, the growing tensions are raising fears of ethnic conflict between the two groups (Nkurunziza is a Hutu). In the UN Security Council, France drafted a statement on the matter, one that “stressed the need to hold a peaceful, credible, transparent and inclusive electoral process to sustain the gains of peace at a critical time, in accordance with the spirit of the Arusha Agreement [that ended the civil war].” But for the Council to adopt the statement, a unanimous vote had to approve it and both Russia and China decided to block the statement. Russia, never one to miss an opportunity to act as a spoiler, lead the charge, as Reuters reports:
“If some members of the council, some others, want to discuss with people in Burundi how they should interpret their own constitution, we would have no objection to that,” [Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Vitaly] Churkin said. “But the Security Council has nothing to do with constitutions in other countries.”
Moscow and Beijing’s decision to reject France’s statement is an indication that even as world tensions rise, Russia and China are more interested in disrupting the status quo than in improving the coherence and effectiveness of key international institutions.