Expected Council Action
In August, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN Office in Burundi (BNUB), Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, will brief the Council. The chair of the Peacebuilding (PBC) Burundi configuration (Switzerland) will also brief.
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
While BNUB is preparing for its withdrawal, the last few months have been a time of increasing political turmoil in Burundi. (In resolution 2137, the Council requested the Secretary-General to prepare for BNUB’s transition and transfer of responsibilities to the UN Country Team by 31 December. As requested by Burundi, the resolution calls on the Secretary-General to establish an electoral observer mission before, during and after the July 2015 elections.)
In a Council briefing on 14 May (S/PV.7174), Onanga-Anyanga focused on BNUB’s “Joint Transition Plan”, developed in coordination with Burundi, the PBC Burundi configuration and international partners. The plan tracks progress in the benchmarks established in priority areas, maps the international community’s support to Burundi and identifies possible gaps resulting from BNUB’s closing. It also seeks to enable BNUB to scale down its activities gradually while the UN Country Team increases its capacities in priority areas and the mission continues to implement its mandate as set by the Council. Onanga-Anyanga highlighted several concerns, including the outbreak of politically motivated violence in recent months (see our May 2014 Monthly Forecast), which has resulted in a tense climate, and said there was a need for political dialogue and an end of impunity for violent acts.
Ambassador Paul Seger (Switzerland), the chair of the PBC Burundi configuration, also briefed the Council, highlighting the political tension in the country, exacerbated by the legal limitations placed on free speech and association. He added that while Burundi had made considerable progress towards stability over the last years, momentum had to be maintained in order to avoid a relapse into sectarian violence.
On 2 June, following their visit to Burundi the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General to the Great Lakes Region, Mary Robinson; the US Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Russ Feingold; the Special Representative of the AU for Burundi and the Great Lakes Region, Boubacar Diarra; and the EU Senior Coordinator for the Great Lakes Region, Koen Vervaeke, issued a joint statement. The envoys met with President Pierre Nkurunziza and other government officials, representatives from the ruling and opposition political parties and civil society and expressed concern over constraints on political space and civil liberties that hinder the efforts of the opposition, civil society and the media in the run-up to elections in 2015. They stressed that political parties must have an equal opportunity to participate in the process and that any effort to prevent meetings, intimidate participants or undermine the opposition jeopardises the process and runs counter to the government’s expressed commitment to democracy.
The AU Commissioner for Peace and Security, Smail Chergui, visited Burundi in mid-June and met with Nkurunziza. According to the AU, Chergui underlined the need for greater political inclusivity ahead of the 2015 elections. Nkurunziza assured Chergui that he will not allow any individual or group to intimidate other parts of the population.
The government of Burundi, the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) and other political parties and actors signed a code of conduct for the 2015 elections on 9 June. After that, BNUB called on all stakeholders to sensitise their constituencies, especially youth, to respect civil and political rights and to reject all forms of violence in the conduct of their political activities. Nevertheless, the opposition has continued to accuse the incumbent National Council for the Defence of Democracy-Forces for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) party of distributing arms to the Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the CNDD-FDD, in order to spread terror among the electorate and force them to vote for the ruling party. According to BNUB, since the beginning of the year through early July, 49 politically motivated incidents involving the Imbonerakure have been documented.
Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović briefed Council members in consultations on 10 July on his 25-27 June visit to Burundi. Onanga-Anyanga also briefed via video-teleconference. Šimonović had met with local officials, international representatives and civil society groups. At a press conference held in Bujumbura at the end of the visit, he noted his deep concern regarding recent developments, including the growing restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. He expressed his concern about politically motivated violent attacks by the Imbonerakure on political adversaries and called on the government to hold those responsible accountable.
Addressing the Council, he raised these concerns while also emphasising that a further cause for worry was the deep divide between political parties and that certain pieces of legislation, such as the new law on the truth and reconciliation commission and the new land law on the Commission Nationale de Terre et Autres Biens, could potentially shift political divisions back towards ethnic conflict if they are not implemented in an unbiased and fair manner. Onanga-Anyanga spoke about the need to maintain a monitoring role for the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights in Burundi following BNUB’s departure.
