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This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Burundi: Arms Embargo Letter

Burundi: Arms Embargo Letter
Date distributed (ymd): 980311
Document reposted by APIC

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

Region: Central Africa
Issue Areas: +security/peace+ +US policy focus+
Summary Contents:
This posting contains background talking points in favor of an arms embargo on both sides in the conflict in Burundi. It asks for individual and organizational endorsements of letters to U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and to members of the UN Security Council.

+++++++++++++++++end profile++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Please note: This notice is **reposted** by APIC. Please do NOT use reply in your e-mail program when sending in your endorsements; send e-mail endorsements directly to daronson@ceip.org or fax endorsements to HRW (202-371-0124) as requested below.


The Central Africa Action Network, an ad-hoc consortium of human rights, religious and civic organizations and scholars, is encouraging the US to sponsor an internationally sanctioned arms embargo against both parties to the conflict in Burundi, and is seeking broad public support for such a measure.

Please review the following talking points and letters, and if you are able to sign on, either individually or institutionally, please do so at your earliest convenience, and preferably by Friday, March 13, at 12 noon. (If you are able to sign on institutionally, please transfer the text to your letterhead.)

We encourage organizations to solicit the support of their memberships: the deadline for these is March 23 at noon.

Please re-distribute via your communication links.

It is vital that we demonstrate support for this measure prior to President Clinton's historic trip to Africa.

Fax the letters back to Loretta Bondi at Human Rights Watch Arms Project at: (202) 371-0124, or email your responses to David Aronson (daronson@ceip.org).

Thank you all!


A Strike Against Genocide:
Talking Points Regarding an Arms Embargo on Burundi

One of the most violent places on earth today is Burundi, a tiny, obscure country in the heart of Africa. There, in the past three years, over 150,000 people have perished in a bitter inter-ethnic conflict between the majority Hutu population and the minority Tutsi-controlled army.

In 1994, a similar ethnic dynamic in neighboring Rwanda led to genocide, as 800,000 people were murdered in a period of ten weeks. Some observers fear that Burundi is moving in the same direction. Eighteen months ago, an American ex-ambassador to Burundi pointed out that in proportion to its population, Burundi was suffering the equivalent of an Oklahoma City bombing-sized massacre every hour of every day. Since then, the situation has remained critical: last month one U.S. official warned that Burundi is "as tense as I've ever seen it."

Yet the West has largely passed this tragedy by. No camera crews record the people's pain, and although African leaders have made valiant efforts to bring peace and stability to their troubled neighbor, the U.S., in the opinion of many, hasn't provided them with adequate support. One consequence: the continuing spread of ethnic conflict, approaching genocidal proportions, throughout all of Central Africa.

In fact, there is a lot that the U.S. could do at relatively little cost, if it had the political will to act. This paper outlines one critical step: the imposition of an international, comprehensive arms embargo against both sides of the conflict. This idea was first proposed by regional African leaders at a summit on Burundi held in September, 1997. They had previously imposed a regional embargo, but this measure proved to be far too porous, did not directly address the flow of arms into the country, and had some unintended, collateral damage. The inadequacies of this measure demonstrates the need for an international arms embargo to be implemented under the auspices of the UN Security Council. The US government has been ambivalent on whether to support this measure, perhaps unwilling to expend the political capital to help make it a reality. And without US support, the international arms traders trafficking weapons in the region know they can operate with impunity.

The Central Africa Action Network, a consortium of humanitarian, human rights, civic, and religious groups, is urging the US to support the embargo, devote additional resources to the regional peace process, and revive and extend a UN-based arms monitoring project known as UNICOI to make sure that the embargo is respected. These steps would not lead to an unending drain on the US foreign aid budget; still less would they result in 'more Somalias.' In fact, the more time and effort the U.S. devotes to sustaining peace now, the less costs we are likely to incur on emergency humanitarian aid later.

Unlike some places in the world, where strong ideological pressure or financial resources make it very difficult for humanitarian considerations to prevail, in central Africa there are no adversaries more powerful than indifference and inertia.

You can help change that. An arms embargo would be a clean, meaningful strike against genocide. Lend your voice to help bring one about by signing the enclosed letters, which we will forward to the appropriate officials.

Why is an international arms embargo on Burundi necessary?

Burundi is currently under comprehensive regional sanctions, including an arms embargo, imposed by its neighbors in August 1996, in the aftermath of the military coup that brought Major Pierre Buyoya back to power.

