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On Burundi, US Ambassador Power on Mass Graves, Before AU Reversal on Peacekeepers

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 28 -- Before the African Union backtracked on deployment of a peacekeeping force to Burundi, Inner City Press asked first the UN then the US Mission to the UN about the evidence of mass graves in the country.

 On January 31, the US Mission to the UN provided this quote from Ambassador Samantha Power to Inner City Press:

"These reports underscore the futility of trying to cover up such crimes. Perpetrators of atrocities in Burundi must realize that the international community is watching and those responsible for such horrors will be brought to account. The Security Council was just there, ministers of the AU are meeting this weekend to discuss next steps to address a grave and growing crisis, and Burundi is a party to the International Criminal Court. If the government of Burundi wants to prevent more mass graves, there has to be a prompt inclusive political dialogue outside Burundi and a significantly expanded international presence to offer protection inside.”

  Now, there will be no African Union peacekeepers; UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's statements at the AU Summit in Addis Ababa did not evne seem to be pushing for them.

 On January 28, Inner City Press asked UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric about a meeting held but not televised on January 27, at which it was urged that mass grave sites in Burundi be preserved as evidence, video here, transcript here.

On January 29, Inner City Press asked Dujarric again, transcript here:

Inner City Press: on Burundi, I'm sure that you… you and Mr. [Jamal] Benomar have seen this Amnesty International report with photographs and, in one case, video of what they say are these mass graves.  And I wanted to know… I'd asked you yesterday if there's any plan by the UN to preserve such evidence, but now that there's actual… I mean, they've taken photos, but they're not on the ground; they don't have blue passports.  What's the UN going to do about it?

Spokesman Dujarric:  Obviously, the High Commissioner for Human Rights is extreme… is very much aware of these reports.  I think, on 15 January, the High Commissioner had already flagged the possible existence of at least nine mass graves in Bujumbura and its surroundings, including one in a military camp containing about 100 bodies in total of people allegedly killed, I think, around 11 December of last year.  He also said that his office are analysing satellite images in an effort to shed more light on the extremely serious allegations.  The High Commissioner made clear then and remains as clear today that we urgently need an independent, thorough, credible and impartial investigation and that the alleged gravesites need to be safeguarded.  That's it.

  So it's all on Zeid, nothing from Ban Ki-moon.

 On January 27, Inner City Press similarly put questions  about the UN's continued use of Burundian troops as “peacekeepers."

  The UN Spokesperson answered

Inner City Press: On Burundi, given that the government has not responded to, or has blocked, the human rights experts from Geneva, and given the other things said on this podium, what sense does it make for UN peacekeeping to continue to use, and give waivers to Burundian peacekeepers in CAR? Is there a connection between a country’s compliance with the UN’s demands, requests, and in fact paying money, which some say doesn’t even go to the troops, for service in peacekeeping missions?
UN Spokesman Dujarric: Peacekeeping troops, units that serve in peacekeeping missions, undergo various vetting processes that involve the UN and the host country. ?? in cases we have not accepted certain individuals, we’ve also returned battalions in other cases. This will be continued to be looked at on a rolling basis.
 On January 21 Inner City Press in New York learned both of Pierre Nkurunziza plans to parade "community work" for the Security Council members on January 22 and has been provided with a letter promoting same, here.

  On January 22, even after the Council's meeting with Nkurunziza was over, when Inner City Press asked the UN for a read-out there was none, nor any good explanation of why the UN with its country team could not arrange at least an audio stream of the Council's (and Nkurunziza's) press statements.

  Inner City Press asked the head of the Campaign Against the Third Term (“Halte au troisième mandat”) Vital Nshimirimana about the UNSC visit, and why the AU human rights observers are not yet in place. His answers to Inner City Press:

"As for the deployment of the AU Human rights observers, I would recall that the same was decided back in June following the June 13, 2015 Johannesburg Summit on Burundi. Initially, the number was to be about 70 observers but the government refused and allowed a narrow team.

"My thought over the issue is that Nkurunziza has chosen to humiliate everybody in as much as he does not care about any principle or value. So, the AU and other bodies as well choose to deal with him very carefully for he is a man (and a regime) "irrational," likely to commit whatever crime, insult whomever.....

"With regard to the UNSC visit, I hope this is the very last warning towards a kind of regime likely to commit genocide. They are expected to dually and objectively assess the situation and especially the strength and presence of Imbonerakure, the CNDD-FDD militia.... And this was shown through a huge anti- peacekeeping mission mission to Burundi, MAPROBU rhetoric.
Burundians expect the UNSC support the deployment of such a mission in line with the responsibility to protect (Pillar III) since Burundi is no longer able and is unwilling to protect citizens from crimes against humanity (ongoing from April 2015) and genocide (of which dozens of signs suggest that it is likely to happen and some acts are already undertaken).

Lastly, the UNSC is expected to talk with Nkurunziza and the AU as well regarding peace talks. They should assess Museveni's performance, after what conclude that he should be assigned AU and UN teams (to enhance his capacity) or change him.... I commend your endeavors to keep the world informed about the Burundi crisis."

 We'll have more on this -- including in light the UN Deputy Spokesperson's response to Inner City Press that transcripts may be provided.

  Here are parts of an Inner City Press interview with a journalist attacked by the Nkurunziza government and for that reason anonymous:

In English: "It would be better if the Security Council met for example UPRONA leader Nditije Charles, with the non-governmental branch of the UPRONA party) or his Spokesman Thacien Sibomana. The Council should try to meet civil society but  there is almost no one left to really speak with now in Bujumbura. All those still in Bujumbura, they can't say anything about the abuses of authorithies. If it was possible, they should ask to meet the young men in prison. They should see themselves how the government abuses those young men, with tortures... Tell them visit to the prisoners in Gitega (those who are accused to attempting a coup d'etat) UN has the right to visit prisoners."

