Expected Council Action
In November, the Special Representative and head of the UN Office in Burundi (BNUB), Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, will brief the Council. Paul Seger (Switzerland), the chair of the Burundi configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, will also brief.
In line with Burundi’s wishes, the Council adopted resolution 2137 on 13 February, extending the mandate of BNUB for the last time until 31 December.
Key Recent Developments
While BNUB is preparing for its withdrawal, Burundi continues to experience political turmoil ahead of the legislative and presidential elections scheduled for May and June 2015, respectively. (In resolution 2137, the Council asked the Secretary-General to prepare for BNUB’s 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 for the period before, during and after the 2015 elections.)
In the latest BNUB briefing on 6 August, Onanga-Anyanga expressed his continuing concern about deep political divisions in the country, the lack of political dialogue on major national issues and laws restricting freedom of expression. He called on opposition parties to resist the temptation to boycott the elections, as many did in 2010. He added that preparations were underway to withdraw BNUB by 31 December.
Despite public statements by government officials in support of free and fair democratic elections and a code of conduct for the elections that political parties have signed, many continue to criticize Burundi for limiting political participation and for the harassment of the opposition and civil society.
A Bujumbura court on 2 October sentenced Léonce Ngendakumana, the head of the opposition coalition Alliance des Démocrates pour le Changement-Ikibiri (ADC-Ikibiri), to one year in prison for incitement to racial hatred and making damaging allegations and false accusations. Ngendakumana had on 6 February sent a letter to the UN Secretary-General on behalf of ADC-Ikibiri calling on the international community to exert pressure on the government to, among other things, forestall “political genocide”. He accused the ruling party, Conseil National Pour la Défense de la Démocratie–Forces pour la Défense de la Démocratie (CNDD-FDD), of preparations similar to those that took place in neighbouring Rwanda before the 1994 genocide. He also compared the operations of radio station Rema FM to Kigali’s Radio Mille Collines, which in 1994 encouraged and incited violence against the Tutsi. His lawyers denounced the trial as politically motivated and filed an appeal. Ngendakumana has been quoted as saying that “all credible opponents are either in exile, have been prosecuted or have been driven out from their parties”.
Another opposition leader, Alexis Sinduhije, head of the Movement for Solidarity and Development (MSD), is now believed to be in Europe after fleeing because of an arrest warrant in connection with a sporting event on 8 March that turned violent, after the police alleged it was a front for illegal demonstrations. Some of the participants sought refuge in the offices of the MSD headquarters, taking two policemen hostage. Subsequently the activities of the MSD were suspended and 21 MSD members were given life sentences after being found guilty of armed revolt. (For more information see our May 2014 Monthly Forecast).
Under the country’s strict election laws, the government seems to be actively vetting opposition party leaders to prevent them from running. It takes the position that if individuals precluded from running within a recognised political party still wish to participate in the election, they can do so as independent candidates. All candidates, including those recognised by the government are furthermore hampered by strict campaigning timeframes.
In security-related news, an unidentified armed group on 5 October attacked positions of the Burundian army in the Rukoko Natural Reserve in Bubanza Province, near the country’s border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The Forces pour la Libération Nationale’s Nzabampema wing reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack, in which it said six soldiers were killed. An army spokesperson said that one of the attackers was killed and attributed the incident to “armed bandits”. In recent weeks, both the DRC government and the UN Stabilisation Mission in the DRC have confirmed the presence of Burundian troops in the Uvira region of the DRC, in order to secure the common border.
Forty corpses were discovered in July and August, some reportedly bound and wrapped in plastic bags, on the Burundian side of Lake Rweru, which straddles Burundi and Rwanda. The general prosecutor of Burundi said on 14 October that an investigation concluded that the dead were Rwandans, but Rwanda refuted that.
Developments in the PBC
Seger organised a high-level meeting for Burundi and its key bilateral and multilateral partners on 29 September in New York. Among the officials representing Burundi were First Vice-President Prosper Bazombanza and Foreign Minister Laurent Kavakure.
Representatives from Belgium, China, France, Japan, Kenya, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Russia, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, the UK, the US and the EU and the World Bank attended. Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, Onanga-Anyanga and Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović represented the UN.
The meeting’s aim was to review recent developments in Burundi and preparations for a roundtable between Burundi and its partners, scheduled tentatively for 11-12 December in Bujumbura. The objectives of the upcoming roundtable are to take stock of the progress made and challenges remaining in the implementation of the second Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper; review political reforms and pledges made by donors; assess the partnership between Burundi and the international community, particularly in light of the drawdown of BNUB; and, on the assumption that the 2015 elections will be peaceful, open, inclusive and fair, discuss a reinforced cooperation framework between Burundi and its partners in the medium and long term. The outcome of the roundtable would be a joint declaration of renewed and redefined mutual commitments in light of progress achieved and remaining challenges.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 9 October, the Human Rights Committee of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights completed its consideration of the second periodic report of Burundi—the previous report was submitted in 1992. During the discussions, committee experts raised several outstanding issues, including the criminalisation of homosexuality; extrajudicial killings, particularly perpetrated by actors responsible for law enforcement and the government-linked youth wing; trafficking; violence against women; and prison overcrowding. (CCPR/C/BDI/2)
Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, head of the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons, was provisionally released from detention on medical grounds on 29 September. He was arrested on 15 May and charged with endangering state security and inciting public disobedience for his remarks on the radio about allegations that members of the Imbonerakure (the CNDD-FDD youth wing) were being armed by the government and receiving military training in the DRC. The European Parliament on 18 September urged the Burundian government to immediately and unconditionally release Mbonimpa and on 23 September, US President Barack Obama publicly called for Mbonimpa’s release.
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 the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups.
Should the political situation take a significant turn for the worse, an issue for the Council will be how to act quickly and effectively in order to preserve the progress achieved over the past decade and prevent the situation from developing into an acute crisis.
An immediate issue is setting up the proper mechanisms for the UN electoral mission and ensuring that the 2015 elections are free and fair.
One option for the Council, to signal its continuing engagement with and concern about Burundi, is adopting a resolution or a presidential statement that would:
- call on Burundi to ensure an open and inclusive political environment;
- convey readiness to consider extending BNUB’s mandate until after the election if the situation continues to deteriorate;
- signal a possibility of imposing measures such as sanctions against perpetrators or instigators of political violence during the electoral period; or
- call on sub-regional organisations such as the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region to play a more active role in Burundi in light of BNUB’s withdrawal.
Some Council members, such as France and the US, remain concerned about the political tensions and the curbing of political opposition by Burundi’s government, as 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. Several Council members believe that the Council should monitor the situation closely in the lead-up to the 2015 elections and beyond via the electoral mission, there is, however, at this point, little appetite among Council members to take strong measures to address the situation.
The penholder on Burundi is France.
|Security Council Resolutions|
|13 February 2014 S/RES/2137||This resolution extended the mandate of BNUB until 31 December 2014.|
|31 July 2014 S/2014/550||This was the Secretary-General’s report on BNUB.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|6 August 2014 S/PV.7236||This was a briefing by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of BNUB, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga on the Secretary-General’s report on BNUB.|
|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.|