Burundi: Recent Documents,10/9/96

Burundi: Recent Documents,10/9/96

Burundi: Recent Documents Date Distributed (ymd): 961009

Contains (1) Announcement of new USCR Report, (2) Commentary by Salih Booker, Africa Fellow at Council on Foreign Relations

New USCR Report on Burundi

September 30, 1996 For further information contact: Jeff Drumtra: (202) 347-3507


The war-torn central African nation of Burundi has a twisted psychology all its own that drives extremists on all sides to massacre innocent, uprooted civilians as if they were conspirators and combatants-in-hiding, states a new report on Burundi released today by the U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR).

The report, From Coup to Coup: Thirty Years of Death, Fear, and Displacement in Burundi, reviews the long chain of tragic events that has produced the current crisis in Burundi. The report notes that mistrust and suspicion between the country's ethnic Tutsi and ethnic Hutu populations is so deep-seated that families who try to escape violence by fleeing toward safety have instead become specially targeted for violence themselves. Internally displaced persons are not seen as neutral or as victims on the sideline of the conflict. Fleeing to safety is not automatically regarded as a benign act in modern-day Burundi, the report states.

The USCR report estimates that some three quarters of a million Burundians have fled their homes, including 350,000 who have become refugees in neighboring countries, and an estimated 400,000 persons who are displaced within Burundi. Political and ethnic animosities have developed into full-scale civil war, causing more than 1,000 deaths each month, according to most estimates. Between 140,000 and 320,000 Burundians have died during the past thirty years in on-again, off-again violence, according to the report. The report analyzes earlier eruptions of bloodshed in 1965, 1969, 1972, 1988, 1991, and 1993, as well as the violence of 1994-96.

Previous episodes of violence have demonstrated that Burundi can explode suddenly, and is capable of producing tens of thousands of deaths and a million or more additional uprooted persons in the span of a few days, the report concludes.

>From Coup to Coup notes that "many outsiders, hoping to avert greater bloodshed, find themselves struggling to understand the dangerous dynamics that have long gripped Burundian society.... Burundi is engaged in civil war. Nearly a million of the country's 5.5 million people are either dead or uprooted as refugees or internally displaced people. Ethnic cleansing has occurred, a military coup has unfolded, and the country lacks a legitimate government. Economic sanctions have been imposed by Burundi's neighbors, Burundian society is largely segregated along ethnic lines, and many killings have been defined as 'genocide' by UN investigators and by the U.S. government."

>From Coup to Coup systematically traces how Burundi's eruptions of violence with impunity since independence in 1962 have ingrained societal attitudes of fear and vulnerability that feed the countrys current violence and make reconciliation difficult. A sense of victimization has come to dominate the self-identity of both ethnic groups. "It is possible that large numbers of displaced persons may never feel safe enough to return home," the report says.

The report urges that the world's democratic nations should shoulder a special responsibility to a nation such as Burundi, as it struggles to find a democratic process that gives voice to the aspirations of the countrys majority ethnic group while providing appropritate protection for minority rights. "The stratified power relationships in Burundi must change...," the report states. The country's conflict can only be alleviated if "Burundi society changes the way it governs itself, the way it maintains order, and the way it provides or blocks opportunity for its individual members."

The report recommends that "the international community should facilitate and help mediate negotiations" among all sides in Burundi. "African nations should continue to impose economic sanctions, with support from Western governments, until negotiations occur," the report states. "The mediation effort of former Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere should receive funding and other resources as needed from the United States and other wealthy nations."

The U.S. Committee for Refugees is a non-governmental, nonprofit agency that monitors and provides policy recommendations on crises affecting refugees and internally displaced populations worldwide.

Copies of From Coup to Coup: Thirty Years of Death, Fear, and Displacement in Burundi are available from USCR by phoning 202-347-3507 (attention Raci Say); or fax USCR at 202 347-3418 (attention Raci Say). For more information by e-mail:

U.S. Committee for Refugees, 1717 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Suite 701, Washington, DC 20036.


Burundi: Do the Right Thing [Commentary]

Council on Foreign Relations - September 27, 1996

by Salih Booker

Washington - Since seizing power in Burundi two months ago, Major Pierre Buyoya -- mistakenly described as a moderate by U.S. and other western policymakers and media professionals -- has presided over the killing of more than 6,000 civilians. This represents a five-fold increase in the rate of slaughter in that divided country since the July 25th coup.

While Burundi edges closer to the precipice of the genocidal abyss that claimed nearly one million people in neighboring Rwanda in 1994, the U.S. and its western allies have hesitated over how to respond. Meanwhile Burundi's African neighbors and the Organization of African Unity (OAU) have swiftly imposed full economic sanctions on the junta in Bujumbura.

