The U.N. Security Council on Friday authorized a 228-member international police force to deploy to Burundi to prevent human rights violations and provide stability for an intra-Burundian dialogue.
The council said it hoped the police presence would help create a positive atmosphere for substantive talks so the country could move beyond its political impasse.
“Given an increase in violence and tension, the Security Council must have eyes and ears on the ground to predict and ensure that the worst does not occur in Burundi,” said French Ambassador François Delattre, whose delegation drafted the resolution.
Violence erupted in April 2015 after President Pierre Nkurunziza sought what many viewed as an unconstitutional third term. Since then, more than 450 people have been killed and 270,000 have fled to neighboring countries.
There has also been an increase in disappearances and acts of torture. In the latest troubling report, Human Rights Watch said this week that the youth wing of the ruling party had been gang-raping women with connections to the opposition.
It is hoped that the presence of U.N. police can deter such human rights violations and provide early warning should the situation escalate.
“But we should not harbor any illusions that this will fix Burundi’s problems. It will only, at best, observe those problems,” U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power told the council.
“Police are not being deployed to protect civilians, even though civilians are in dire need of protection. That should embarrass us,” she added, saying the police were effectively being sent as human rights monitors because that was the most the 15 council members could agree upon.
Government not on board
Nkurunziza told the U.N. in a letter earlier this month that his government would consent to a force that included only 50 U.N. police officers.
Friday's resolution was adopted with 11 votes in favor and four abstentions — from China, Angola, Egypt and Venezuela. These members noted Bujumbura’s lack of consent, saying its cooperation was necessary to make the mission a success.
In April, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon presented the council with three options for Burundi: a force of about 3,000 police; 228 individual police officers; or a smaller deployment of between 20 and 50 police. At the time, he said that only the first option of 3,000 could “provide some degree of physical protection to the population against increased threats.”
The government previously agreed to an increase in African Union human rights observers and military experts to 100 each, but the council noted the significant delays in those deployments. So far, only 32 human rights monitors and 15 military observers have been sent to Burundi.
The resolution strengthens and expands the U.N.’s small political team in Burundi, while authorizing Ban’s office to continue making contingency plans, should the situation deteriorate further.
The council also reiterated its willingness to impose targeted sanctions on those who obstruct the political process and instigate violence, and it urged the government to fulfill its February pledge to release all political detainees and reopen all media outlets.
The 15 members of the U.N. Security Council have made two trips to Burundi in the past year to try to quell the violence, and the U.N. chief traveled there in late February. The visits signal U.N. fears that the country could slip back into another ethnically based civil war, like it saw from 1993 to 2005.