Courtesy Alex Proimos/Flickr
This article was originally published by openDemocracy on 30 October 2016.
The news that three African states—Burundi, South Africa and now The Gambia—will quit the International Criminal Court marks a setback in the long struggle against impunity for grave crimes. Although the politics are specific to each country, the common thread underlying each of the three departures is cynical self-interest.
A number of Burundi’s current leaders no doubt fear that the Court, currently conducting a preliminary inquiry, may charge them with crimes against humanity for political violence which has taken the lives of hundreds of civilians and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Indeed, Burundi’s notice of ICC withdrawal immediately followed its suspension of the activities of the UN human rights office to protest a UN report implicating the country’s security forces in massive rights violations.
The Gambia’s president, Yahya Jammeh, who came to power 22 years ago in a military coup and once infamously threatened human rights defenders with death, has been spouting further incendiary rhetoric in the run-up to elections this December. His Minister of Information’s characterization of the ICC as “an International Caucasian Court for the persecution and humiliation of people of color, especially Africans”, seems designed to employ anti-ICC rhetoric to hide the facts of the regime’s ugly record.
A number of machetes, courtesy Rene Passet/Flickr
This article was originally published by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project in May 2016.
As the crisis is Burundi officially enters its second year, the country remains unstable, as dead bodies (often with signs of torture) continue to be discovered throughout various provinces, high-profile assassinations are on the rise, and newly formed armed opposition groups become more active. The conflict has a current reported fatality count of 1,155 between 26 April 2015 and 25 April 2016 (as of the time of publishing); at least 690 of the reported dead (or approximately 60%) are civilians. More than 260,000 people have reportedly fled outside Burundi and thousands have disappeared without trace: approximately 137,000 Burundian refugees have crossed into Tanzania, 77,000 into Rwanda, 23,000 into Uganda, and 22,000 into the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) (UNHCR, 29 April 2016).
In recent weeks, the crisis has become increasingly wide-spread throughout the country and increasingly varied with respect to actors targeted by violence – ranging from security forces, former soldiers, and members of various opposition groups. The consequences of the past year are stark, but the crisis is not materializing into a civil war, a coup, or any other form of instability that is immediately recognizable. Since June 2015, reports have been referring to President Pierre Nkurunziza’s actions as ‘trigger for civil war’ and ‘spiraling into chaos’, yet continue to use the term ‘political crisis’ rather than ‘civil war’ to describe ongoing events in the country ( Al Jazeera, 28 June 2015).
Zanzibar. Courtesy Steven leach
Mediation Perspectives is a periodic blog entry provided by the CSS’ Mediation Support Team and occasional guest authors. Each entry is designed to highlight the utility of mediation approaches in dealing with violent political conflicts.
Governments, researchers, and peacebuilders are constantly looking for ways to translate a renewed focus on and heightened awareness of grassroots knowledge into violence prevention and conflict transformation. At present, particular interest has returned to honing and implementing effective Early Warning/Early Response (EWER) mechanisms, but this quest raises a complex question: Should these mechanisms be community-based and originate at the grassroots level or should they be top-down and established as parts of larger structures? Advocates of the grassroots approach, for example, argue that it strengthens and supports the ability of local communities to anticipate and prevent violent conflict, while advocates of large centralized structures acknowledge the benefits of institutional support and broad mandates. The purpose of this blog is to compare these two approaches and ultimately identify the necessity for balance – both approaches have strengths and limitations.
Current trends in the development field suggest that a bottom-up approach, with its emphasis on local initiative and ownership, might be preferable to other options. After all, violence prevention and conflict transformation efforts at the local level can be highly contextual, which is a good thing. Such efforts can more confidently secure a community’s cooperation and support, and they typically identify more nuanced responses, including those that are sensitive to and incorporate traditional practices as well as involving key actors who are positioned to directly intervene in tense situations.
East African soldiers from Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and Sudan practice counter-IED movement
This article was originally published by IPI Global Observatory on 16 February 2016.
Burundi’s political crisis continues, but it has entered a new phase with the conclusion of the 26th African Union summit on January 31st in Addis Ababa. In a December 2015 Global Observatory article, I analyzed the AU’s novel use of coercive diplomacy in Burundi. This approach came under scrutiny at the January summit, to the point that many consider it a failure. The truth is more complicated.
Before the AU summit, the last decision on Burundi taken by the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) was set out in its communiqué of December 17th last year. Among other things, this seven-page document authorized the deployment of a 5,000-strong African Protection and Prevention Mission in Burundi (MAPROBU). It gave President Pierre Nkurunziza’s government 96-hours to consent to MAPROBU’s deployment, called for the relaunch of the inter-Burundi dialogue between the government and opposition, and for the complete deployment of the 100 human rights and military observers that the AU had authorized in May 2015. The principal goals of the PSC in taking this decision had been to facilitate a political settlement to Burundi’s ongoing crisis and reduce the threat of armed conflict and violence against civilians.
This article was originally published by the IPI Global Observatory on 18 December, 2015.
The African Union Peace and Security Council (PSC) broke new ground yesterday by adopting a communiqué that threatened to launch a 5,000 strong force to protect civilians in Burundi. The communiqué gave the Burundian government 96 hours to consent to the operation or face the scenario of the AU deploying the force anyway. Although Burundi was a member of the PSC—and was actually its designated chair for December 2015—the council utilized Article 8(9) of the Protocol Relating to the Establishment of the PSC (2002) to ask the Burundian delegation to remove themselves from the chamber during the substantive deliberations on this issue.
If the Burundian government consents to its deployment, the force, dubbed the African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi (MAPROBU), will still confront many practical challenges, not least how to stabilize the country and help facilitate a political settlement of the crisis there, which is thought to have killed hundreds of people, mainly civilians, in the past few months. However, if the Burundian government calls the AU’s bluff and refuses to invite MAPROBU onto its territory, this raises an even more fundamental set of challenges for the AU. Whatever happens, this communiqué is a novel form of coercive diplomacy exercised by the AU that raises many important questions for African governments, regional organizations, the United Nations, and other stakeholders in Burundi’s ongoing crisis, not least the country’s citizens. This report briefly discusses five of those questions.