Despite recent efforts by the UN and the African Union to deal with the sociopolitical upheavals and violence following the 2015 electoral process in Burundi, the human rights and humanitarian situation in the country remains a great source of concern. Armed groups with external backing are threatening sociopolitical security, and arbitrary detentions, torture, and killings continue to be reported daily. So far, 250 000 people have fled the country.
On March 16th, 2016, Franciscans International joined Dominicans for Justice and Peace, Caritas Internationalis, and the World Evangelical Alliance to host a debate at the UN that explored the root causes of the present situation of violence. The panelists, including Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, attempted to explain the situation, all the while identifying key ways in which the international community could support UN monitoring and recommendations, engage in effective and inclusive processes of mediation, and put in place a protection mechanism to ensure the security of the population.
The panelists noted that Burundi had shown several warning signs of the impending crisis, but that the international community had not been quick enough to respond. They also pointed to the lack of trust and real dialogue between government and opposition. Fr Emmanuel Ntakarutimana OP, former chair of Burundi’s National Independent Human Rights Commission noted that economic and social rights had been somewhat set aside in favor of civil and political rights, causing general dissatisfaction and hopelessness among young people who are concerned about their future, leading them to violent political parties.
Panelists, echoed by interventions from the floor, called for an increase of external observers and mediators to permit a more inclusive dialogue between factions in Burundi. They asked for the UN to strengthen the monitoring of the country, including giving support to the National Human Rights Commission, and to create mechanisms that reassure the population. The debate ended in urging the Human Rights Council to keep Burundi as a priority on its agenda in order for peace to make its way back to the country, and to allow the large number of refugees, including many journalists, to return to the country in safety.