Letter: Prevent tragedy in Burundi

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The Independent Online
Sir: The gravity of the situation in Burundi cannot be over-emphasised. The dire tragedy in Rwanda in 1994 means that every effort should be made to ensure that it is not repeated in Burundi.

The members of the United Nations Security Council failed to fulfil their obligations towards the people of Rwanda two years ago, despite the appeals to them by the UN Secretary-General. In Burundi, the UN and many others have worked hard to prevent the outbreak of a major genocidal conflict but the present situation has renewed fears of an horrific tragedy.

The United Nations Association of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has called upon the British government to refer this renewed threat to international peace and security to the Council without delay.

In our view, the Council should do three things

1. Work with the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), Dr Julius Nyerere, the UN Centre for Human Rights and all the parties to the dispute in Burundi in order to establish a dialogue leading to reconciliation, justice and peace.

2. Offer immediately to mount a major initiative - broadly similar to the UN plan for Cambodia of the early 1990s - aimed at conflict prevention and a return to democracy; assisting refugees; promoting Unesco's educational work; ensuring that UN human rights monitors can operate anywhere; deploying adequate numbers of civilian police and military personnel to work with their Burundian counterparts to try and provide better protection for civilians; funding a major economic and social development programme; setting up a UN radio station to provide objective information; seeking ways to end the illegal arms trade; and seriously considering a visit by a group of leading religious leaders.

3. As a standby measure, developing and pledging resources now for a contingency plan to establish a UN enforcement operation with the objective of preventing or stopping genocide. The plan should ensure that the troops involved are fully capable of using the appropriate equipment.

These proposals would prove far less costly than doing nothing and, more importantly, would save thousands of lives.


Director, UN Association of

Great Britain and Northern Ireland

London SW1