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Burundi: Excessive Police Force Against Protesters

A protestor fuels a burning barricade in the Musaga neighbourhood of Bujumbura, Burundi, on May 4, 2015.

In Burundi, protests broke out on 26 April 2015 after the ruling party announced President Pierre Nkurunziza would seek a third term in office.  Human rights organisation denounced Burundian police using excessive force against protesters and peaceful demonstrators.

It is believed that since demonstrations started in April, at least 60 people have been killed or died from wounds inflicted during demonstrations.  Others have been killed in separate incidents. More than 300 people are injured.  The overall number of dead is probably higher.

Police figures indicate that 892 people were arrested in connection with the protests between April 26 and May 12.

On May 13, some military officers attempted a coup and announced that Nkurunziza had been dismissed.  After heavy fighting, the coup leaders announced on May 14 that their attempt had failed and they would surrender. Following the failed coup, demonstrators resumed their protests in Bujumbura, the capital.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets after the murder of the president of the opposition party on May 23.  Police responded aggressively, with repeated clashes in Bujumbura.  While many protesters were peaceful, some used violence.  Witnesses said police shot demonstrators indiscriminately.  Some were shot in the back as they fled.  Medical staff have treated more than 100 people with serious injuries.

The Secretary-General of United Nations Mr. Ban called on the country’s authorities to avoid the use of excessive force in handling demonstrations. The President (who professed to be a born-again Christian) admitted that there were perhaps policemen who used too much force and others who were misguided.  A spokesman said some policemen had been arrested because “they used live ammunition against demonstrators”.  It was also said that 6 police officers had been killed and at least 126 injured since the protests began.

Medical personnel, journalists, and human rights defenders have received death threats and menacing phone calls, and been intimidated and harassed by the authorities.  Many of them have gone into hiding or fled the country.

A Burundian mother flees into Rwanda to escape violence back home

A Burundian mother flees into Rwanda to escape violence back home

As the current unrest has driven tens of thousands of people to flee the country, the government has postponed parliamentary and presidential elections that were scheduled for this month.

Burundi is a landlocked country in East Africa.  Since independence in 1962 from Belgium she has suffered from warfare, corruption and poor access to education.  She is one of the five poorest countries in the world, with one of the lowest per capita GDPs of any nation globally.  She is also one of the hungriest countries in the world.  80 – 90% of the 11 million population are Christians (mainly Catholic). [HRW, UN, WIKI]

Meditation on Scriptures

“Then the king (Saul) ordered the guards at his side: ‘Turn and kill the priests of the Lord, because they too have sided with David. They knew he was fleeing, yet they did not tell me.’  But the king’s officials were unwilling to raise a hand to strike the priests of the Lord.” (1 Samuel 22:17)

Those who are authorized to use force should learn when they must refuse to obey orders to kill.

Prayer

O God of justice, keep us from pretending rattling guns are simply fireworks display.  Keep us from confusing peace with submission in the face of injustice. Keep us from confusing patience with tolerance in the face of oppression. Grant us true discernment for the sake of your kingdom. Amen.

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