This regional embargo, however, is extremely porous. As Human Rights Watch research has shown, some of the very same countries that imposed the embargo in the first place were among the first to violate it (and continue to do so) by allowing arms supplies to pass through their territory or by providing direct military assistance and bases to the various Burundian belligerents.

An international arms embargo imposed under the auspices of the U.N. Security Council will provide a legally binding framework and send a clear signal to state and private arms traffickers that the international community has become more serious about this issue.

Why should we try to stop arms flows to Burundi when much of the killing in the region, including the genocide in neighboring Rwanda, was perpetrated with machetes?

Large-scale massacres in the Great Lakes region could not have happened without the secure environment provided to the killers by heavily armed government forces and militias. Furthermore, most killings that are occuring today are committed with firearms. And the importation of arms into the region heightens the insecurity that leads to conflict, fueling a vicious cycle of fear and violence.

Why are the combatants in the region procuring new weapons when the region is already awash in arms?

The fragmentation of conflict in the region, the explosive growth of government and rebel armies, the proliferation of paramilitary forces, and above all, a deep sense of insecurity are all causing a rush to rearm. This rearmament, in turn, increases that sense of vulnerability that is at the root of much of the current conflicts.

How can we ensure that the imposition of international arms embargo will not remain just another well-meaning but strictly symbolic action?

There are a number of enforcement options available to the international community to make an arms embargo effective. With regard to the Great Lakes, the reactivation of the International Commission of Inquiry (Rwanda) known as UNICOI, and the extension of its mandate to include Burundi, are among such measures.

What is UNICOI and why should it be reactivated?

UNICOI was created in 1995, in the wake of a Human Rights Watch report, to investigate arms trafficking to the forces of the ex-Rwandan government. In its one-year life, it produced three reports, describing deals, routes and actors involved in the trafficking, and tracked down financial transactions all the way to Europe and the Seychelles. UNICOI suspended its operations in October 1996. By that time, the commission had accumulated the expertise and knowledge indispensable to conducting effective investigations.

If reactivated, why should UNICOI also include Burundi in its mandate? Wouldn't a similar commission with a specific mandate for Burundi be more effective?

UNICOI has accumulated the institutional memory necessary to pursue deals across national boundaries, and established numerous contacts in Africa and Europe. In addition, some of the actors UNICOI investigated continue to operate throughout the region. Because UNICOI is familiar with their tactics, it will be better positioned. Moreover, reactivating a mechanism, rather than creating a new one, will cut through 'bureaucratic time' and allow for speedier deployment.

Could UNICOI be reactivated and its sphere of operations extended outside of the framework of an international arms embargo?

Certainly. In the absence of an international arms embargo, UNICOI could still do valuable work. Its primary function in Burundi would be to gather information and report this directly to the Security Council, which would therefore be better positioned to follow developments on the ground.

What can we do to stimulate action at the Security Council level to impose an international arms embargo and reactivate UNICOI with an extension of its mandate to include Burundi?

At present, a new action-oriented group with a focus on the Great Lakes region is taking shape. One of its first priorities will be to pursue controls of arms flows to the region. The group will mobilize public opinion and put pressure on the U.S. Congress, other national parliaments, the U.N., and other international organizations to take up issues of concern in the Great Lakes region. In the end, preventive action is cheaper than having to pay the cost for humanitarian relief once a crisis breaks out.

Contacts:

  • On the arms embargo, contact Loretta Bondi at Human Rights Watch:
    phone (202) 371-6592, or email bondil@hrw.org.
  • On the Central Africa Action Network, contact David Aronson, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:
    phone (202) 939-2271 or email daronson@ceip.org


The Honorable Madeleine Albright
Secretary of State
Department of State
2201 C Street
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Madame Secretary:

As individuals and nongovernmental organizations concerned about the tragedies unfolding in Central Africa, we are writing to you in support of a comprehensive, enforceable arms embargo to be imposed by the U.N. Security Council to stem the flow of weapons to Burundi. Such arms transfers have fueled the conflict and continue to cause horrendous human rights abuses perpetrated mainly against the Burundian people.

We are dismayed at the tardiness that has characterized the international community's responses to the region's great humanitarian tragedies thus far, and we respectfully urge you to press forward on two very urgent measures:

  • Imposition of an international arms embargo sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council against both sides in the Burundian conflict, in the context of support for the regional peace process.
  • Reactivation of the International Commission of Inquiry (Rwanda) and an extension of its mandate to include Burundi.

