It is five to twelve in Burundi

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Around one hundred people, most of them civilians, were killed in Burundi’s capital Bujumbura during the last couple of days. While hundreds perished since the unrest started in late April, this is a truly worrying increase in violence.

Many of the victims of recent days’ killings were civilians extrajudicially executed by the security forces. In order to avert a further descent into lethal chaos, a clear signal is needed that crimes committed in Burundi will not go unpunished. The world must urgently demand an international and independent inquiry into what appear to be crimes against humanity.

This could be conducted by the International Criminal Court (to which Burundi is a party and whose prosecutor has already warned months ago that she is monitoring the situation closely) and/or the UN High Commission for Human Rights.

If the Burundian government does not allow such an inquiry or hinders its work, a radical sanctions regime must be imposed. All aid must then be suspended (Burundi is one of the most aid-dependent countries of the world), and a travel ban and assets freeze must be imposed on all Burundian officials.

However, the international community should not fall in the trap of a “good guys” versus “bad guys” story. Some of those opposing the Burundian government also engage in indiscriminate violence, and they too need to be targeted. They have attacked military installations and killed those considered close to the government.

There is solid evidence that Rwanda is recruiting, training and arming Burundian refugees on its soil. If such a force were to attack Burundi, this could create a regional conflict and put the Burundian Tutsi in great risk as they would be presented as a fifth column of the invading force.

The time to act decisively is now.

Filip Reyntjens
University of Antwerp

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