The United Nations Human Rights Council ended its session on Friday, 3 July, and called attention to two new country situations which require strong efforts to limit violence and on-going violations of human rights: South Sudan and Burundi.
The UN human rights bodies had been concerned with Burundi before at the time of large scale killings, and the UN had helped to develop the 2005 Arusha Peace Agreement creating a new and more inclusive structure of government for Burundi. The Arusha compromises led to some years of relative peace. The Peace Agreement was in part based on an agreement on “term limits” − the president of the country would be limited to two terms. However, being in power can become a habit, and the current President Pierre Nkurunziza has decided to run for re-election to a third term claiming that for the first term he had not been elected by popular vote but chosen by the Parliament − thus he could be elected twice by popular vote.
The legalistic reasoning was lost on most people who only saw a third term coming up. Thus the decision led to violent protests in the capital Bujumbura, to a failed military coup on 13 May, to repression by the military loyal to the President, and to a large refugee flow to Rwanda and the Congo by people fearing that the worst is to come.
The administration of President Nkurunziza, while providing relative stability and lack of violence, has done little for the socio-economic development of the country. Many people would welcome change. However, Nkurunziza has prevented the development of a well-organized political opposition. There are currently 17 groupings calling themselves “political parties”. Most have called for a boycott of the elections. These opposition parties have been unable to mount a campaign of debates on issues or to present candidates with a country-wide following.
The election is to be held on 15 July, and all points to a re-election of Nkurunziza. The danger is that the post-election period will be filled with protests and street violence. The weak administration may turn to the military to keep “order”. The best one can hope for is continued stagnation of socio-economic development in relative calm. However storm warning flags must be posted. The danger of violence is real, and relatively few people are working for what could be a reasonable compromise: the President leaving power but with someone from his inner circle replacing him. A situation to watch.