Sovereignty and Sanity
Burundi Genocide Looming?

France has circulated a draft UN Security Council resolution amid reports that police killed a man in Burundi’s capital of Bujumbura in a “police disarmament” action. The death came after a disarmament deadline issued by the government of President Pierre Nkurunziza passed this weekend.

Nkurunziza, a former Hutu rebel leader, recently begun his third term in office in the face of stiff criticism at home and abroad. Opponents claim that he is in breach of the constitution and is abrogating an agreement that brought an end to a decade-long ethnic civil war that killed tens of thousands Burundians. International observers have been on high alert since Nkurunziza threatened that, if opposition figures did not disarm by this past weekend, they would “be considered to be enemies of Burundi and will be treated as terrorists.” The president of Burundi’s Senate sounded an even more ominous note in a recent speech to neighborhood chiefs: “You must not go into the bush because if you dare, we will not spare you. The bush is already mined and reserved for something else. You must stay at home. You will die here, at home. We shall settle everything right here, at home.”

Opposition members, made up in large part by ethnic Tutsis, are said to have been stockpiling arms, with the help of neighboring Rwanda. Tutsis, who only make up around 10 percent of Burundi’s population, have been guaranteed 50 percent representation in the military, legislature, and other key institutions by the Arusha Accords of 2000, which in turn prefigured the peace agreement that brought the country’s civil war to an end in 2005. The worry is that if political instability leads to ethnic bloodletting in Burundi, the fight could spread to neighboring Rwanda, where a genocidal civil war killed 800,000 to a million people in the early 1990s.

More on the French Security Council resolution from the Times of London:

The draft UN resolution, which has been seen by the Associated Press, calls on Burundi’s government to start a dialogue “to find a consensual and nationally owned solution to the current crisis”. It also expresses the council’s intention to “consider alternative measures, including targeted sanctions” against any Burundian whose actions or words contribute to violence and impede peace efforts.

Russia and China may remain a stumbling block, however, after both countries, which have a veto on the council, expressed opposition to sanctions and reservations on interfering with the country’s affairs.

“We have to realise that sanctions are not the panacea for everything,” said Liu Jieyi, Chinese ambassador.

China and Russia are clearly concerned with precedent here. But will Beijing and Moscow really end up backing Nkurunziza in the name of “sovereignty” if the situation spirals further out of control and a proper genocide gets rolling? Taking recent events in Syria as evidence, perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised.

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