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Whatever chance there was that the African Union would intervene to stop Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza from systematically killing off his political opposition seems to have evaporated. The reason? Nkurunziza refused to allow the AU to deploy a peacekeeping force inside his borders:
Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurinziza, whose third-term bid began the recent bout of trouble, has always been opposed to the troop deployment.
The AU could have deployed troops without Burundi’s consent as under its charter there is a clause that allows it to intervene in a member state because of grave circumstances, which include war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.
However, it would have been the first time it had taken such a step.
Senior AU diplomat Ibrahima Fall said such a move would have been “unimaginable”.
I’m no expert, but it seems to me that if you go to the trouble of establishing an organization that’s charged with intervening to prevent war crimes, you can’t very well refuse to use it just because the person committing the war crimes would rather you didn’t. And while the AU’s paralysis is terribly news for Burundians who were hoping not to be killed by their own president (who may now, having faced the AU down, be emboldened to intensify his political repression), its implications go beyond Burundi and get to the core of the AU’s raison d’être:
“This is a grave test of AU credibility, and of the continent’s ability to solve its own problems,” Sudanese-British philanthropist and telecom mogul Mo Ibrahim wrote last week in an open letter co-signed by five other entrepreneurs and human rights activists. “Failure to act now would dent the reputation of the institution and those at its helm.”
By that standard, the demise of MAPROBU amounts to a stain on the AU’s legacy. Not only did the Assembly fail to stand behind the ultimatum issued by the AU’s Peace and Security Council (PSC), its main peace and security organ, but it failed to secure an agreement on alternative measures, such as the deployment of investigators or human rights observers, that might have helped de-escalate the conflict in the absence of a peacekeeping mission.
The AU says it will send a delegation to Bujumbura to try to “press” Nkurunziza to accept a peacekeeping force, which I assume would have to go like this?
AU DELEGATES: Accept a peacekeeping force
PIERRE NKURUNZIZA: Hell no, screw you
AU: [pressing on Nkurunziza’s nose or something] uh, but we press you to accept a peacekeeping force
NKURUNZIZA: Wow, in that case it’s cool, come on in
Well, stranger things have happened, I guess.