Ius Gentium

University of Baltimore School of Law's Center for International and Comparative Law Fellows discuss international and comparative legal issues


Burundi: All the Makings of Genocide

John Rizos

Walking through a cornfield you come across a corpse with the heart removed. Further down, by the outskirts of the city, you notice a body in the drainage canal. It appears to have been there for a few days. This is not an episode of “The Twilight Zone”, but rather some of the sights in Burundi, a place where the term genocide is gaining more traction in describing the situation [1]. The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as, “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”[2]

On Monday, March 14, 2016, the European Union (EU) decided to suspend aid to Burundi’s government following a political crisis, which has resulted in more than 400 deaths and 240,000 refugees to neighboring countries within the last year. The crisis stems from the illegal third term of Burundi’s President, Pierre Nkurunziza[3].

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Pierre Nkurunziza is a former Hutu rebel leader and is the current the leader of the National Council for the Defense of Democracy–Forces for the Defense of Democracy (FDD). He was voted into office by parliamentarians in 2005 and was reelected in 2010. Since then, he has shown signs of authoritarianism by planning attacks on opposition and placing pressures on media[5]. In July 2015, he was reelected for a third term amidst suspicions of poll fraud[6]. Burundi’s Constitutional Court ruled in Nkuruziza’s favor and stated that his first term did not count because he was elected by the country’s parliament, and not directly by citizens. In response to the reelection and the Court’s decision, attacks by rebel groups and protests have increased in the last six months[7]. The government has responded with systematic violence, torture, and imprisonment.

Although the EU has promised to cut financial aid, it will not put a stop on humanitarian aid. Figures from 2014 indicate that the last installment of financial aid was around $68Bn, of which an approximate $16Bn went directly to the government[8]. However, the EU promised to maintain funding projects for basic services and emergency assistance[9].

The EU is keen on upholding the terms in the Cotonou Agreement with Burundi. The agreement was made to safeguard and promote human rights, democratic principles, and the rule of law between the European Community and the African, Caribbean, and Pacific Group[10]. Article 96 of the agreement outlines a consultation proviso with procedures for solving human rights issues covered by the agreement. The EU and Burundi began consultations in December 2015[11]. The consultations resulted in a stalemate as the government of Burundi showed insufficient measures in addressing the state’s violation and securing a progressive plan[12]. The EU Foreign Policy Chief stated that the bloc would resume direct aid once concrete measures were taken by the government[13]. The EU also demands Burundi to release more than 2,000 prisoners, to lift social media restrictions, and to allow the UN to investigate political violence[14].


Further, the government has been labeling protesters as terrorists and instructing the police to use all force necessary to quell protests. Security forces have been staging execution-style killings of citizens and sending anonymous threats to families of those suspected of protesting against the government[15].Yet, the government has denied any sign of systematic violence. One of Nkurunziza’s spokespeople has accused the opposition of killing innocent people in order to garner international sympathy and attract attention to overthrow the government[16]. However, satellite images indicate five possible locations of mass graves,[17] which, based on Amnesty International, are likely the result of “…deliberate effort by authorities to cover the extent of killings by their security forces…”[18]

Both, the EU and Burundi’s government, have reacted by not calling the situation, “genocide.” The EU, as the main proponent and signatory of the Cotonou Agreement, has not rushed to label the situation genocide. If the EU were to call it genocide, it would force the member states to take action in attempting to prevent or further investigate the situation[19]. Yet, although killings may seem systematic, it is likely too soon to make the call for genocide and there are is insufficient evidence of the government targeting one specific group. Alternative diplomatic methods are preferred before actual interference; suspending financial aid is one such method. However, we see the “teeth” that the European Union is able to exhibit. The EU can suspend financial aid at once, while still fund and create projects without the government’s consent. It can trump sovereignty while abiding by humanitarian principles.

