Expected Council Action
In November, the Council will be briefed by the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Jamal Benomar, on his recent meetings in the region and on the Secretary-General’s report on the situation in Burundi.
Key Recent Developments
The situation in Burundi, which developed after April 2015 when incumbent Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza announced that he would run for a controversial third term, remains dire. While the number of casualties has subsided and the security situation has improved, serious human rights abuses continue on a daily basis with impunity, mainly committed by the government. The overall level of oppression and control over Burundian society has increased, manifested by arbitrary deprivations of life, enforced disappearances, cases of torture and other forms of ill-treatment and arbitrary detention on a massive scale. Furthermore, these actions are taking place in an environment where freedoms of expression, association and assembly are virtually non-existent.
On 23 September, the UN Refugee Agency announced that the number of refugees “fleeing violence, threats, extrajudicial killings, abduction, torture and persecution in Burundi has passed the 300,000 mark”, and is likely to continue to rise.
On the political front, there seems to have been no headway in the Inter-Burundian Dialogue, led by the East African Community (EAC) and facilitated by former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa.
In an attempt to address the situation, the Council adopted resolution 2303 on 29 July, authorising a police component with a ceiling of 228 officers to monitor the security situation and support the human rights monitoring of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), headed by a senior police adviser and under the authority of Benomar’s office. The Secretary-General was requested to take the necessary steps for the protection of UN personnel and facilities, including the police component, in consultation with Burundi. Adopted under Chapter VI, the resolution urged Burundi to cooperate fully with the police component, including giving unhindered access to detention facilities. At the same time, the resolution took note of the fact that Burundi had only consented to the deployment of 50 police officers for training the local police.
The resolution further requested the Secretary-General to strengthen the Special Adviser’s office with additional political officers, and to report back to the Council within 30 days on proposals to enable the UN to facilitate the deployment of the 200 AU-authorised human rights observers and military experts, and on ways for the police component to cooperate with the AU deployment.
In a 19 September letter to the Secretary-General responding to the resolution, Burundi rejected both the deployment of any force on its territory and the expansion of the Special Adviser’s office, noting that the resolution could not be implemented without its consent. Burundi has continued to maintain this position.
In accordance with resolution 2303, the Secretary-General reported on 19 September that the AU had deployed 47 human rights observers and 23 military experts to Burundi (out of an authorised 200), all of whom were operating in Bujumbura. He added that because of financial and logistical constraints and security concerns, the AU had not been able to operate fully throughout the country and deploy the available additional personnel. Furthermore, little progress had been made towards the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the AU and Burundi regarding the terms of deployment, though the AU reported that the movements of those currently deployed had not been restricted. The Secretary-General proposed that the Council authorise him to provide a targeted logistical support package for the AU deployment.
The AU Peace and Security Council discussed Burundi on 6 October. It called for the resumption of the Inter-Burundian Dialogue under the aegis of the EAC. It further urged Burundi to sign a MoU with the AU Commission for the deployment of the AU human rights observers and military experts in Burundi, as well as to engage with the UN on the deployment of the police component.
Benomar briefed Council members in consultations on 13 October before departing for the region and asked them to express support for his efforts. Council members issued a press statement the following day, calling on Burundi to cooperate with Benomar “to develop, in a consensual manner, a plan and timeline” for the implementation of resolution 2303.
Regarding accountability, Burundi passed a law on 18 October to withdraw from the ICC Statute. According to the Statute, the withdrawal comes into effect a year after notification of termination is given to the Secretary-General. The ICC Prosecutor launched a preliminary investigation into the situation in Burundi on 25 April 2015.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 20 September, the UN Independent Investigation in Burundi (UNIIB) mandated by the Human Rights Council (HRC) published its final report (A/HRC/33/37). It describes “abundant evidence of gross human rights violations,” possibly amounting to crimes against humanity, by the Burundi government and people associated with it. It recommends setting up an international Commission of Inquiry, reconsideration of Burundi’s HRC membership and the use of Chapter VII of the UN Charter by the Security Council. The Burundi government has rejected the report as exaggerated.
On 30 September, the HRC adopted a resolution creating for one year a commission of inquiry to investigate violations in Burundi since April 2015 to present a final report to the HRC in September 2017 (A/HRC/33/L.31). Security Council members China, Russia and Venezuela and incoming Security Council member Bolivia voted against the resolution.
The Burundi government decided to suspend all cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner and declared the UNIIB experts personae non gratae. The High Commissioner for Human Rights and the HRC President met with Burundi’s Ambassador to Geneva on 13 and 14 October, respectively, and requested the government to reconsider the decisions.
An immediate issue is ensuring that the situation in Burundi does not descend into chaos and further violence.
On the political front, a main issue is finding an avenue for renewed and productive engagement with Burundi in order to solve the political crisis.
Promoting the deployment of the police component and the AU observers and renewing Burundi’s cooperation with OHCHR are also key issues.
In order to resolve the ongoing crisis in Burundi, the Council may take any of the following steps:
- coordinate efforts with the AU and EAC in engaging with Burundi in order to advance the Inter-Burundian dialogue and facilitate both the UN and AU deployments in the country;
- invite Mkapa to brief it on developments in the Inter-Burundian dialogue;
- adopt a logistical support package or another form of support for the AU deployment in Burundi;
- re-engage with Burundi to seek the deployment—as an interim measure—of the 50 police officers it agreed to receive before resolution 2303 was adopted; and
- adopt targeted sanctions against spoilers of the political dialogue and those responsible for human rights violations.
Council and Wider Dynamics
With Burundi currently entrenched in its opposition to the implementation of resolution 2303—a position well known prior to the adoption of the resolution—the Council is at an impasse with respect to its engagement with the country. Council members view the current situation as unsustainable. Some, such as the US, France and Spain look to Benomar to make headway with Burundi on the implementation of the resolution, while others, such as Russian and the African members, stress the need to establish a new basis for renewed engagement with Burundi. At the same time, Council members fear that the current state of affairs in Burundi—a relatively stable security environment accompanied by severe human rights violations—could become a “tolerable” status quo for the international community.
On the issue of logistical support for the AU, France, the UK and the US have been consistently against granting such requests over the last few years for financial reasons. During the negotiations on resolution 2303, the issue was left unsettled. Other Council members take the view that at this point, the AU is the only operational international presence in Burundi and should be supported in order to monitor the situation. They hope this issue will be more readily considered if a MoU officially accepting the AU deployment is signed with the government.
The penholder on Burundi is France.
UN DOCUMENTS ON BURUNDI
|Security Council Resolutions|
|29 July 2016 S/RES/2303||The Council established a UN police component in Burundi of 228 officers for an initial period of one year.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|14 October 2016 SC/12554||This called for the implementation of resolution 2303.|
|Security Council Letters|
|19 September 2016 S/2016/799||This contained the report of the Secretary-General on options to enable the UN to facilitate the deployment of AU human rights observers and military experts.|