The reaction of the U.S. and its allies to the new emergency in Burundi will make clear how important the prevention of genocide is to these countries. Given the failure to prevent or stop the genocide in Rwanda, their response in Burundi will also confirm or dispel the belief that western governments operate with a double standard when African civilians are the ones dying by the tens of thousands in conflict situations.

At its core, Burundi's problem is apartheid. Any lasting solution to the conflict must offer a plan to end Tutsi hegemony, or minority rule, while offering guarantees for every citizen's human rights. This is clear to those on the ground and ultimately the future security of the Tutsi minority depends upon the creation of a truly democratic state.

Finding such a durable solution will require the full support of the international community, especially the western powers. Policymakers who assume that Burundi should be left to itself and its neighbors to sort out are captives of a false, dangerous and racist belief that African conflicts are somehow different from those in other parts of the world and therefore do not warrant the same degree of international cooperation to resolve.

The imposition of sanctions against Burundi signals an important turning point. The six states that adopted these measures -- Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Zaire and Ethiopia -- want to force Burundi's new military leaders to restore the national assembly and lift the ban on political parties. The larger aim is to create conditions for talks among all the key participants in the conflict and to establish a cease-fire between government and rebel forces.

The sanctions are beginning to take effect. The economy is in a rapid decline and soon the military junta will be unable to pay its civil servants and its rapidly expanding army. If the military dictatorship doesn't move quickly to restore constitutional rule and establish a cease-fire and a mechanism for all-party talks, additional sanctions will be required. Already an arms embargo should be adopted and applied against both sides of the conflict.

If these pressures succeed in producing negotiations, the talks must then focus on ending minority rule.

The habit among many State Department officials and their European counterparts, of defining the problem in Burundi in terms of "moderates" vs. "extremists" on both sides of the Hutu majority - Tutsi minority divide, is misleading and counterproductive. The bottom line struggle in Burundi is to end the exclusion of 85% of the population from decisionmaking and access to resources, and create a system of democratic majority rule.

The Tutsi minority has legitimate fears of retaliation and genocide at the hands of the long repressed Hutu majority in much the same manner that South Africa's white minority feared black majority rule. But until this minority, which includes both the military and the business elite, is forced to accept a democratic system of governance its continued repressive and deadly rule will sow even more seeds of the tragic future it fears.

If agreement is reached to negotiate a way out of this national nightmare in Burundi, a peacekeeping force will be required to keep the warring parties apart and eventually to oversee a disarmament, demobilization and retraining process aimed at establishing a thoroughly reformed national force.

But if economic sanctions do not produce the desired talks and cease-fire, then a different type of international intervention force under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter will be required to intervene and create the conditions necessary for peace talks.

Other military options such as an international observer brigade or an all-African intervention force are both poor alternatives. The first would be little more than a toothless observer while the second idea should only be considered as a last resort. A truly international peacekeeping or peacemaking force should not be an all-African volunteer force, but rather a blue-helmeted U.N. force like those to which African nations have contributed soldiers -- and lives -- for numerous conflict resolution efforts around the world in places such as Bosnia, Cambodia, and Lebanon.

The prevention of genocide in Burundi requires and deserves external intervention. Sadly, out of some 80 countries asked by the United Nations to lend support for a possible peacekeeping mission in Burundi, only three African states have offered to send troops. Without a change of policy on the part of the U.S. and its western allies, the double standard will be confirmed and an all-African force will become the only option available.

U.S. policy to support economic sanctions and facilitate peace talks doesn't go far enough. While the U.S. must continue to refuse any formal recognition the military regime, it must also prepare to commit financial resources, logistical support and -- yes -- ground troops to an international peacekeeping or peacemaking intervention in Burundi.

The so-called "Somalia syndrome" -- which suggests that Americans won't support sending soldiers on peace missions in Africa -- applies more to policymakers than to the public. The prevention of genocide anywhere is in the national and international interest. The public has the heart to understand this and the stomach to accept the risks involved. This is something that both the President and Mr. Dole should have the courage to acknowledge even in an election year.

[Salih Booker is the Fellow for Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. The Council on Foreign Relations takes no institutional position on policy issues. This article is the sole responsibility of the author.]

Copyright 1996 Council on Foreign Relations.

This commentary was first distributed through Africa News Online (, and is redistributed with permission.


Message-Id: <> From: Date: Wed, 9 Oct 1996 17:41:41 -0500 Subject: Burundi: Recent Documents

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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