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Nkurunziza’s administration has acted strategically in order to avoid the situation being branded as “genocide.” Although the government’s actions are likely to be deemed systematic and illegal, the killings have been spread out, limited to smaller settings, and have been done indiscriminately against alleged protesters. However, in recent trends, large-scale violations are not needed for the international community to intervene, especially if assessments/investigations show early warning signs of genocide[21]. IGOs and NGOs have been able to intervene in every facet of life and can raise awareness about any topic through improved methods. Actions by the Burundian government have been noticed internationally and officials have compared them to the Rwanda Genocide[22]. Even a Senior Burundian Political Analyst has recognized that the EU’s “muscle” coupled with unprecedented NGO involvement will bring the demise of Nkurunziza by stating, “The President has no chance. He knows human rights groups are recording all the extrajudicial killings, assassinations, torture. He knows he’ll be arrested in the end by an international tribunal so he wants to achieve as much as he can.”[23] Although the process of handling genocide may seem slow, such assurance, by a native analyst nonetheless, shows that the EU and the UN have greatly improved genocide prevention methods and persecution of responsible criminal officials within the last 20 years.

John Rizos is a 2L at the University of Baltimore School of Law. He has an interest in human rights and international criminal law. In addition to being a CICL Fellow, he is the Secretary for Phi Alpha Delta. He graduated with honors from Towson University with a BA in International Studies (2013). He has interned at the Press Office of the Greek Embassy in Washington, D.C. and the International Civil Advocacy Network (ICAN), a non-profit organization advocating for women’s rights in the Middle East.

[1] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/burundi-election-president-pierre-nkurunzizas-victory-has-reignited-fears-of-genocide-like-that-a6734026.html

[2] http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CrimeOfGenocide.aspx

[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/15/world/africa/european-union-suspends-aid-to-burundi-over-political-crisis.html

[4] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13085065

[5] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13085065

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/15/world/africa/european-union-suspends-aid-to-burundi-over-political-crisis.html

[9] http://www.dw.com/en/eu-cuts-financial-aid-to-burundi-government/a-19115523

[10] http://www.europarl.europa.eu/document/activities/cont/201306/20130605ATT67340/20130605ATT67340EN.pdf

[11] http://reliefweb.int/report/burundi/burundi-eu-closes-consultations-under-article-96-cotonou-agreement

[12] Id.

[13] http://www.dw.com/en/eu-cuts-financial-aid-to-burundi-government/a-19115523

[14] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/15/world/africa/european-union-suspends-aid-to-burundi-over-political-crisis.html

[15] Id.

[16] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/burundi-election-president-pierre-nkurunzizas-victory-has-reignited-fears-of-genocide-like-that-a6734026.html

[17] http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/burundi-govt-58-people-buried-notifying-families-37547395

[18] Id.

[19] http://www.eurojust.europa.eu/Practitioners/Genocide-Network/Pages/Genocide-Network.aspx

[20] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/burundi-election-president-pierre-nkurunzizas-victory-has-reignited-fears-of-genocide-like-that-a6734026.html

[21] http://www.un.org/en/preventgenocide/adviser/responsibility.shtml

[22] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/burundi-election-president-pierre-nkurunzizas-victory-has-reignited-fears-of-genocide-like-that-a6734026.html

[23] Id.

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I Always Feel Like Somebody’s Watching Me

Ali Rickart

TRIAL, short for Track Impunity Always, does just that. The Swiss organization was founded in 2002 as a way to track and watch international persons that have allegedly committed crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture, and more. The association has consultative status before the United Nations Economic and Social Council and is an apolitical organization. After being inspired by the capture of Pinochet in 1998 and the subsequent establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2002, the goals of TRIAL are to “put the law at the service of the victims of international crime.”[1] TRIAL wants to fight impunity, defend the victims of international crimes, and raise awareness of the crimes and perpetrators to show the need for coherent and effective national and international justice systems.


There are several areas in which TRIAL works: litigation, lobbying, informing the public, and research. Through these different areas, TRIAL works with people around the globe to successfully meet its goals. The litigation process has three different methods for pursuing international criminals and helping victims. First, the Advocacy Center TRIAL (ACT) works on filing complaints before international human rights bodies, to help victims of crime achieve justice. The second method is to distribute information to victims of armed conflicts and what legal methods they have to promote their right to justice. Third, TRIAL will actually file complaints in Swiss courts “against individuals present on Swiss territory suspected of international crimes.”[2]

TRIAL regularly lobbies with Swiss and international authorities, as well as working with the Swiss Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CSCPI). The research includes ICC Legal Tools, a digital library, which gathers, analyzes, and classifies documents of the 46 countries on national legislation and practice in relation to crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC.  In collaboration with Pro Juventute, TRIAL is working on a video game project, showing the connection between video/computer games and international humanitarian law. The idea was created by TRIAL, but the study received an encouragement award at the 2007 International Human Rights Forum in Lucerne. Recently, TRIAL received the “Geneva grateful” medal (médaille “Genève reconnaissante”) on behalf of the Mayor of Geneva. If you can speak French, the link to the article is posted here.

