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UN Security Council 'follows in the footsteps' of the African Union on Burundi crisis

media People attend the funeral of a Burundian journalist and his family and a member of the International Organization for Migration humanitarian team in Bujumbura on 20 October 2015, after they were shot dead on 13 October. AFP Photo/Landry Nshimiye

The UN Security Council on Wednesday stood behind the African Union and its tough stance on Burundi in light of continuing violence and human rights abuses. The council condemned “an increase in the cases of human rights violations and abuses” saying it would support an African Union investigation.

“The UN and other international organisations are actually quite happy that it’s an African organisation which is taking the lead,” Benjamin Chemouni, a Burundi researcher at London School of Economics, told RFI. “They are very happy to be in the footsteps of the African Union,” he added.

Another international Burundi observer who wishes to remain anonymous for security reasons said the UN Security Council position “could indicate that Bujumbura is becoming more and more isolated diplomatically”. The person, who is a recognised Burundi expert, pointed out that the Security Council statement was not blocked by China and Russia who had previously objected to interfering in Burundian affairs.

Africa’s regional bloc had previously said it will put sanctions in place, produce an investigation into human rights abuses and increase the number of military experts and human rights observers on the ground. The African Union’s Peace and Security Council also raised the possibility of a military intervention should the situation worsen.

Following the UN Security Council meeting on Burundi, Spanish representative and current council president Román Oyarzun Marchesi said it “welcomes the decision of the African Union to launch an in-depth investigation”.

“The Security Council underlines the importance of the urgent resumption of the mediation process led by President Museveni of Uganda,” said Marchesi.

Ugandan defence minister Crispus Kiyonga arrived in Bujumbura on Wednesday, according to reports from the AFP news agency. Burundian government officials said Kiyonga was meeting the heads of the country’s senate and national assembly.

Previous efforts led by Uganda’s Museveni were unable to resolve the differences between supporters of Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza and those opposed to his controversial third term in office.

Besides Museveni’s mediation under the auspices of the East African Community, Burundi experts have questioned the effectiveness of the AU’s measures and whether they can help stop the ongoing violence and human rights abuses.

Asked about an increase to the number of AU human rights monitors and military experts, researcher Chemouni said he thinks the “Burundians are going to refuse”. He referred to European Union requests to consult Burundi’s government on possible cuts to financial support, saying that the “Burundians just refused, point blank”.

“If the African Union wants to send some observers, either they’re going to refuse straight away or they’re going to let them in, but basically they won’t be free,” said Chemouni. “More easy to put in place would be sanctions, however the Burundian economy is really in a dire state and to what extent this could put some pressure remains to be seen,” he added.

The Burundi observer RFI spoke to said the AU’s proposed sanctions were not explicitly supported by the UN Security Council statement. However, the expert who wants to remain unnamed adds that “the threat to follow up on unlawful violence by security forces does add up to the increasingly difficult position of the Burundian government on the international scene”.

Burundi’s government has already angrily responded to the prospect of sanctions by the African Union with the ruling CNDD-FDD describing them as an attempt to “destroy the country”.

In a statement cited by the AFP news agency on Wednesday, Pascal Nyabenda, president of the CNDD-FDD, said the AU’s Peace and Security Council was trying to deny Burundians their sovereignty and attempting to force them into dialogue.

In a further development at the UN, Burundi was elected to the UN’s Human Rights Council on Wednesday, despite recent criticism of the human rights situation by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

It is the first time Burundi has been elected to the 47-member council which is “responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights”. The country starts its three-year term on the council in January 2016.

Burundi’s election is a “serious concern”, said John Fisher, advocacy director of Human Rights Watch. “Obviously there is a significant gap between the standards required of members of the Human Rights Council who are called upon to uphold the highest standards of human rights and the concerns expressed by the council itself at the human rights situation in the country,” he told RFI.

The human rights situation in Burundi is “rapidly worsening”, the Office for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said on 23 October. OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville said they were “particularly shocked” by the killing of nine civilians by police forces on 13 October.

In the eastern district of Gitega, at least seven gunmen were killed on Wednesday in battles with security forces, AFP news agency reported quoting province governor Venant Manirambona.

At least three people were killed and 15 injured in attacks on Monday in the capital Bujumbura, including grenades being hurled at security forces, rocket-propelled grenades fired and a machete wielded at police officers, AFP reported.

Some 200 people have been killed in Burundi since violence broke out in April and 200,000 people have fled the country, according to the UN.

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