Expected Council Action
In October, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Michel Kafando, will brief the Council 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. Serious human rights abuses continue to be committed daily with impunity, mainly by the government and the Imbonerakure, the youth group of Nkurunziza’s party.
The overall level of oppression and state control over Burundian society remains high, manifested by persistent arbitrary deprivations of life, enforced disappearances, cases of torture and arbitrary detention. These actions are taking place in an environment where the freedoms of expression, association and assembly are virtually non-existent.
An estimated 400,000 people have fled the country since the beginning of the crisis, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). On 31 August, Burundi, Tanzania and UNHCR reached agreement on the voluntary repatriation of 12,000 refugees by the end of the year from Tanzania, which hosts 280,000 Burundian refugees. The UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) reported that on 15 September, Congolese military killed at least 38 Burundian refugees in South Kivu, when they were protesting the arrest and expected repatriation of other Burundians. One soldier also died. The DRC government said it will investigate the incident.
The Council adopted a presidential statement on Burundi on 2 August. During negotiations, Council members were split over whether the mandate of the UN police component—authorised in resolution 2303 for a period of a year to monitor the security situation and support human rights monitoring—required renewal as the police deployment had not taken place.
To sidestep the issue, the presidential statement expressed the Council’s support of the Secretary-General in his efforts to engage the government of Burundi on the modalities of the implementation of resolution 2303 without explicitly calling for the deployment of the police component. The statement further expressed concern over the political situation, the lack of implementation of resolution 2303, and the lack of engagement by the government of Burundi in that regard.
The statement also supported the AU’s call for the rapid signing of the memorandum of understanding which would allow AU human rights observers and military experts to operate fully in the country in fulfilment of their mandated responsibilities. (This deployment was authorised by the AU Peace and Security Council in a 17 October 2015 communiqué.)
Meanwhile, there seems to have been little headway in the Inter-Burundian dialogue, led by the East African Community and facilitated by former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa. Media reports indicate that talks are scheduled to resume in October. The Ombudsman for Burundi, an official elected by the National Assembly to investigate violations of civil rights by state officials, Edouard Nduwimana, said that only actors recognised by the government will be allowed to attend. The opposition has criticised Nduwimana’s election, claiming he had undermined civil society when minister of home affairs. The opposition has also been critical at times, of Mkapa, accusing him of siding with the government.
The Council last met to discuss the situation in Burundi on 26 July. Kafando and Ambassador Jürg Lauber (Switzerland), the chair of the Peacebuilding Commission’s Burundi configuration, briefed the Council. Members then met in consultations. (Mkapa was also due to engage with Council members but was unable to do so for personal reasons.)
Human Rights-Related Developments
In his opening statement at the 36th session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) on 11 September, High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein noted, “The human rights situation in Burundi has in no way improved, with continuing reports of disappearances and killings, arbitrary arrests, detention and torture of perceived opponents. Most opposition parties, independent NGOs and media have been banned or suspended, leaving virtually no space for civil liberties and open debate”.
During the session, the HRC held an interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, established by HRC resolution 33/24 of 30 September 2016, and considered its report. The report documents extrajudicial executions; arbitrary arrests and detentions; enforced disappearances; torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment; and sexual violence in Burundi since April 2015. The report also recommends that the Security Council take account of the commission’s conclusions, as well as the persistence of gross violations of human rights, in any discussion on Burundi; refer international crimes committed in Burundi to the ICC; and impose individual sanctions on the principal alleged perpetrators of gross human rights violations and international crimes in Burundi.
Key Issues and Options
The ongoing and pressing issue is ensuring that the situation in Burundi does not descend into chaos and further violence, including ethnically-motivated violence, and finding a way to move beyond the fragile status quo in the country.
As part of its attempt to make headway in Burundi, a main issue for the Council is finding an avenue for renewed and productive engagement between the UN and Burundi in order to solve the political crisis. In a related issue, the Council must address Burundi’s refusal to implement resolution 2303, which stands as a dead letter. The Council may consider engaging with Burundi on other ways to fulfil the role envisaged for the police component, for example by supporting an expanded role for the AU in human rights monitoring and by taking a more forceful stance on ensuring the full deployment of its personnel.
Finally, a major issue is the lack of accountability for potential international crimes over the last couple of years in Burundi. In light of the gravity of the report of the Commission of Inquiry, the Council may consider whether it has a role to play in ensuring accountability for the crimes enumerated therein.
One possible way to address these issues is to impose targeted sanctions against spoilers of the political dialogue, those responsible for human rights violations, and those who block the implementation of resolution 2303.
Burundi remains entrenched in its opposition to the implementation of resolution 2303 and the conclusions of the Commission of Inquiry, which reflects its overall position on the international community’s involvement in the crisis. The Council, meanwhile, is at an impasse with respect to its engagement with the country, split between those who view the situation as an internal political issue lacking a pressing security dimension, and those who view the situation as volatile and closely related to international peace and security, threatening the viability of the 2000 Arusha Accord, which put an end to civil war and ethnic violence in the country. For these latter Council members, there is a creeping fear that the current state of affairs in Burundi has become a “tolerable” status quo for the international community as its attention shifts elsewhere. However, they view the situation as fragile and unsustainable and hope that the commission’s report may bring focus to the situation even if Council action is unlikely.
France is the penholder on Burundi.
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 Presidential Statements|
|2 August 2017 S/PRST/2017/13||This was a statement on the political situation and ongoing violence in Burundi which strongly urged the government and all parties to immediately cease and reject such violence.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|26 July 2017 S/PV.8013||This was a briefing on the situation in Burundi from Special Envoy Michel Kafando and Ambassador Jürg Lauber of Switzerland, the chair of the Peacebuilding Commission’s Burundi configuration.|
|11 August 2017 A/HRC/36/54||This was the report of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, established by HRC resolution 33/24 of 30 September 2016.|