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Burundi: Recent Documents
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Burundi: Recent Documents
Date Distributed (ymd): 961009
Contains (1) Announcement of new USCR Report, (2) Commentary
by Salih Booker, Africa Fellow at Council on Foreign Relations
New USCR Report on Burundi
September 30, 1996
For further information contact:
Jeff Drumtra: (202) 347-3507
BURUNDI'S VIOLENCE TARGETS UPROOTED POPULATIONS; USCR REPORT
REVIEWS 30 YEARS OF MASSACRES AND FEAR
The war-torn central African nation of Burundi has a twisted
psychology all its own that drives extremists on all sides to
massacre innocent, uprooted civilians as if they were
conspirators and combatants-in-hiding, states a new report on
Burundi released today by the U.S. Committee for Refugees
The report, From Coup to Coup: Thirty Years of Death, Fear,
and Displacement in Burundi, reviews the long chain of tragic
events that has produced the current crisis in Burundi. The
report notes that mistrust and suspicion between the country's
ethnic Tutsi and ethnic Hutu populations is so deep-seated
that families who try to escape violence by fleeing toward
safety have instead become specially targeted for violence
themselves. Internally displaced persons are not seen as
neutral or as victims on the sideline of the conflict. Fleeing
to safety is not automatically regarded as a benign act in
modern-day Burundi, the report states.
The USCR report estimates that some three quarters of a
million Burundians have fled their homes, including 350,000
who have become refugees in neighboring countries, and an
estimated 400,000 persons who are displaced within Burundi.
Political and ethnic animosities have developed into
full-scale civil war, causing more than 1,000 deaths each
month, according to most estimates. Between 140,000 and
320,000 Burundians have died during the past thirty years in
on-again, off-again violence, according to the report. The
report analyzes earlier eruptions of bloodshed in 1965, 1969,
1972, 1988, 1991, and 1993, as well as the violence of
Previous episodes of violence have demonstrated that Burundi
can explode suddenly, and is capable of producing tens of
thousands of deaths and a million or more additional uprooted
persons in the span of a few days, the report concludes.
From Coup to Coup notes that "many outsiders, hoping to avert
greater bloodshed, find themselves struggling to understand
the dangerous dynamics that have long gripped Burundian
society.... Burundi is engaged in civil war. Nearly a million
of the country's 5.5 million people are either dead or
uprooted as refugees or internally displaced people. Ethnic
cleansing has occurred, a military coup has unfolded, and the
country lacks a legitimate government. Economic sanctions have
been imposed by Burundi's neighbors, Burundian society is
largely segregated along ethnic lines, and many killings have
been defined as 'genocide' by UN investigators and by the U.S.
From Coup to Coup systematically traces how Burundi's
eruptions of violence with impunity since independence in 1962
have ingrained societal attitudes of fear and vulnerability
that feed the countrys current violence and make
reconciliation difficult. A sense of victimization has come to
dominate the self-identity of both ethnic groups. "It is
possible that large numbers of displaced persons may never
feel safe enough to return home," the report says.
The report urges that the world's democratic nations should
shoulder a special responsibility to a nation such as Burundi,
as it struggles to find a democratic process that gives voice
to the aspirations of the countrys majority ethnic group while
providing appropritate protection for minority rights. "The
stratified power relationships in Burundi must change...," the
report states. The country's conflict can only be alleviated
if "Burundi society changes the way it governs itself, the way
it maintains order, and the way it provides or blocks
opportunity for its individual members."
The report recommends that "the international community should
facilitate and help mediate negotiations" among all sides in
Burundi. "African nations should continue to impose economic
sanctions, with support from Western governments, until
negotiations occur," the report states. "The mediation effort
of former Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere should receive
funding and other resources as needed from the United States
and other wealthy nations."
The U.S. Committee for Refugees is a non-governmental,
nonprofit agency that monitors and provides policy
recommendations on crises affecting refugees and internally
displaced populations worldwide.
Copies of From Coup to Coup: Thirty Years of Death, Fear, and
Displacement in Burundi are available from USCR by phoning
202-347-3507 (attention Raci Say); or fax USCR at 202 347-3418
(attention Raci Say). For more information by e-mail:
U.S. Committee for Refugees, 1717 Massachusetts Ave., NW,
Suite 701, Washington, DC 20036.
Burundi: Do the Right Thing [Commentary]
Council on Foreign Relations - September 27, 1996
by Salih Booker
Washington - Since seizing power in Burundi two months ago,
Major Pierre Buyoya -- mistakenly described as a moderate by
U.S. and other western policymakers and media professionals --
has presided over the killing of more than 6,000 civilians.
This represents a five-fold increase in the rate of slaughter
in that divided country since the July 25th coup.
