According to the new German Green Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock the doctrine “Human rights are non-negotiable” should apply to Germa and Western foreign policy. That this is a well-intentioned, idealistic slogan, it is perhaps also clear to her, that this is difficult to achieve, but she sets standards very high and it remains to be seen how far she will have to switch to interest and real politics in the course of the process. A good example of how negotiable human rights are is Burundi. Human rights groups are puzzled by the US decision to lift sanctions against Burundi. The punitive measures in November 2015 were in response to massive human rights violations in Burundi in connection with the third term of President Pierre Nkurunziza and repression against the opposition, including the murder of civilians. In the course of the past year, however, according to the repeal decree by US President Joe Biden on November 18, the situation „changed significantly“
What is meant is the successor to Évariste Ndayishimiye as President of Burundi in June 2020 after Nkurunziza’s death. But only last September, a UN commission of inquiry spoke of a “disastrous” human rights situation that had “worsened”. According to the anti-torture organization Acat-Burundi (Christian Action to Abolish Torture in Burundi), 695 political murders have been committed in Burundi since June 2020 and 1,000 to 2,000 political prisoners are in custody. It was only in October that the EU renewed its sanctions against high-ranking Burundian personalities, according to Interior Minister Gervais Ndirakobuca, President Godefois Bizimana and the head of the secret service, Joseph Niyonzima. In June, the EU ambassador to Burundi, Claude Bochu from France, welcomed “positive developments” in Burundi and announced an end to the European punitive measures.
The US Ambassador Melanie Higgins also announced that US sanctions would be eased in June 2021 when she was received by Burundi’s President Ndayishimiye and spoke to him about a renewed dispatch of Burundian soldiers to the African Somalia reaction force Amisom. The US had already worked on rapprochement with Burundi under the Trump administration: Trump’s special envoy for the Great Lakes Africa, Peter Pham, who was appointed in 2018, took part in the celebrations for Burundi’s independence anniversary on July 1, 2020, sitting between the President and the Burundian Prime Minister Alain-Guillaume Bunyoni, who was on the US sanctions list. There is also great sympathy for Burundi’s regime among US evangelicals, who were very close to President Nkurunziza, who died in 2020. But not only religious considerations play a role.
It is also about the fact that Africa’s only rare earth mine that is currently in operation is in Burundi – Gakara around 20 kilometers outside the capital Bujumbura. 70 percent of the world’s rare earths are mined in China, the USA is urgently looking for alternatives. In 2020, 500 tons of rare earths came from Gakara, the reserves are estimated at over a million. The production license is held by the company Rainbow Rare Earths (RRE) owned by the Cypriot magnate Adonis Pouroulis; On the company’s board of directors is Bill Clinton’s former Deputy Africa Security Advisor, Shawn McCormick. And a month before US Ambassador Higgins spoke out in favor of an end to the sanctions in Burundi, former Trump representative Peter Pham was also appointed to the RRE board. „Peter’s knowledge is of inestimable value,“ said company boss Pouroulis on May 7, 2021.
With US interest behind it, Burundi’s government can now breathe a sigh of relief. In April it suspended mineral exports to force a better distribution of revenues. In July the existing contracts were even suspended in order to renegotiate them. But RRE remains in Burundi: the company has raised £ 6.43 million (€ 7.7 million) on the London Stock Exchange to fund the Gakara mine through the end of 2022. RRE’s main customer is the German ThyssenKrupp, which signed an acceptance agreement with RRE in 2018. Batteries and LED screens for the energy transition are made from Burundi’s rare earths – at the cost of an authoritarian regime as are other criticlal raw materials mined under child labour in Congo and other places. .