Burundi: For me, Silence is not an option

Posted: November 10, 2015
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As I write this, I have just returned from participating in an annual Kristallnacht commemoration program. Unlike previous persecution and murder of Jews, Kristallnacht, otherwise known as the night of broken glass and which took place on November 9 to 10 of 1938, is viewed by many Holocaust scholars as the final and clear warning that Germany would persecute Jews publicly and without mercy.  The dehumanizing language of Nazi Germany to Jews and the violence of Kristallnacht was the final step before the Holocaust. Despite that most clear warning however, the world remained silent and the horrors of the Holocaust as we know them today unfolded.

Decades later in April of 1994, as a child in my native country of Rwanda, I listened on the radio as ethnic Hutu extremists referred to members of my Tutsi ethnic group as the enemy of the state and called us cockroaches needing to be exterminated. Soon after that, I watched helplessly as men, women, and children including my own parents, all six siblings and most members of my extended family were brutally murdered.

During the 100 days of genocide in Rwanda, I prayed everyday and night that the rest of the world would learn about our dire situation, and I was convinced that once the news of the daily murders got out, the international community would act promptly and come to our rescue. But like the Holocaust, the international community failed to heed clear warnings of the genocide and because of that, I and thousands of other children became genocide orphans.

As a genocide survivor, I have vowed never to be silent in the face of warnings about a potential genocide or other forms of mass atrocity crimes.

Today, as I read about the daily horrors and sense of fear that have engulfed the people of Burundi, a country that is a direct neighbor to my native country and share similar ethnic demographics, I know that for me silence is not an option.

For months now, those of us following the news from Burundi, have been reading about grave human rights violations including threats, torture and killings of people who are considered to be in opposition to the current government and are viewed as the enemy of the state.

What is even more alarming in the recent days is that a number of Hutu politicians have began playing the ethnic card, a dangerous ingredient in a country and region with a history of ethnic based massacres. Political problems which arose after the current President, Pierre Nkurunziza, decided to run for a third term against the will of many people, have been framed along ethnic lines, Hutu vs. Tutsi, causing many to be targeted simply because of who they are.

The latest incendiary speech was made by Reverien Ndikuriyo, the President of Burundian Senate, in which he called on government supporters to “pulverize” and “exterminate,” those who are supposedly opposed to the government, referred to members of the opposition as “good only for dying,” and called on the Imbonerakure, a government armed Hutu youth-wing  “to go to work,” the same euphemism which was used in Rwanda in 1994 to mobilize the Interahamwe or the mainly youth wing which carried out many of the Tutsi killings.

To date, members of the UN Security Council, the African Union as well as members of the East African Community have already expressed grave concerns about the current situation in Burundi and have made statements condemning the ongoing intimidation, torture and killings. However, the time has come to do more than make statements or pass resolutions simply condemning the killings.

I have close friends within the Burundian diaspora and each day, I am bombarded by the terrible reports from their families back home. The climate of fear has increased as the government has recently vowed to send security forces to search for weapons in the homes of those supposedly in the opposition, and the death count continues to rise. Things are going from bad to worse on a daily basis.

If there is one thing the history of genocide and mass atrocities has taught us, it is that today’s leaders must heed the warnings and must act promptly if they are to be judged any differently than past leaders.

In the case of Burundi, the time to act more decisively is now. The warnings are clear and a stronger action is needed on the part of regional and international bodies to ensure that further and worse violence is averted.  And until that happens, I will continue to make phone calls, write emails, help to organize awareness programs and use social media and all other outlets available to me to raise awareness and call for the protection of innocent civilians in Burundi, who deserve nothing less than peace and security.  I cannot and will not be silent.

Category: News

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