Burundi, power-sharing is not the problem, but the cycle of impunity

As advocates of the many victims of the Burundi crisis, we join the voices that have expressed disappointment in the decision by the government of Burundi to withdraw from the International Criminal Court. This unfortunate decision was prompted by the release of the Final Report of the UN Independent Investigation on Burundi (UNIB), which found that the means, methods, and frequency of violence being carried out in Burundi are systematic, widespread, and amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity that must be investigated.

Burundi, since 2014, has adopted a non-cooperative posture with the African and international diplomatic system and this decision fits into that larger pattern of behaviour.

The African Union Commission on Human and People’s Rights, in its December 2015 Report, recommended the establishment of an independent, internationally supported special tribunal in Burundi.

In April 2016, the International Criminal Court opened a preliminary examination of Burundi in light of the disturbing pattern of atrocities including mass graves, the systematic use of rape, a wave of targeted assassinations and enforced disappearances and the sharp rise in ethnic incitement.

In October, the United Nations Independent Investigation on Burundi (UNIB) confirmed that the violations now being committed on a daily basis in Burundi have morphed into something much more sinister than a mere dispute over term limits.

A comprehensive report found that a climate of terror and fear had taken hold in Burundi.

The breakdown of the rule of law, the lack of redress, and the crimes being committed, are the result of deliberate decisions that fit into a logic of political control premised on the unleashing of violence on an almost daily basis.

Indeed investigators reached the conclusion that many Burundians have been warning about this past year, namely, that the situation in the country bears all the hallmarks of an unfolding mass atrocity.

The African Union voiced these same concerns when it undertook to deploy a 5,000 strong civilian protection mission to Burundi, a decision that sadly was not implemented. Similarly, the UN Security Council decision authorising the deployment of individual police officers to protect civilians has stalled.

Meanwhile, atrocities against civilians continue unabated. The world became aware through the UNIB report of the existence of teams of people who carry out enforced disappearances.

The report uncovered a spate of brutal torture. It confirmed the existence of secret places of detention, including properties owned by senior officials. Investigators found evidence of more mass graves, as well as the intensification of ethnic-based hate speech and incitement by senior officials.

Burundi, which has experienced two genocides in 1972, and 1991, is still prone to mass atrocities. Whenever political strife becomes prolonged, ethnic incitement and genocidal language are not very far from the surface. Political elites have a culture of inciting sectarian violence.

It is a disturbingly resilient problem in our political culture, one that many Burundians thought they had left behind after the Arusha Accords were signed.

The alarm that our people are raising is therefore not exaggerated. It is unhelpful to dismiss it a neo-colonial plot by international justice mechanisms as some have suggested.

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By Carine Kaneza

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