Whoever suggested that the African Union declare 2016 the “Year of Human Rights” sure had a killer sense of irony. As the AU convenes this week in Kigali, Rwanda, for its annual summit, the disconnect between the regional bloc’s high-minded rhetoric and its tangible results grows greater than ever.
Although AU Commission Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma (the ex-wife of South African president Jacob Zuma) did take note of the ongoing crisis in South Sudan in her opening remarks, and human rights are expected to be the topic of a number of panels over the next few days, one can’t help but notice something missing from the AU’s agenda: Burundi. And the ongoing conflict in Rwanda’s southern neighbor has a pesky habit of flaring up at the most inconvenient times—just yesterday, a leading politician was gunned down in Bujumbura, Burundi’s capital.
Rwanda’s foreign minister has tweeted about the killing:
Grieving for my #Burundi-an friend, Hafsa Mosi, just assassinated in Bujumbura! A good woman, and dedicated politician. RIP sister!
— Louise Mushikiwabo (@LMushikiwabo) July 13, 2016
Chairwoman Zuma’s Twitter feed, however, is noticeably silent on the matter.
Burundi’s conspicuous absence from the AU Summit agenda has drawn the ire of international civil society groups, which are petitioning AU representatives to pay greater attention to the human rights catastrophe unfolding just one hour south of their comfortable digs at Kigali’s sumptuous new convention center. It’s the equivalent of holding an EU summit in Brussels without discussing the Brexit drama playing out across the Channel.
As an added bonus, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir will also be in attendance. Maybe he’ll lay a wreath at the genocide memorial in Kigali, silently thankful that no similar monument yet exists to commemorate the victims of his crimes in Darfur. Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame has said that he won’t turn al-Bashir over to the International Criminal Court, which famously—and controversially—indicted the sitting Sudanese president for war crimes.
Not long ago, liberal internationalists the world over entertained high hopes for regional blocs like the AU (and the EU, for that matter!), thinking that they would succeed where larger intergovernmental organizations like the UN had failed. But the days of thinking that the AU would offer, in the words of former South African president Thabo Mbeki, “African solutions to African problems,” are growing increasingly distant. Today, the problems are many and the solutions few. Don’t expect AU human rights hypocrisy to end any time soon.