Op-ed: For the UN, a chance to show some muscle

Burundi, the landlocked African country, now finds itself on the brink of descending back into civil war and, as a result of this, has been labeled as an “extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States” by US President Barack Obama, according to VICE News.

Tensions began to rise in April 2015, when its current president, Pierre Nkurunziza, made a bid for a third term, despite the two-term limit outlined in Burundi’s constitution. Burundi’s high court cleared Nkurunziza’s candidacy, claiming that since he was appointed – and not democratically elected – for his first presidential term, he could run again. Nkurunziza won reelection in July 2015 amid mass protests, which were met byheavy police resistance. Since Nkurunziza’s reelection, members of the political opposition have been the targets of assassinations and Nkurunziza, in a clear attempt to disarm dissenters, outlawed private gun ownership. Current death tolls are as high as 439 and approximately 240,000 people have fled abroad.

Russian Deputy Ambassador to the United NationsPetr Illichevhas stated that there is a “potential for genocide” in Burundi as a result of this current political unrest, according to an article in Reuters. In order to mitigate any sort of conflict, the United States has proposed to the African Unionsending 5,000 peacekeepers to Burundi, and US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Powers told reporters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia that she expects the AU – of which Burundi is a member – to support the proposal. However, according to an article in Reuters, Burundi has claimed that any peacekeeping deployment will be considered an “invading force.”This could be the first time the AU utilizes its power to intervene in a member state despite the state’s will. The AU has stated that it will seek the backing of the UN Security Council before deploying any peacekeepers.

The AU and the UN have been granted a chance of a lifetime, being able to intervene in a country before it descends into civil war. Historically, peacekeepers have been deployed after open conflict has begun with examples like Mali, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Should they be deployed early, peacekeepers would be able to cool the situation in Burundi and prevent a civil war, proving that the UN has learned from its mistake of failing to act in neighboring Rwanda during the 1994genocide. It has been argued that if the UN had deployed peacekeepers in Rwanda, they would have been able to better protect some of the 800,000 Rwandans that were killed during the genocide that targeted the country’s Tutsi minority. Successful intervention in Burundi could inspire the UN to act in a timely manner in the future and allow the UN to prove that peacekeeping forces can be successful at mitigating conflict. Burundi could be the stepping stone to much more effective peacekeeping operations in the future.