TRIAL is also a partner organization of the Center for International and Comparative Law (CICL), allowing CICL Student Fellows at the University of Baltimore School of Law to work on profiles as a part of the TRIAL Watch Project.

The TRIAL Watch Project – Informing the Public of International Criminal Law Perpetrators

Informing the public is one of TRIAL’s biggest goals and biggest projects, which is done through TRIAL Watch. Its website is a database compiled of profiles of perpetrators and instigators of international crimes. They also distribute a trilingual TRIAL Journal, printed three times a year. Each day, a summary of news in international criminal law and the fight against impunity in the world is placed on the website and sent to subscribers once a week. As a way to become more known, TRIAL Watch organizes public discussions, lectures, and film screenings as well as  ‘actions’ on important days of the year such as International Justice Day (July 17) and International Day of the Missing (August 30).


The profiles that are shown on the website of TRIAL Watch are drafted by volunteers and in up to four languages – English, French, Spanish, and German.[3] The profiles include pertinent information such as the criminal’s name, aliases, status (indicted, sentenced, acquitted, etc.), position, as well as what they have allegedly done. Below each brief set of facts and information is a detailed profile including specifics as to the crime and the person, including the facts, the legal procedure, and the context in which the crime occurred (such as the Sierra Leone civil war or Bangladeshi Liberation War, for example).

The profiles also try to include photographs of the alleged criminal and their last known whereabouts. If possible, links to relevant documents are also included such as case documents, United Nations Security Council resolutions, books, judgments, and other related documents. This can help further research by anyone who wants more information on the person, the crime, or the case. It is also possible to be subscribed to a particular profile, in order to be informed if any updates are made on the profile. TRIAL Watch regularly updates all profiles if any new events, charges, indictments, sentencing, etc., occurs to an alleged criminal.

As a Fellow of the CICL and assigned to the TRIAL Watch team, I draft articles of alleged international criminals such as Sladjan Cukaric and Miodrag Josipovic. I have also drafted an update for Maulana Abdus Subhan, as part of the initiative to keep all profiles as current as possible, to help those tracking criminals and their progress through their respective judicial systems, stay up to date on information. It can be hard work, there is not always a lot of available information on people or what little information there is often comes from foreign sources that must be translated and checked for accuracy. The impact TRIAL Watch has on citizens of nations all around the world is worth every second of the work.

If you are interested in international criminal law or international humanitarian law, you can become a volunteer, donate, and become a TRIAL Watch member. You can also join the CICL Fellows program and work on the TRIAL Watch team! It’s absolutely possible to work on international law right here in Baltimore!

Alexandra Rickart is a second-year student at the University of Baltimore School of Law, planning to graduate in May 2016 with a concentration in International Law. She graduated from the University of Missouri in 2013 with a B.A. in Communication and a minor in Business. Her primary interests include international law, international criminal law, and domestic criminal law.

In addition to being a CICL Fellows, she is the Secretary of the International Law Society and a Staff Editor for the University of Baltimore Journal of International Law. She competed in the 2014-15 Jessup International Moot Court Competition, Mid-Atlantic Region. During her first year of law school, she was a tutor for Baltimore elementary students as part of the Truancy Court program through the Center for Families, Children and the Courts. Alexandra is currently a law clerk for a criminal defense firm in Baltimore.

[1] Introduction, TRIAL, http://www.trial-ch.org/en/about-trial.html.

[2] Introduction, TRIAL, http://www.trial-ch.org/en/about-trial.html.

[3] The website itself, as a whole, can be translated into one of these four languages by a convenient button on the top right hand of the screen.