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Africa

Opinion: Time to act in Burundi

In Burundi, the killing sprees continue with impunity. The UN Security Council deliberated over the issue twice this week but the resolution it eventually passed does not go far enough, says Dirke Köpp.

It's a bare minimum. The resolution unanimously approved by the UN Security Council on Thursday (12.11.2015) calls for an immediate end to the bloodshed and for dialogue, otherwise sanctions will be imposed. But the regime of Burundian President Nkurunziza isn't interested in dialogue and the sanctions proposed by France in a draft resolution are unlikely to have much impact. The EU already has sanctions in place against Burundi and so far they have had no effect whatsoever.

It is also highly doubtful whether the UN's recently appointed special envoy to coordinate the response to the crisis - the British diplomat Jamal Benomar - will be able to accomplish much. This is because the Security Council resolution has approved neither the deployment of UN blue helmets nor of an African Union intervention force. Both could have taken steps to stop the killing. An opportunity has been missed.

The crisis in Burundi escalated back in April. Protestors took to the streets to demonstrate against President Nkurunziza's illegal bid for a third term and the regime responded by resorting to the use of force. Six months ago there was an attempt to oust Nkurunziza in a coup. It failed and led to an even more violent crackdown on the regime's opponents.

Despite pressure from at home and abroad, Nkurunziza insisted on standing again in a highly controversial election and now rules the country with the aid of repression and murder, dispensed by an armed militia.

Dirke Köpp

Dirke Köpp heads DW's French for Africa service

The regime is trying to see how far it can go in imposing its reign of terror. Not a day passes without dead bodies being found on the streets of Bujumbura. Independent sources say that more than 250 people have been killed in Burundi since the beginning of April. The United Nations reports that more than 400 people were kidnapped and 52 people tortured last month.

It is impossible to put a figure on the number of people who have been intimidated. Independent media vanished after the coup in May. Commercial radio stations were destroyed and more than a hundred journalists have fled the country in fear of their lives.

Nkurunziza's supporters have chosen to depict the country as calm with the exception of the activities of a small group of oppostion troublemakers. But over the last few weeks, the language the regime's supporters use has turned chillingly abrasive. There are references to "work," "action," and "no room for sentimentality." "Work" may appear innocuous to outsiders, but for Burundians and Rwandans it evokes horrific memories of the Rwandan genocide 21 years ago. "Work" was a synonym for "to kill." The aim was to kill, to eliminate, the Tutsi minority and moderate Hutus. More than 800,000 people were slaughtered in Rwanda between April and June 1994.

The international community later classified this as genocide and there was the deeply felt conviction that it should never be allowed to happen again. The UN subsequently adopted the concept of "responsibility to protect."

The situation in Burundi is similar to that which prevailed in Rwanda in 1994. But it is only over the past few weeks that the alarm bells have started ringing, sounded by that disturbing use of language. Internationally renowned think tanks and the UN are now warning openly of the danger of genocide in Burundi.

The UN Security Council has finally passed a resolution - which falls far short of the crisis management that is urgently needed. But it is a first step, telling Nkurunziza and his henchmen that they are now being watched.

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