Expected Council Action
In May, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN Office in Burundi (BNUB), Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, will brief the Council by video teleconference.
In line with Burundi’s wishes, on 13 February the Council adopted resolution 2137, extending the mandate of BNUB for the last time, until 31 December.
Key Recent Developments
In resolution 2137 the Council also asked the Secretary-General to prepare for BNUB’s withdrawal and transfer of responsibilities to the UN country team by that date. Furthermore, in accordance with a Burundian request, the resolution calls on the Secretary-General to establish an electoral observer mission before, during and after the July 2015 elections. As BNUB is preparing for its withdrawal, the last few months have been a time of increasing political turmoil in Burundi.
On 8 March police tried to stop a sporting event alleging it was a front for illegal demonstrations. The situation deteriorated, and some of the participants sought refuge in the offices of the opposition Solidarity and Democracy Movement (MSD) party headquarters, taking two policemen hostage. Several people were injured, and many people were arrested.
On 17 March, Interior Minister Edouard Nduwimana announced that the activities of the MSD were being suspended for four months for incitement to violence and acts of revolt. On 23 March, 21 members of the MSD were given life sentences after being found guilty of armed revolt by a Bujumbura court, 26 were given shortened sentences of between two to 10 years, and 21 were acquitted of any wrongdoing. The whereabouts of the chairman of the MSD, Alexis Sinduhije, are unknown, and he is expected to face charges if apprehended.
Another worrying development is the continued political controversy around President Pierre Nkurunziza’s initiative for constitutional amendments that alter power-sharing arrangements between the Hutu and Tutsi that are fundamental to the 28 August 2000 Arusha Accords. On 21 March, members of the incumbent National Council for the Defence of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) party tabled the constitutional changes in Parliament but fell one vote short of the 85 required to pass the amendments despite holding 81 of the 106 seats in the parliament. CNDD-FDD officials have stated that they may submit the constitutional changes to a referendum after their failed attempt in the legislative branch.
In the background of the constitutional controversy, the three ministers of the Tutsi-led Union for National Progress (UPRONA) party resigned from the Hutu-dominated coalition government after their fellow party member, First Vice President Bernard Busokoza, was sacked from the government on 1 February.
In light of these developments, at the request of the US, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Tayé-Brook Zerihoun briefed Council members on the situation in Burundi on 26 March.
The situation on the ground continued to deteriorate. Of particular concern are reports of increased violent activities by the Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the CNDD-FDD, who are believed to number as many as 1,000. These incidents include beatings, acts of extortion and intimidation of political opponents and the prevention or disruption of political meetings. Media has reported that the CNDD-FDD has been providing the Imbonerakure with machetes, arms and uniforms. On 4 April, in Busiga Commune, Ngozi Province, three MSD members were attacked by the Imbonerakure, which, according to BNUB, brought the number of violent cases implicating the youth wing in 2014 to a total of 29, of which 25 have been politically motivated.
On 6 April, following a meeting in Kigali with First Vice President of Burundi Prosper Bazombanza, the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed strong concerns about reports concerning the activities of youth groups and urged the relevant national authorities to investigate these reports. The Secretary-General also encouraged political dialogue ahead of the July 2015 elections.
Council members were briefed on the situation on 8 April by the head of the Department of Political Affairs, Under-Secretary-General Jeffrey Feltman, who informed the Council about the recent activities of the youth groups. Council members issued a press statement on 10 April, expressing concern over acts of intimidation, harassment and violence committed by youth groups in Burundi and calling for the government to hold the perpetrators accountable (SC/11350).
In a related issue, an internal UN cable from BNUB to UN headquarters was leaked to the media on 9 April. The cable reported that the Imbonerakure were armed with weapons and issued military uniforms in January and February. The cable also stated that the Imbonerakure acted in collusion with the local authorities and with total impunity and were in de facto control in the countryside.
Bazombanza addressed this cable publicly on 16 April, demanding that the UN either provide evidence for these allegations or apologise. In a communiqué released the following day, government spokesman Philippe Nzobonariba denied the accusations as baseless and expressed fear that the opposition may use them as an excuse to boycott the 2015 elections. He also lamented the lack of trust between BNUB and Burundi. The following day, Burundi demanded that the chief security adviser of BNUB, believed responsible for the report in the cable, leave the country. (Since 2006, Burundi has requested the removal of three heads of UN missions to Burundi.)
The Council was briefed again in consultations on Burundi by Feltman, at the request of the US, on 24 April for an update on the situation on the ground. One issue discussed was the leaked cable and information regarding its content.
Developments in the PBC
On 12 March, an informal meeting of the Burundi Configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) took place. The chair of the configuration, Ambassador Paul Seger (Switzerland), spoke of the deteriorating political situation in Burundi and of the need for the PBC to play a constructive and complementary role to BNUB during its wind-down period. He also suggested that he would work to hold a follow-up meeting on the Geneva donor conference of October 2012 with the government of Burundi.
At the request of Burundian government representatives, Seger may visit the country in the second half of May.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 7 March, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay denounced the increase in restrictions imposed on the freedom of assembly and on the press ahead of the 2015 elections. She expressed concern at violent incidents involving members of the youth wing Imbonerakure against political opponents since the beginning of the year, the disruption by administrative authorities of meetings organised by an opposition party in February and the introduction of new laws creating disproportionate restrictions on peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. She also expressed concern about the authorities’ preventing the Bujumbura Bar Association from holding a workshop on the new law on public gatherings on 18 February.
The key issue is ensuring that, despite the upcoming withdrawal of BNUB, the security and political situation in Burundi does not deteriorate further after recovering from a history of ethnic violence between Hutu and Tutsi. A particular concern is ascertaining the facts and addressing the operations and armament of youth groups.
A further issue is addressing the role of the PBC in Burundi, especially in light of BNUB’s scaling down and eventual termination.
The Council could adopt a decision that would:
- condemn violence by youth groups and call on the government to hold accountable those who are responsible for the violence;
- express alarm over reports of increased political turmoil in the country and urge the government to ensure an open and inclusive political environment; and
- convey its intent to consider further measures, such as sanctions, if the situation continues to deteriorate.
Due to recent developments on the ground, many Council members are concerned that these are the first signs of what may be a relapse into the horrendous ethnic and political violence that plagued the country in the past. These events come just after the adoption of resolution 2137 by the Council, which called for the termination of BNUB by the end of the year at the request of Burundi and before the expected elections in July 2015, despite the view of the Secretary-General and several Council members that BNUB should stay in place, as the situation is stable yet fragile. Furthermore, given that on 16 April, marking the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, the Council adopted resolution 2150 on the prevention and fight against genocide, members may be particularly keen on reacting early to any signs of possible ethnic violence.
Some Council members, such as the UK and the US, are of the view that in order to prevent future violence, the Council should monitor the situation closely and apply pressure on Burundi to address the security and political concerns. At this point it seems that no enforcement measures are being contemplated, but this might change if the situation continues to deteriorate.
The penholder on Burundi is France.
UN Documents on Burundi
|Security Council Resolution|
|13 February 2014 S/RES/2137||This resolution extended the mandate of BNUB until 31 December 2014.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|28 January 2014 S/PV.7104||This was the latest briefing by Onanga-Anyanga and Seger.|
|13 February 2014 S/PV.7110||This was the meeting during which resolution 2137 was adopted.|
|Security Council Press Statement|
|10 April 2014 SC/11350||This was press statement expressing concern over acts of intimidation, harassment and violence committed by youth groups in Burundi.|