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Crimes Against Humanity in Burundi

This article is in response to "No Genocide in Burundi" by Roland Rugero, published last week on The African Angle.

By Amilcar Ryumeko

At the end of the 26th summit of the African Union, the government of Burundi was pleased that the AU did not authorize an "immediate" deployment of the Mission for the Prevention and Protection in Burundi (MAPROBU) and is giving diplomacy a new chance. The Burundian issue ended up on the agenda of the summit because the AU is concerned about the continuing political stalemate, insecurity, and increasing violence in the country, as well as the serious humanitarian consequences, including internal displacement and refugee flows to neighboring countries. The concerns of the AU are added to those from many Burundian civil society groups that do not hesitate to say that genocide is underway in Burundi. The government of Burundi and its supporters refute the accusations and accuse their critics of using the word "genocide" in order to attract the attention of the international community to Burundi for political purposes. However, beyond this difference between the government and civil society, the fact remains that crimes against humanity are underway in Burundi.

The definition of crimes against humanity is codified in Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court as acts such as the forced disappearance of people; persecution of an identifiable group on political grounds; murder, imprisonment, torture, rape, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity; persecution and other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering; or serious injury to body or physical or mental health. To be classified as crimes against humanity, these acts must be committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.

Based on various reports of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein since April 26, 2015, it is clear that the actions described above are committed in Burundi. For example, in August 2015, Human Rights Watch said it had documented more than 148 cases of arbitrary arrests, torture, and other ill-treatment of political opponents between April and July, 2015, in four provinces in the capital, Bujumbura, involving agents of the intelligence services, police, and members of the youth league of the ruling party. In a statement on Oct. 9, 2015, the International Federation for Human Rights said that "arbitrariness, violence and impunity [are] prevailing in Burundi today. People live under the yoke of a fear exacerbated by the persistence of summary executions and extra-judicial, mass arbitrary arrests and detentions, allegations of torture, threats and intimidation, mainly made authorities in place." According to the various reports of United Nations agencies, there are more than 230,000 Burundian refugees and nearly 439 people have been killed, not to mention numerous cases of torture, rape, and arbitrary imprisonment. All these horrors are among the acts of crimes against humanity.

According to Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, “there is rampant impunity for all the human rights violations being committed by security forces and the Imbonerakure, despite ample evidence that they are responsible for more and more serious crimes. This is an indication that a complete breakdown in law and order is just around the corner and, with armed opposition groups also becoming more active, and the potentially lethal ethnic dimension starting to rear its head, this will inevitably end in disaster if the current rapidly deteriorating trajectory continues.” Consequently, I strongly believe that the deployment of an international force is necessary to protect civilians in Burundi. Besides, the Peace and Security Council of the AU proposed the deployment of MAPROBU bearing in mind the relevant provisions of the protocol on the establishment of the PSC, especially those concerning the need for a rapid response to master crises before they turn into open conflict (Article 4b) and the respect for the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms, the sanctity of human life, and international humanitarian law (Article 4c).

Furthermore, some insist that there is not a manhunt against the Tutsi in Burundi. However, some facts and statements seem to show otherwise. On Nov. 9, 2015, at the 7553rd meeting of the U.N. Security Council, the Secretary-General for Political Affairs denounced the "inflammatory" statements of certain authorities, including the president of Burundi’s senate and President Pierre Nkurunziza, interpreted as having "an ethnic dimension." Moreover, in his latest report on Burundi, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein stated: "the suggestion that an ethnic dimension is now starting to emerge, is reinforced by one of the sexually abused women who said that her abuser told her she was paying the price for being a Tutsi." In these circumstances, it is wise to remain on guard to avoid any surprises. The fact that on paper we find 50 percent Hutu and 50 percent Tutsi within the defense and security forces doesn’t guarantee that there will be no risk of ethnic-based violence. Those forces are the same who commit crimes against humanity against those they are supposed to protect.

In the spirit of the "Responsibility to Protect" in resolution 1674 of the United Nations Security Council on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, an international force is needed to protect the civilian population of Burundi because the government has proved unwilling to prevent and to stop the massacres and the serious violations of humanitarian law against its citizens.

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Amilcar Ryumeko worked as political advisor to the parliamentary assistant to the premier of Quebec in charge of economic issues. He graduated with a degree in political science from the University of Sherbrooke.

[Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]

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