As you undoubtedly know, African leaders proposed such an international arms embargo in September 1997, at an Arusha Peace Conference chaired by Tanzanian leader Julius Nyerere. They had previously imposed a regional embargo, but the inadequacies of this measure demonstrates the need for an international arms embargo to be implemented under the UN Security Council. Since then, the U.S. has been ambivalent on whether it supports such a measure, and has certainly not brought to the task of passing and implementing it the urgency that we feel it deserves.

We believe that only comprehensive measures, drawn from the errors and the achievements of past experiences, will help to address the plight of the thousands of civilians, who continue to be the true victims of the conflicts in Great Lakes region.

We would be grateful for any information you could provide us about U.S. diplomatic interventions on this matter.

Sincerely,

SIGNED:

YOUR NAME:
CITY, STATE:
CITIZENSHIP:
YOUR ORGANIZATION:
ORGANIZATION FOR IDENTIFICATION ONLY: ____YES ____NO


DATE

The President & Permanent Representatives
U.N. Security Council
The United Nations

Your Excellency:

As members of an ad hoc coalition of concerned nongovernmental organizations and scholars, we are writing to you in support of Human Rights Watch's recommendations to stem the flow of weapons to Burundi. Such arms transfers have fueled and continue to cause horrendous human rights abuses perpetrated mainly against the Burundian civilian population.

As long-time observers of the devastating conflicts in the Great Lakes region and dismayed at the tardiness that has characterized the international community's responses to the region's great humanitarian tragedies, we would, therefore, like to request Your Excellency to make representation with the Security Council on two very urgent measures:

  • Reactivation of the International Commission of Inquiry (Rwanda) and an extension of its mandate to include Burundi.
  • Imposition of an international arms embargo against both sides in the Burundian conflict, in the context of support for the regional peace process.

These measures were also urged by the European Parliament in a resolution on arms flows to Burundi passed on December 18, 1997.

As you undoubtedly know, the Security Council established UNICOI in September 1995 (SC Resolution 1013) and charged it with investigating any allegation it might receive with regard to violations of the United Nations arms embargo on the former Rwandan government forces and allied militias. The commission traveled to the region in November 1995, and in its one-year life prepared three reports: in January, March and October 1996.

The commission was highly effective in exposing the role of a number of states in the supply of weapons to abusive forces in the Great Lakes region. Moreover, the commission was able to trace financial transactions all the way to Europe and the Seychelles.

Perhaps most importantly, the commission concluded its work by formulating a set of useful recommendations on the basis of its investigation, including the establishment, on an ad hoc basis, of commissions of inquiry to investigate reported violations of arms embargoes.

We believe that the situation in Burundi, which is currently under comprehensive sanctions, including an arms embargo, imposed by its neighbors in August 1996, warrants the establishment of an ad hoc commission to investigate arms flows to that country. Due to its experience, UNICOI will exceptionally well-positioned to undertake such an investigation in a region where porous borders and associations along ethnic lines account for flows of arms from one country to another along shared supply corridors.

Other crucial measures should be implemented by the Security Council, chief among them the imposition of an international arms embargo on both Burundian belligerent parties. Such a step would greatly contribute to stabilizing the situation in the region and reducing the human rights abuses, which are fueled by the proliferation of weapons.

In this regard, we would like to refer Your Excellency to Security Council Resolution 1072 (1996) which calls for an assessment of the situation in Burundi to decide whether to impose a ban on the sale or supply of arms and related material to the government of Burundi and to all Burundian factions in and outside the country, and ask you to make representation of this resolution's stipulations with your colleagues. We would also urge you to ensure that decisions pertaining to the embargo be accompanied from the outset by discussions of effective enforcement mechanisms, of which UNICOI should be an integral part.

We believe that only comprehensive measures, drawn from the errors and the achievements of past experiences, will help to address the plight of the thousands of civilians, who continue to be the true victims of the conflicts in Great Lakes region.

Sincerely,

SIGNED:

YOUR NAME:
CITY, STATE:
CITIZENSHIP:
YOUR ORGANIZATION:
ORGANIZATION FOR IDENTIFICATION ONLY: ____YES ____NO


This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC), the educational affiliate of the Washington Office on Africa. APIC's primary objective is to widen the policy debate in the United States around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups individuals.


URL for this file: http://www.africafocus.org/docs98/bur9803.php