Developments in the PBC
Seger undertook a visit to Brussels, Paris, Bujumbura, Kigali and Arusha from 21-31 May. In Burundi, he met with Nkurunziza, opposition leaders, civil society representatives, Onanga-Anyanga and senior staff of the UN Country Team. He stressed that the international community’s attention to political developments in the country is a sign of concern over its sliding back into widespread violence and of a strong will to see Burundi prosper.
Seger briefed the steering committee of the Burundi configuration on his trip on 10 June, noting his concerns about political tensions in the country, though he took the view that they are political, not ethnic, at this point, and that opposition parties are committed to participation in the elections despite the challenges they face. He stressed the need for the international community’s continuing engagement with the government.
Seger has also been working with Burundi on organising a roundtable with international partners before the end of 2014 to discuss political and socio-economic developments in the country since the October 2012 Geneva donor conference, including the implementation of the second poverty-reduction strategy paper. The aim of the roundtable is to achieve common conclusions and recommendations on the way forward.
On 9 June, the Burundi configuration received a briefing from Šimonović on his recent trip to the country.
Human Rights-Related Developments
Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, the president of the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons, was arrested on 15 May in Bujumbura. He was charged the following day with endangering internal and external state security and inciting public disobedience for remarks he made over the radio on 6 May. The remarks related to allegations that members of the Imbonerakure were receiving military training in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mbonimpa has since remained in pre-trial detention. His trial started on 4 July. On 30 May, Stéphane Dujarric, the spokesman for the Secretary-General, called on the Burundi to observe the right to due process, expressing concern about the continued restrictions on civil liberties for members of opposition political parties, the media and civil-society organisations ahead of the 2015 elections. During his briefing to the Council on 10 July, Šimonović raised this issue as well after visiting Mbonimpa in prison.
The key issue is ensuring that, despite the upcoming withdrawal of BNUB, the security and political situation in Burundi does not deteriorate further given the history of ethnic violence between Hutu and Tutsi.
A particular issue is setting up the proper mechanisms for the UN electoral mission and ensuring that the 2015 elections are free and fair.
A further issue is addressing the role of the PBC in Burundi, especially in light of BNUB’s scaling down and eventual termination.
Options for the Council regarding BNUB include:
- adopting a presidential statement or press statement condemning violence by youth groups and calling on Burundi to hold those who are responsible for the violence accountable and to ensure an open and inclusive political environment;
- issuing a statement conveying its intent to consider further measures, such as sanctions, or extending BNUB’s mandate until after the election if the situation continues to deteriorate; or
- taking no action at this time.
Since the adoption of resolution 2137, Council members have followed the situation closely through briefings. (There were four such briefings—on 26 March, 8 and 24 April and 10 July—of which two were at the initiative of the US, one was at the initiative of France and one was at the initiative of the UN Secretariat.) 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 on the government to hold the perpetrators accountable (SC/11350).
Due to recent developments on the ground, many Council members are concerned that these may be the first signs of what could be a relapse into the horrendous ethnic and political violence that plagued the country in the past. Council members agree that in order to prevent future violence and to ensure that the 2015 elections run smoothly, the Council should monitor the situation closely and apply pressure on Burundi to address the security and political concerns. However, there seems to be little appetite at this point among Council members to take strong measures to address the situation.
The penholder on Burundi is France.
UN DOCUMENTS ON BURUNDI
|Security Council Resolutions|
|13 February 2014 S/RES/2137||This resolution extended the mandate of BNUB until 31 December 2014.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|14 May 2014 S/PV.7174||This was a briefing via video-teleconference by the Special Representative and head of BNUB, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, and by the chair of the Burundi configuration of the PBC, Ambassador Paul Seger.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|10 April 2014 SC/11350||This press statement expressed concern over acts of intimidation, harassment and violence committed by youth groups in Burundi.|