Tensions are mounting between ethnic groups in the central African country of Burundi as violations of human rights increase and the government begins to withdraw from the international community.
Turmoil in the country began in April 2015 when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced plans to run for a third term, despite this being illegal under the Burundi Constitution. Following violent and fatal protests, he was elected in July in a highly controversial election in which less than 30% of the country voted.
Following his election, the president vowed that if his enemies continued to pursue violence, they would be beaten with the aid of God and “scattered like flour thrown into the air”. State violence against protestors and those who oppose the president’s rule has since become prevalent in the country, with extreme violence being committed by security forces and police.
The International Federation for Human Rights (IFHR), which has conducted a two-year report on the country, has stated that there is an “extreme violation of human rights on a daily basis” by government security forces. Over 1,000 people have been killed in the last 18 months, and 300,000 have fled the country.
Adding to the violence is the re-ignition of ethnic tensions. Between 1993 and 2006, the country was devastated by a civil war between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups which killed over 300,000 people. There are now new fears that the political violence in the country will turn into racial violence, with the president allegedly targeting primarily Tutsis as his opponents.
The IFHR is claiming that the international community must take immediate action, and not simply ignore this “forgotten conflict” which is overshadowed in the international sphere by other events such as the actions of ISIL in the Middle East. They claim that the country is showing tell-tale signs of an impending genocide through factors such as the attempts of the government to isolate itself from the outside world.
Burundi has recently abandoned the International Criminal Court which hears charges of crimes against humanity. The president has also forced the UN delegation out of the country, a delegation that had been warning of the possibility of genocide conditions.
Adding to the turmoil in the country is a severe food shortage caused by a number of extreme weather events. It is estimated that over 600,000 of the 11 million people in the country are short on food, with this number expected to rise to 700,000 next year.
Burundi is facing a turbulent and uncertain future, and if the international community continues to turn a blind eye, it may be facing it alone.
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