US Ambassador Samantha Power on Friday said that she is going to Africa not just to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide, but to spotlight ethnic killings in the Central African Republic and the potential for violence in Burundi.
Power, a strong human rights advocate, is set to lead the US delegation to the commemoration, starting tonight, of the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. More than 500,000 minority Tutsis and moderate members of the Hutu majority — more than 1 million by Rwanda’s count — were killed by Hutu extremists in the 100-day slaughter.
“We’re trying to ensure that our vigil for those killed in Rwanda is also a commitment to remain vigilant and engaged as the potential for atrocities emerges elsewhere,” she said in an interview.
Power said remembering Rwanda is not enough. The international community must act “whenever, wherever and however we can to prevent similar atrocities from happening elsewhere,” she said.
“In the world today, we’re seeing far too many victims of ethnic and religiously motivated violence and hate,” Power said.
The most striking example today is in the Central African Republic, which has been racked by sectarian killings, “and there’s also the great potential for people in Burundi to become victims in the near future,” Power said.
From Rwanda, Power said she is set to visit neighboring Burundi on Tuesday, where there are “very worrying signs of ethnic exclusion and oppression emerging.”
Burundi’s 16-year civil war, which ended in 2009, had been fought mainly between Hutu rebels and a Tutsi-dominated army, and resulted in the deaths of more than 250,000 people.
Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza, who is seeking a third term despite a constitutional limit of two terms, has been cracking down on the opposition and the media.
“The Burundian president has taken a set of moves internally that we’re very worried about,” Power said. “We’re very concerned that some of the political steps that he’s taking really jeopardize much of what Burundi has built since it endured its own spate of mass killings 20 years ago, then again more recently.”
On Wednesday, Power is scheduled to head to the Central African Republic, on her second trip in less than four months.
The country has been in chaos since a coup in March last year, with the violence splitting the country into Muslim and Christian areas.
Power said the situation “is extremely alarming,” with most Muslims in the capital, Bangui, forced to flee their homes and many killed by armed Christian militants.
The UN is scheduled to take over peacekeeping duties in the Central African Republic from the African Union, but not until Sept. 15, she said.
Until then, Power said, there is a huge amount to be done to protect the Muslims still in Bangui, who feel very vulnerable, to mobilize funding for desperately needed humanitarian aid and to support transitional Central African Republic President Catherine Samba-Panza’s efforts to get the police and civil service back to work.
She said that the 20 years since the Rwanda genocide have changed the way the international community deals with atrocities.
In Rwanda, the international community pulled out UN peacekeepers and there was very little high-level engagement with Rwandan authorities who were perpetrating the genocide, Power said.