  Inner City Press note: another source says "the government moved several detainees from the SNR jails. I highly doubt they'd allow a visit to detainees."

 Tellingly, IWACU reports that bike taxi and motorcycle taxi drivers offered money to protest in favor of Nkurunziza weren't, after the fact, paid: here.

    At the January 21 UN noon briefing, Inner City Press asked UN deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq about the "community works" and meeting(s). Video here, UN transcript here:

Inner City Press:  I wanted to ask you this just because I'm trying to cover it, and I know that you'd said yesterday that the Special Adviser, Jamal Benomar, is in Burundi in part of the trip.  So what I wanted to ask you is, I've seen documents that show that the… the… the… tomorrow, the meeting with the President, [Pierre] Nkurunziza, will involve a demonstration of “community work”, i.e., people have been asked to go and I don't know if it's to show how happy they are — Gitega and Karuzi.  Does the Special Adviser… not the Security Council, does the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General believe that this type of… of… of show is the right one and will they be meeting with UPRONA and other opposition groups or prisoners currently in jail?

Deputy Spokesman Haq:  Well, we'll be able to provide details of the meetings once they've taken place.  As you know, the expectation is for the members of the Council to meet with President Nkurunziza.  That hasn't happened so far, but once that's happened, we'll see what the circumstances are and what the views of Mr. Benomar are.

 This is reminiscent of the type of dog-and-pony show Sri Lanka's then President Mahinda Rajapaksa put on for visiting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and that Inner City Press accompanied and covered (apparently not to the UN's and its allies' liking - it has been Banned from trips since.) But will the UNSC, unlike Ban, have the fortitude or leverage to reject a dog and pony show? Watch this site.

On January 19 at the UN, Inner City Press asked Uruguay's Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Jose Luis Cancela, chairing the Security Council debate on Protection of Civilians, about Burundi and the Council's trip. Video here.

  On January 21, Inner City Press and the Free UN Coalition for Access asked UK Permanent Representative Matthew Rycroft about his stop-over on Addis Ababa, "will you as UK meet with AU before heading to Burundi? About AU's proposed deployment?"

   Rycroft replied, "Yes! Looking forward to meeting @AU_Chergui today. Will also return to Addis with whole UNSC after Burundi."

  In Addis, Chergui had filed the Concept of Operation for the MAPROBU peacekeeping mission. We'll have more on this.

  Burundian civil society has written to Ban seeking the repatriation of the country's peacekeepers. Inner City Press has put the letter from Vital Nshimirimana to Ban online here, and will be asking the UN about it. Watch this site.

  On December 30 Nkurunziza threatened to have his forces attack peacekeepers proposed for the country.

Obtained by Inner City Press

Ladsous' lack of vetting was criticized in the recently released report into the cover up of peacekeepers' rapes in the Central African Republic. Earlier, Inner City Press exclusive reported on Ladsous in his October 1, 2015 meeting with Burundi's vice president saying that he is "pragmatic" on human rights.

 On December 16 Inner City Press was banned from questions to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, but learned from the mission MINUSCA that Baratuza was already in Entebbe. Inner City Press asked several Security Council members, then Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric on December17.

Dujarric told Inner City Press Baratuza's deployment is suspended and he is being repatriated: "based on the information we've received regarding the Lieutenant Colonel, his deployment has been suspended, and he will be repatriated back to Burundi." Video here. Dujarric told Inner City Press this shows the UN system working - on a day when a report on rapes was issued showing UN Peacekeeping under Herve Ladsous not sufficiently vetting for human rights. We'll have more on this.

 Amid the escalating killings in Burundi, last weekend's summary executions in neighborhoods opposed to Pierre Nkurunziza's third term stand out. But Burundi Army spokesman Gaspard Baratuza was quoted on December 12 blaming all of the deaths on attempts to steal weapons to free prisoners.

   Inner City Press had heard that Mr. Baratuza was already in the process of being deployed to the UN Peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) even when he was giving these quotes, issuing statements and speaking to state-owned radio, and so asked MINUSCA's acting spokesperson, “Is Gaspard Baratuza of Burundi's army getting a MINUSCA job?”

  On December 16, hours before UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon held a rare press conference, MINUSCA's acting spokesperson sent this to Inner City Press:

"To: Matthew.Lee [at]
From: Vladimir MONTEIRO [at]
Date: Wed, Dec 16, 2015
Subject: ICP question: Gaspard Baratuza of Burundi's army getting a MINUSCA-related post?
Cc: FUNCA [at]

"No decision related to Lt Col Baratuza's deployment can be taken before we finish looking into the matter. We can confirm that Lt Col Baratuza is in Entebbe but he has not yet deployed to MINUSCA.  Regards. VNM"

There are some questions about Baratuza, a Colonel in Burundi's Army, being listed by the UN as “Lt. Col.”

  Despite multiple follow-up questions by Inner City Press, Mr. Monteiro - previously a spokesperson for the UN electoral mission in Burundi - replied that “This is what we can say about this issue.”

   But the UN should have to say more. Inner City Press has repeatedly asked the UN how its Department of Peacekeeping Operations under Herve Ladsous vets those who deploy to UN missions; Inner City Press exclusively reported on an October 1, 2015 meeting in which Ladsous told Burundi's Vice President Joseph Butare that he is “pragmatic” on human rights.

 Ban Ki-moon and his spokesman declined to take Inner City Press' questions on December 16, as they did on December 14. Vine here.  Watch this site.

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