26th AU Summit: The African Union must adopt an emergency plan for Burundi to avoid the outbreak of an open conflict

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© AFP / Yvan Rukundo

(Addis-Abeba, Paris) While the African Union is currently holding its 26th summit in Addis Ababa, FIDH urges heads of States and governments to adopt a strong resolution to overcome the multi-faced political deadlocksthat could lead to the outbreak of an open conflict in Burundi. This emergency plan for Burundi must include a binding roadmap establishing an effective and inclusive dialogue between all stakeholders as well as the deployment of an African mission to protect civilians.

"The markers of impending widespread violence in Burundi are gathered: persistent political deadlock, increase of torture, enforced disappearances, ethnic and political crimes, proliferation of mass graves, cases of sexual violence as well as rebel movements operating inside and outside the country. The African Union must adopt a robust response to the crisis, based on the protection of civilians and the resumption of political dialogue"

Sheila Muwanga, FIDH Vice-President.

In recent months, the international community has sought to take over the deep crisis in Burundi. In October 2015, United Nation Human Rights Council has decided to strengthen its presence on the ground and the African Union to investigate human rights violations in the country [1]. On November 30, 2015, UN Secretary-General Mr. Ban Ki Moon has proposed to the UN Security Council three options to solve the crisis in Burundi: a peacekeeping mission under UN mandate, a special political mission or a support team responsible for promoting a political dialogue between the government and the opposition, advocating for the third option. Consequently, on January 22, 2016 a delegation of the Security Council went to Bujumbura. Since then, Burundian president Pierre Nkurunziza has reaffirmed his refusal to host an African mission of prevention and protection of civilians (MAPROBU) [2] and no assurance of a resumption of an effective and inclusive dialogue with the opposition and the independent civil society could be obtained.

In an extremely alarming report, published on January 15, 2016, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mr. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said that "All the alarm signals, including the increasing ethnic dimension of the crisis, are flashing red". The report adds that "new trends are emerging in Burundi, including cases of sexual violence by security forces and a sharp increase in enforced disappearances and torture cases.” Yet, the international community has still not succeeded in eliminating the risk of the outbreak of an open conflict that could lead to the commission of mass atrocities [3]. Meanwhile, more and more reports note the creation of rebel groups, some heavily armed, such as the Republican Forces of Burundi led by General Godefroid Niyombare and the RED-Tabara (resistance for the rule of law).

Given these facts, the 26th Conference of Heads of State and governments of the African Union must adopt an emergency plan including a roadmap to end the crisis providing, under its aegis, the rapid, effective and inclusive recovery of the dialogue between the authorities, the opposition and the civil society. This roadmap must also provide for the deployment of the MAPROBU, under the mandate of the UN Security Council. The mission must include a civilian component with a clear mandate to protect civilians and to document human rights violations in order to bring perpetrators to justice.

"This summit cannot be a missed opportunity to take concrete actions to solve the ongoing crisis in Burundi, which has already caused hundreds of civilian casualties. All eyes are on the African Union, which must demonstrate its ability to be a leading actor in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and crises in Burundi and elsewhere in Africa, "

Mabassa Fall, FIDH Representative to the African Union

In a position note published today, FIDH reiterates its recommendations to the African Union which has chosen 2016 to be the African year of human rights, with particular focus on the rights of women. It must therefore take its responsibility and strong decisions to curb the cycles of violence and to ensure the safety of civilians. The African Union must in particular be actively mobilized for the 30 upcoming elections - including 18 presidential elections - to be held in 21 African countries in 2016 and which are periods when the risk of violence is increasing. In Uganda, Djibouti and the Republic of Congo, political violences were documented by FIDH and its member organizations.

The AU must also support the fight against impunity in countries involved in peace process, such as in Central African Republic and in South Sudan. It must commit to justice mechanisms which are conditions for reconciliation and restoration of the rule of law. Finally, the AU, which put a special focus on the rights of women for 2016, must support, by robust action, initiatives to protect and promote the rights of women in Africa.

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