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Church sources fear Burundi genocide

18 December 2015


On display: suspected fighters are brought before the media by Burundian police on Saturday, near a cache of weapons, after clashes in Bujumbura

On display: suspected fighters are brought before the media by Burundian police on Saturday, near a cache of weapons, after clashes in Bujumbura

THE discovery of the corpses of young people on the streets and in rivers is fuelling terror and fear in the capital of Burundi, church sources in the country reported this week.

The sources, who asked to remain anonymous out of concern for their safety, fear a possible genocide. One source believes that the UN must send peacekeeping forces to the country "without delay".

Almost 90 people were killed in Bujumbura last Friday, after gunmen attacked three military sites in Bujumbura. The government said on Tuesday that security forces had "intervened with the greatest possible professionalism".

Residents reported finding dead bodies dumped in the streets on Saturday morning, with bound wrists and bullet wounds to the head. One source said on Tuesday that more than 100 people had been killed and buried on Sunday in common graves.

"Their relatives didn’t have the opportunity to bury them, because all of them were accused of attacking the military camps," he said. "Terror and fear are now invading many people in Bujumbura, especially those who live in the quarters which demonstrated against the third mandate of [President] Pierre Nkurunziza."

At least 240 people have been killed since protests began in April against the nomination of Mr Nkurunziza, regarded by many in Burundi and the international community as unconstitutional, and a violation of the 2000 Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement.

More than 220,000 Burundians have fled to neighbouring countries, escaping what the UN has described as "targeted campaigns of intimidation and terror" (News, 24 July).

"Many young people are kidnapped, tortured, and the next day found dead on the streets or in rivers," one source said. "Most of them are males from one minority ethnic group [Tutsi]. The UN is in a good position to qualify those atrocities either as genocide, or crimes against humanity."

Another source said that testimonies from survivors suggested that "there is a possible genocide, because there was some ethnic division in killings."

He went on: "Those in power today — most of them are orphans of the killings of 1972 [mass killings of Hutus by the Tutsi-dominated army]; so it is obvious that ethnic divisions can spearhead the killings at a certain point. . . There are many who are still having that hatred. Only God can change them. . . It is therefore important to act when it is still time."

The media had been "put to silence" for months, he said. "There is a need for everyone to know what is happening."

Another source believes that the UN must investigate the atrocities in Burundi, and send military forces for peacekeeping "without delay".

The Security Council was warned last month by a group of UN independent experts that the country was "going towards an unacceptable path of atrocities". They spoke of extra-judicial killings, arbitrary detentions, torture, attacks on independent media, the harassment and killing of human-rights defenders, and "unjustified limitations on freedoms of peaceful assembly and expression".

The government has established a commission for inter-Burundian dialogue, but not the conditions under which "credible and inclusive political dialogue" could take place, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, has warned.

"The crisis in Burundi is political at its core, and cannot be resolved by a security clampdown," he said last month. "It is not credible to claim that a small group of criminals or traitors are behind the current violence. The problem is much deeper, and thus more worrying."

The language used by Burundi’s leaders is worrying UN officials, too. The President of the Burundian Senate, Révérien Ndikuriyo, recently threatened to "pulverise" opponents of the regime. Such phrases "recall language that this region has heard before, and should not be hearing again", the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said.

The spectre of the genocide in 1993 in Burundi haunts the UN. The Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, warned last month of the "tragic consequences of failing to act when leaders incite violence".

The Security Council has issued a resolution condemning the ongoing killings and human-rights violations.

The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, said on Tuesday: "The UN needs not simply to talk about what actions it might take, but proactively work for peace. The time for UN peacekeepers on the ground appears to have arrived."

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