Wednesday November 11, 2015
By Colin Freeman
UN chief speaks out after more than 250 die in extrajudicial killings
Fears that Burundi could slide into a Rwandan-style civil conflict grew after the United Nations warned that it was "poorly positioned" to intervene in the country's escalating political violence.
The east African nation of 10 million has seen more than 250 people killed since April, when the president, Pierre Nkurunziza, launched a disputed bid to prolong his term in office.
On Tuesday, after receiving reports that bodies were being dumped on the streets almost nightly, a senior UN official warned that the global body was even less equipped to deal with any lurch into all-out violence than it was during the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
"We are more poorly positioned to respond to the warning signs today than we were in 1994," said Scott Campbell, central and west Africa chief at the UN human rights office.
More than 210,000 people have fled Burundi since April. On Monday,France presented a draft resolution to the UN Security Council threatening targeted sanctions against Burundian leaders who incite attacks or hamper efforts to end the crisis.
"The escalating violence in Burundi has reached a very worrying stage, maybe a tipping point," said Alexis Lamek, France's deputy ambassador the UN. "We must face the reality: If we let the tensions escalate without doing anything, the whole country could explode," he warned.
The draft text calls on the government and all sides to "reject any kind of violence" and strongly condemns the killings, torture, arbitrary arrestsand other rights violations in Burundi. The council is expected to vote on it in coming days.
Last week, Mr Nkurunziza last week set an ultimatum for Burundians to hand in weapons, warning that those who would not do so would be dealt with as “enemies of the nation".
Reverien Ndikuriyo, the country's senate president, also recently threatened to "pulverise" regime opponents who do not lay down arms. "Today, the police shoot in the legs ... but when the day comes that we tell them to go to 'work,' do not come crying to us," he said.
The term "work" was a term used as code in Rwanda to unleash the killings of at least 800,000 mainly Tutsi people by extremist Hutu militias in the 1994 genocide. On Tuesday, it earned a rebuke from Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, who said: “Phrases such as these recall language that this region has heard before, and should not be hearing again. They could signal the imminence of much worse, and more widespread, violence.”
Police have launched a huge security operation in the capital's opposition districts searching for weapons after an ultimatum to give up arms expired at the weekend. Many residents have fled the capital, emptying areas that have seen some of the worst violence in recent months.
A British diplomat, Jamal Benomar, has been appointed as a special envoy to coordinate the response to the crisis.
Burundi ended a 12-year civil war in 2005, when Hutu rebels fought the army led by Tutsis, the same ethnic divide that led to Rwanda's 1994 genocide in which 800,000 people were massacred.