Expected Council Action
In February, the Council is expected to be briefed by the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General for Conflict Prevention, Jamal Benomar, on the Secretary-General’s report on the situation in Burundi.
Key Recent Developments
The security and political situation in Burundi, which deteriorated sharply after April 2015 when Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza announced that he would run for a controversial third term, remains dire. While the number of casualties has declined and the security situation has improved, serious human rights abuses continue to be committed daily with impunity, mainly by the government and the Imbonerakure, the youth group of the Nkurunziza’s party. The overall level of oppression and state control over Burundian society has increased, manifested by arbitrary deprivations of life, enforced disappearances, cases of torture 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. An estimated 325,000 people have fled the country since the beginning of the crisis.
Adding to the tense situation, Burundi’s minister for water, environment and planning, Emmanuel Niyonkuru, was killed by unknown assailants in Bujumbura early on the morning of 1 January 2017. On 7 January, the prosecutor-general, Sylvestre Nyandwi, announced that six suspects had been arrested.
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. On 9 December 2016, at the end of a three-day visit to Burundi, Mkapa reportedly said that the legitimacy of Nkurunziza’s presidency should not be questioned and that his facilitation was focused on creating favourable conditions for free, fair and credible elections in 2020. Since then, the opposition has demanded that Mkapa step down as facilitator. It also voiced its wish to see the UN and AU become more involved in the process.
According to media reports, in late November, Nkurunziza requested the then Secretary-General to work with the incoming one to appoint a replacement for Benomar. (Over the years Burundi has declared as persona-non-grata several UN envoys.) This request comes after Burundi decided in October 2016 to suspend all cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and later in October to withdraw from the ICC Statute.
Resolution 2303 of 29 July 2016, authorising a police component with a ceiling of 228 officers to monitor the security situation and support the human rights monitoring of OHCHR, under the authority of Benomar’s office, remains unimplemented. 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. Burundi has publicly rejected the resolution.
The AU deployment of an authorised 200 human rights observers and military experts to Burundi remains incomplete and underfunded, and a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the AU and Burundi regarding the terms of deployment has yet to be signed. In a 19 September 2016 report to the Council, the Secretary-General proposed that the Council authorise him to provide a targeted logistical support package for the AU deployment. The Council has yet to take action on this issue.
The AU Peace and Security Council discussed Burundi on 6 October 2016. It called for the resumption of the Inter-Burundian Dialogue under the aegis of the EAC. It also urged Burundi to sign an 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.
On 26 December 2016, a spokesperson for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) military said that its forces had killed 10 Burundian soldiers on 21 December after they crossed the border, apparently in pursuit of rebels from the ethnic Hutu National Forces of Liberation (FNL). Reportedly, this is the first skirmish between Burundian and DRC soldiers since 2003.
Benomar last briefed Council members in consultations on 8 November 2016.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 18 November 2016, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women adopted its concluding observations and recommendations on the report by Burundi (CEDAW/C/BDI/CO/5-6). Among other comments, the Committee expressed serious concern about the exacerbation of violence against women since April 2015, including lack of efforts to document incidents of sexual violence and widespread impunity.
On 22 November 2016, the President of the Human Rights Council (HRC) announced the appointment of Fatsah Ouguergouz (Algeria), Reina Alapini Gansu (Benin) and Francoise Hampson (UK) as members of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi. Ouguergouz will serve as Chair of the Commission. The Commission, established by the HRC (A/HRC/RES/33/24), is responsible for identifying alleged perpetrators of human rights abuses in Burundi. It will present oral briefings to the HRC in March and June 2017; its final report to the HRC is due in September 2017.
On 29 November, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination adopted a decision (1/91) deploring the Burundian government’s growing lack of cooperation with the international community and called on the government to immediately admit a UN contingent of police officers as authorised by the Security Council in resolution 2303 in July.
An immediate issue is ensuring that the situation in Burundi does not descend into chaos and further violence, including ethnically motivated violence.
On the political front, a main issue is finding an avenue for renewed and productive engagement between the Council and Burundi in order to solve the political crisis.
Promoting the deployment of the police component, in accordance with resolution 2303, and the deployment of AU observers are also key issues, as is re-establishing Burundi’s cooperation with OHCHR.
In order to resolve the ongoing crisis in Burundi, steps the Council could take include:
- coordinating efforts with the AU and EAC in engaging with Burundi to advance the Inter-Burundian Dialogue and facilitate both the UN and AU deployments in the country;
- inviting Mkapa to brief it on developments in the Inter-Burundian dialogue;
- requesting the Secretary-General to engage with the Burundian government, directly or by establishing a position of special envoy for Burundi, in order to provide for a greater UN role in the Inter-Burundian Dialogue;
- adopting a logistical support package or another form of support for the AU deployment in Burundi;
- re-engaging with Burundi on ways to implement resolution 2303, or find a new platform for engagement if that proves impossible; and
- adopting 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. Some Council members, such as Russia and the African members, stress the need to establish a new basis for renewed engagement with Burundi, particularly as half a year has passed since the adoption of the resolution. Others, such as the US and France, hope to make headway with Burundi on the implementation of the resolution, a goal complicated by Burundi’s current attitude towards Benomar.
Council members are hopeful that the new Secretary-General may be able to re-engage with Burundi in order to break the impasse. 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 over the last few years been consistently opposed to granting such requests for missions outside of the UN system, due to budgetary concerns. 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 an MoU officially accepting the AU deployment is signed with the government.
The penholder on Burundi is France.
UN Documents on Burundi
|Security Council Resolution|
|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 Letter|
|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.|
|Security Council Press Statement|
|14 October 2016 SC/12554||This called for the implementation of resolution 2303.|