The Burundi Ultimatum

The African Union Tests Its Right to Intervene

A protester sets up a barricade during a protest against Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza and his bid for a third term in Bujumbura, Burundi, May 22, 2015. Goran Tomasevic / Reuters

After rebel forces in Burundi coordinated a round of attacks on military facilities in Bujumbura on December 11, the government began rounding up suspected militants the following day and killing them execution-style on the streets. Dozens died, many of them civilians. The African Union’s Peace and Security Council held an emergency meeting several days later and emerged with an ultimatum for Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza: accept a 5,000-strong peacekeeping force or face more sanctions or even a forcible military intervention. He had 96 hours to decide.

The African Union was one of the guarantors of the 2000 Arusha Accords, a peace agreement that helped settle the country’s decades-long civil war. As such, the union faced a legal, political, and moral responsibility to intervene in Burundi after Nkurunziza decided to run for a third term as president, a move that dramatically raised the risk of returning the country to armed conflict. When

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