Burundi Crisis: The Country Is Deeply Divided

High Commissioner for Human Rights ZeidRa’ad Al Hussein. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

By Lisa Schlein

United Nations human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said he is alarmed by the deepening crisis in Burundi and warns action must be taken to stop the country’s descent toward a possible bloodbath.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein expressed regret Monday at the African Union’s decision not to send a peacekeeping force of 5,000 to Burundi.

Plan on hold

He said the AU plan has been placed in the freezer for the time being, while further negotiations with Burundian authorities take place. “We remain deeply concerned about the trajectories and the vectors that…still point to the deepening of the crisis. And, of course, we are very fearful of a precipitous event that may trigger a slide into the abyss,” Zeid said.

The United Nations reports more than 400 people have been killed and around 3,500 arrested since President Pierre Nkurunziza declared he would run for a third term at the end of April. It said more than 220,000 Burundians have fled to neighboring countries.

Amnesty International’s report of several mass graves near the capital Bujumbura is adding to growing concerns of a Rwandan-style genocidal war breaking out in Burundi. Ethnic Hutu radicals killed an estimated 800,000 people, most of them Tutsis, in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.

Crisis in Burundi

FILE - Protesters attack a policewoman in Bujumbura, Burundi, May 12, 2015, in a rally sparked by opposition to the president's decision to run for a third term.
Protesters attack a policewoman in Bujumbura, Burundi, May 12, 2015, in a rally sparked by opposition to the president’s decision to run for a third term. Reuters Photo

High Commissioner Zeid told VOA the crisis in Burundi is one of the most depressing parts of the international agenda. He said international efforts to stop the country’s turmoil are not working.

“Nothing seems to suffice in terms of halting this descent and we understand from other conflicts – Syria is a classic example – that the longer you leave it, the more difficult it is to then find a way of putting it back together again,” he stated.

Zeid said he hopes continued international focus on Burundi will have a positive effect. He notes a group of U.N. independent experts investigating abuse in that country will soon issue a report on its findings.

UN Peacekeeping Force Sexual Abuses Children in C.A.R

On another issue, the high commissioner strongly condemns the sexual abuse and exploitation of children by United Nations peacekeeping and civilian forces in Central African Republic. He calls this victimization of young children odious and worthy of the utmost contempt.

He is urging troop-contributing countries to investigate and swiftly prosecute those suspected of committing such heinous crimes.

Lisa Schlein is a contributor to VOA.