Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 03/2012

Prioritizing Protection from Mass Atrocities: Lessons from Burundi

Gregory Mthembu-Salter, Elana Berger, Naomi Kikoler

September 2011

The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect


Over the course of the past forty years, waves of interethnic conflict in Burundi have killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced over a million more. In 1993 the assassination of Melchior Ndadaye, the country’s first Hutu president, by paratroopers from Burundi’s Tutsi dominated armed forces, set off another round of violence with Hutu militias attacking Tutsi civilians and the armed forces retaliating by attacking Hutu communities. The situation ultimately devolved into a civil war that lasted for more than ten years. In the wake of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda international attention to the situation in Burundi increased and regional states, as well as the United Nations (UN) implemented a range of measures aimed at ending the conflict in Burundi. These measures included the establishment of a mediation process, the threat of the use of force and then the ultimate deployment of a peacekeeping mission, and the authorization of economic sanctions. This report from the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect examines the measures used by the international community in response to the conflict in Burundi between 1995 and 2005. It seeks to identify the lessons that can be learned about preventing and halting mass atrocities. The intervention efforts utilized by regional and international actors were likely key in preventing worse atrocities from occurring in Burundi. However, because the measures were primarily focused on establishing long-term stability in Burundi rather than preventing mass atrocities, for ten years they failed to provide immediate protection to populations from the daily threats of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing.