Burundi 2015 elections – Fear of impending civil war

27 May 2015 | ResolutionPossible

Pierre_Nkurunziza-World_Economic_Forum_on_Africa_2008

Burundi’s current president Pierre Nkurunziza claims he is eligible to run for presidency again as he was elected by parliament in his first term, meaning that if he wins this election it will only be his second term as president elected by popular vote. The opposition disagrees with this claim and violent protests throughout the country are the result. Photography: Copyright World Economic Forum/Eric Miller under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License.

An earlier post shed light on the tensed situation in Burundi in the run up to the elections next month. The turn of events since then has been dramatic to say the least. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, in his address at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, pointed to the escalating tensions in Burundi in the aftermath of the attempted coup on 13th May and the assassination of an opposition leader, Zedi Feruzi.

It is feared that Burundi is yet again facing an impending possibility of a civil war. According to UNHCR, more than 50,000 Burundians have already fled to neighbouring countries since mid-April this year fearing attacks by the Imbonerakure youth militants (considered loyal to President Nkurunziza). Many have reportedly been killed as part of the anti-protests crackdown in an effort to stifle opposition voices to President Nkurunziza’s contest of a third presidential term. All this has been unravelling amidst a climate of fear in the country where freedom of speech has been forcefully suppressed by alleged supporters of Nkurunziza, especially after the failed coup attempt this month. Attacks on radio stations and newspapers, as also on journalists and human rights defenders seen as sympathetic to the opposition, have prompted a media blackout which ‘has deprived Burundians of all independent national news sources’ according to Human Rights Watch.

The opposition, including General Godefroid Niyombare who had attempted to overthrow Nkurunziza in a failed coup attempt, has been voicing protests against the President’s ‘unconstitutional’ bid for a third term. They see it as a violation of the 2000 Arusha Agreement which founded the political set-up after the end of the civil war in 2005. Even though both the Arusha Agreement and the 2005 Constitution clearly state that the president can serve no more than two terms in office; the anomaly lies in the fact that according to the Constitution, the president must be elected through ‘universal direct suffrage’, i.e. a popular vote. Since Nkurunziza was elected by parliament in his first term, thus, according to his supporters, he is eligible to run for presidency again. The Burundian Supreme Court, too, has upheld President Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term; however, this has been dismissed by the opposition as being politically motivated.

Whatever the outcome of the candidates for the presidential elections in Burundi, the road to the elections themselves has already been scarred by a compelling human rights situation in the country which is increasingly at the brink of a civil war. It would have disastrous consequences for Burundi which is yet to fully recover from the effects of the civil war which had claimed more than 300,000 civilian lives. The international community has voiced concerns over the situation but without much influence. Burundi is facing a human rights crisis against the backdrop of ‘democratic’ elections where it needs active assistance of the international community. There is an urgent need to address the violations occurring in the country so that peace can be restored which is essential for a free, fair and impartial election.

Writing and research – Anubhav Tiwari

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