While Burundi edges closer to the precipice of the genocidal
abyss that claimed nearly one million people in neighboring
Rwanda in 1994, the U.S. and its western allies have hesitated
over how to respond. Meanwhile Burundi's African neighbors and
the Organization of African Unity (OAU) have swiftly imposed
full economic sanctions on the junta in Bujumbura.
The reaction of the U.S. and its allies to the new emergency
in Burundi will make clear how important the prevention of
genocide is to these countries. Given the failure to prevent
or stop the genocide in Rwanda, their response in Burundi will
also confirm or dispel the belief that western governments
operate with a double standard when African civilians are the
ones dying by the tens of thousands in conflict situations.
At its core, Burundi's problem is apartheid. Any lasting
solution to the conflict must offer a plan to end Tutsi
hegemony, or minority rule, while offering guarantees for
every citizen's human rights. This is clear to those on the
ground and ultimately the future security of the Tutsi
minority depends upon the creation of a truly democratic
Finding such a durable solution will require the full support
of the international community, especially the western powers.
Policymakers who assume that Burundi should be left to itself
and its neighbors to sort out are captives of a false,
dangerous and racist belief that African conflicts are somehow
different from those in other parts of the world and therefore
do not warrant the same degree of international cooperation to
The imposition of sanctions against Burundi signals an
important turning point. The six states that adopted these
measures -- Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Zaire and
Ethiopia -- want to force Burundi's new military leaders to
restore the national assembly and lift the ban on political
parties. The larger aim is to create conditions for talks
among all the key participants in the conflict and to
establish a cease-fire between government and rebel forces.
The sanctions are beginning to take effect. The economy is in
a rapid decline and soon the military junta will be unable to
pay its civil servants and its rapidly expanding army. If the
military dictatorship doesn't move quickly to restore
constitutional rule and establish a cease-fire and a mechanism
for all-party talks, additional sanctions will be required.
Already an arms embargo should be adopted and applied against
both sides of the conflict.
If these pressures succeed in producing negotiations, the
talks must then focus on ending minority rule.
The habit among many State Department officials and their
European counterparts, of defining the problem in Burundi in
terms of "moderates" vs. "extremists" on both sides of the
Hutu majority - Tutsi minority divide, is misleading and
counterproductive. The bottom line struggle in Burundi is to
end the exclusion of 85% of the population from decisionmaking
and access to resources, and create a system of democratic
The Tutsi minority has legitimate fears of retaliation and
genocide at the hands of the long repressed Hutu majority in
much the same manner that South Africa's white minority feared
black majority rule. But until this minority, which includes
both the military and the business elite, is forced to accept
a democratic system of governance its continued repressive and
deadly rule will sow even more seeds of the tragic future it
If agreement is reached to negotiate a way out of this
national nightmare in Burundi, a peacekeeping force will be
required to keep the warring parties apart and eventually to
oversee a disarmament, demobilization and retraining process
aimed at establishing a thoroughly reformed national force.
But if economic sanctions do not produce the desired talks and
cease-fire, then a different type of international
intervention force under Chapter VII of the United Nations
Charter will be required to intervene and create the
conditions necessary for peace talks.
Other military options such as an international observer
brigade or an all-African intervention force are both poor
alternatives. The first would be little more than a toothless
observer while the second idea should only be considered as a
last resort. A truly international peacekeeping or peacemaking
force should not be an all-African volunteer force, but rather
a blue-helmeted U.N. force like those to which African nations
have contributed soldiers -- and lives -- for numerous
conflict resolution efforts around the world in places such as
Bosnia, Cambodia, and Lebanon.
The prevention of genocide in Burundi requires and deserves
external intervention. Sadly, out of some 80 countries asked
by the United Nations to lend support for a possible
peacekeeping mission in Burundi, only three African states
have offered to send troops. Without a change of policy on the
part of the U.S. and its western allies, the double standard
will be confirmed and an all-African force will become the
only option available.
U.S. policy to support economic sanctions and facilitate peace
talks doesn't go far enough. While the U.S. must continue to
refuse any formal recognition the military regime, it must
also prepare to commit financial resources, logistical support
and -- yes -- ground troops to an international peacekeeping
or peacemaking intervention in Burundi.
The so-called "Somalia syndrome" -- which suggests that
Americans won't support sending soldiers on peace missions in
Africa -- applies more to policymakers than to the public. The
prevention of genocide anywhere is in the national and
international interest. The public has the heart to understand
this and the stomach to accept the risks involved. This is
something that both the President and Mr. Dole should have the
courage to acknowledge even in an election year.
[Salih Booker is the Fellow for Africa Studies at the Council
on Foreign Relations. The Council on Foreign Relations takes
no institutional position on policy issues. This article is
the sole responsibility of the author.]
Copyright 1996 Council on Foreign Relations.
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