On December 11th, armed rebels attacked two Burundian military camps and a military academy. This was the first coordinated assault on government installations by armed groups. In the initial attack and the aftermath at least 87 people died in the most deadly day since the crisis began. Burundi may be on the verge of slipping into a civil war unless Burundians in the government and opposition eschew violence and commit to an inclusive dialogue.
Last April Burundi’s president Pierre Nkurunziza decided to run for a third term, in violation of the Arusha Agreement. His subsequent victory in an election deemed neither free nor fair by the international community, triggered months of violence, and an exodus of over 200,000 Burundians fearing a return to civil war. That conflict, which ended in 2005, cost some 300,000 lives.
The underlying issues fueling the discord are poor governance, runaway corruption and a flailing economy. Years of negotiations and power-sharing resolutions such as the Arusha Agreement, meant to bridge the division between Burundi’s two main ethnic groups, have been compromised. Rising militarization of both sides, a spate of targeted assassinations and incendiary rhetoric by high-ranking leaders on both sides, along with numerous incidents of human rights violations, threaten to tip the country into another protracted conflict.
Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Tom Malinowski said in a recent editorial that there are reports of human rights abuses committed under the auspices of government institutions that are specifically charged with preventing or stopping them. At the same time, opposition groups and armed elements are attacking government security forces and civilians.
The United States condemns this violence in the strongest possible terms, and calls on all sides to refrain immediately from violence.
We support the efforts of the East African Community, the African Union, and the United Nations to defuse the situation and urge the immediate start ofhigh-level internationally-mediated dialogue between the government of Burundi and opposition leaders in a neutral location.
In the words of Assistant Secretary Tom Malinowski, “We have a very small window left to restore rationality and reasonableness in place of the chaos and madness that is spreading throughout the country. We urge all parties to make the right choice, before Burundi truly plunges into the abyss.”