UN officials are just beginning to acknowledge what we at TAI have been sounding the alarm about since January: the conflict in Burundi has a “persistent ethnic character.” About time—the Hutu-dominated regime has been targeting minority Tutsis for months. Reuters reports:
Zeid [the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights] said while the number of Burundians killed had fallen since April, cases of arbitrary arrests, detention and torture had continued while ex-officers of the defunct armed forces, or FAB, had been killed because of their Tutsi ethnicity.
“I am alarmed by the very real prospect of an escalation in ethnic violence,” he said.
“In the south of the country, I have also been informed of speeches by members of the Imbonerakure amounting to incitement to violence against political opponents, with strong ethnic overtones,” he added, referring the ruling party’s youth wing.
TAI forwarded the article to a young Burundian refugee now living in Rwanda. She declined to give her name for fear of reprisal against her friends still in Burundi, but offered the following comment: “His [Zeid’s] worry is very founded . . . Because that is exactly what’s happening in Burundi . . . Tutsis are being killed silently.”
Finally the media and liberal internationalist types are giving up their stubborn adherence to the “Voldemort theory.” Like the well-meaning but ultimately mistaken witches and wizards of the Harry Potter series who blinded themselves to Voldemort’s return because they couldn’t bring themselves to say the Dark Lord’s name, international observers of the conflict in Burundi have spent months pretending this is merely a “political struggle” while the regime’s mostly Tutsi opponents die mysterious, violent deaths. The Dark Lord is back, and his name is ethnic conflict. Before we can mount a defense against him, we must dare to say his name.
What is happening in Burundi is not yet a full-scale civil war or ethnic cleansing, but it may well be a prelude to genocide.
What does a prelude to genocide look like? High-ranking Tutsis are murdered or removed from their government posts. Hundreds of thousands of refugees flee to neighboring countries. More than 500 students are suspended from school for quiet acts of defiance, such as doodling over the president’s portrait in their textbooks. The regime moves to shut down independent media and monopolize the distribution of information through state-run radio and television outlets. Youth militias step up their training and spout hateful rhetoric. Sensing that things could go south very suddenly, a majority of the embassies in Bujumbura, Burundi’s capital, fly their diplomats’ families back home and operate on a barebones staff that can be evacuated at a moment’s notice. All the pieces are falling into place.
Now that the UN has finally acknowledged that Burundi’s government is targeting Tutsis, let’s hope that the media will come around as well with more clear-sighted coverage of the real and tragic ethnic dynamics of the conflict there. Burundi is experiencing a nightmarish prelude to genocide. High time the world wakes up.