An official of the US-based Human Rights Watch says the situation in Burundi is a test case for preventive diplomacy and the international community needs to be much more involved.
Philippe Bolopion, the United Nations and Crisis Advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said the international community should not wait until Burundi spins out of control.
This comes as the UN Security Council met Monday to discuss the crisis in Burundi where there has been an increase in violence, raising fears of a possible return to the 1994 Rwanda genocide.
A strong measure against violence
Bolopion said the Security Council must send a strong signal to all Burundians.
“The Security Council was really put on notice by senior UN officials that the situation in Burundi could spin out of control and that the Security Council was needed to avert the worst there before it’s too late. So hopefully this was a defining moment, a kind of wake-up call that the UN Security Council needed to start really addressing the crisis in Burundi,” he said.
Crisis requires a special UN Envoy
Bolopion said the rights group is asking the Secretary-General to reinforce the UN response to the crisis, including appointing a special envoy to Burundi and exploring the possible deployment of an international police force, particularly in the neighborhoods most affected by the violence.
“We need for the Security Council to send a very strong political signal that violence will not be tolerated. For example that people who incite the commission of serious crimes by inciting violence or hatred will face individual sanctions; the Security Council should also look into beefing up the UN presence in the country; the UN Security Council should also look into the possible deployment to calm the situation in some of the neighborhoods of Bujumbura,” Bolopion said.
Officials from Burundi deny increasing violence
Burundi's foreign minister denied Monday that his country is in an escalating spiral of violence. Alain Nyamitwe told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council via a video link from Bujumbura that the country "in general, is calm and citizens are moving about peacefully."
He said there are some neighborhoods in the capital where crime is "on-going", but he questioned remarks by the envoy of the African Union, who expressed concern that the violence is spreading beyond the capital.
Thousands of Burundians fleeing the country
African Union envoy Tété Antonio told the council that the surge in violence and serious human rights violations has sent 200,000 Burundians fleeing to Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC.
He also warned about inflammatory statements by officials, saying "such statements are unacceptable given the painful past of the great lakes region.”
France called Monday's emergency meeting, and deputy ambassador Alexis Lamek told reporters his delegation had circulated a draft resolution calling on the parties to reject violence and engage in a meaningful dialogue.
People with firearms a concern
President Pierre Nkurunziza gave a November 7, deadline for people with illegal firearms to turn their weapons in.
Bolopion said while Human Rights Watch does not dispute the government’s right to rid the capital of illegal weapons, the government does not have a license to kill innocent people.
“The fact that some members of the opposition are armed and in some cases attacking policemen does not give the government the license to go and kill civilians in these neighborhoods or to terrorize an entire neighborhood, or to use excesses, or indiscriminate force in the process of going after armed people,” Bolopion said.
The group called on the UN to reinforce its human rights monitoring presence in Burundi and to issue regular public reports and statements documenting killings, torture, arbitrary arrests and other grave human rights violations in Burundi.