Burundi Is On the Verge of a Mass Atrocity. Will We Ignore It Again?

US Secretary of State John Kerry with Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza, August 4, 2014. By U.S. Department of State.

By Barbara F. Walter

Rarely does the international community get the opportunity to correct an enormous mistake from its past. The world’s great powers can’t go back and prevent the Holocaust, erase the Cambodian killing fields, or thwart the genocide in Rwanda. We chose to do nothing and we have to live with that.

By all accounts (see here, here and here) large-scale violence is likely to break out again, this time in Burundi. It’s a repeat of 1994. As in Rwanda, there are signs of militarization. Opposition leaders and human rights defenders are being arrested and killed. Bodies are beginning to litter the streets. The perpetrator, this time the government of President Nkurunziza, has been brazenly public about what it intends to do. “Any Burundians caught with weapons”, the President has announced, “will be dealt with as enemies of the nation.”

But we have the rare chance for a do-over. A chance to prevent a mass killing that seems to be unfolding in eerily similar ways to the killing of Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994. Most people agree that the international community should have acted earlier to stop the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Had the US supported peacekeepers or soldiers in that tiny country, hundreds of thousands of civilians would likely have been saved.

So here is our chance to right a grave wrong and prevent another mass atrocity from occurring. In his apology to the people of Rwanda, Bill Clinton made clear that “never again must we be shy in the face of evidence.”

Below is a note written by activists that made its way out of Burundi this week. Let us not be shy in the face of evidence again.

Dear Friends,

I wish I were writing with better news. But there is extensive speculation that Burundi is on the brink of mass atrocity.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power wrote on November 5th: “We are deeply concerned by President Nkurunziza’s…pledge to use violent methods to have security forces search homes for weapons and opposition figures within five days…The President of the Burundian Senate, Révérien Ndikuriyo, has reportedly invoked the language of horrors the region hasn’t witnessed in 20 years. Whether in Kirundi or English, this language is terrifying: ‘You tell those who want to execute the mission: on this issue, you have to pulverize, you have to exterminate – these people are only good for dying. I give you this order, go!'”

Government-monitored social media and the killing of human rights activists is preventing Burundians from speaking out. As you read this, Tutsi neighborhoods and towns are self-evacuating in fear. We know where this story goes.

Help prevent mass atrocity from occurring in coming days:

  • 1. Sign the White House petition: http://wh.gov/iyIx4. President Obama is obligated to respond when we hit 100,000 signatures.
  • 2. Make three phone calls. Call your representative and senators (http://www.house.gov/representatives/findhttp://www.senate.gov/senators/contact). Ask them to support UN Ambassador Samantha Power and make preventing genocide in Burundi an urgent diplomatic priority. The country URGENTLY needs peacekeepers, observers, and mediated negotiations to prevent ethnic killings and broker peace. Not American? Do this at home, wherever home is for you.
  • 3. Like this post. Share it. Create another. Here’s one for Twitter or Instagram: Burundi is on the brink of genocide. Fear is forcing local silence. Sign the WH petition: http://wh.gov/iyIx4#burundi #peaceorviolence
  1. Thank you for writing about this conflict.

    “The U.N. Security Council is due to vote on Thursday at 12:15 p.m. (1715 GMT) on a French-drafted resolution that would ask U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to report back on options for boosting the U.N. presence in Burundi.”

  2. The petition listed has been shelved due to a lack of signatures… I want to sign, but we need to create more stir online.

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