Expected Council Action
In February, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Michel Kafando, will brief the Council on the Secretary-General’s latest report and 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 later that year—remains unsettled. The Burundian government, for its part, maintains that the security situation is good throughout the country.
At the same time, serious human rights abuses continue to be committed daily with impunity, and oppression and state control over Burundian society—including the opposition and the media—remain high, exerted mainly by the government and the Imbonerakure, the youth group of Nkurunziza’s party. House search operations, arbitrary arrests and other abuses have reportedly become the norm. Thus, while the security situation may not have deteriorated, many fear it is untenable and masks a serious risk of violent escalation between the government and those that oppose it.
On 24 October 2017, the government adopted recommendations by the Commission nationale de dialogue inter-burundais (CNDI) to amend the constitution. The amendments remove references to the Arusha Accord, which in 2000 put an end to civil war and ethnic violence and formed the basis for the current constitution. They extend the presidential term from the current five to seven years and suggest that presidential terms are to be counted from their adoption, thus allowing Nkurunziza to run for re-election in 2020 and—since two terms may be served consecutively—potentially remain in power until 2034, pending further changes. Among other things, the amendments also replace the current two-thirds majority necessary to pass basic bills in parliament with a simple majority, and restructure the government by creating a prime ministerial post and eliminating the current system of two equal vice presidents, one of whom is from the opposition.
The amendments will be put to a referendum in May. Jean Minani, Chairman of the opposition platform in exile, the Conseil National pour le respect de l’Accord d’Arusha (CNARED), has called on Nkurunziza to refrain from amending the constitution, saying that the referendum’s objective is to break the Arusha Accord and to undermine democracy. He further opined that its results are predetermined in favour of the amendments and called on people to boycott the polls.
Burundi law only allows for public partisan campaigning regarding the amendments in the two weeks prior to the vote. However, Nkurunziza launched a “campaign of explanation” regarding the constitutional amendments on 12 December 2017, warning that those opposing it are “crossing a red line”. On 18 January, the opposition claimed that 42 activists had been arrested since 12 December 2017 for illegally contesting the referendum.
Meanwhile, the fourth session of the Inter-Burundian dialogue, led by the East African Community (EAC) and facilitated by former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, took place in Arusha between 27 November and 8 December 2017. The Secretary-General’s latest report notes the absence of progress and deplores the lack of commitment of the government and the opposition to compromise. It further calls on the government to engage in the process without any preconditions and for the region to support the process.
Kafando last visited the region from 11 to 14 December 2017. He met with the Minister of External Relations, Alain Aimé Nyamitwe; with Edouard Nduwimana, the Ombudsperson, an official elected by the National Assembly to investigate violations of civil rights by state officials; and with diplomats.
Kafando held consultations with the Chairperson of the AU, Moussa Faki, and AU Commissioner for Peace and Security Smail Chergi in Addis Ababa on 10 January. They discussed the crisis in Burundi and reviewed UN and AU support for the EAC-led Inter-Burundian Dialogue.
Key Issues and Options
The pressing issue is ensuring that the situation in Burundi does not descend into chaos and further violence, particularly in light of the referendum expected in May. The Council could consider a visiting mission to the region, possibly timed ahead of the referendum.
A general issue is for the Council to find a new avenue for reengagement with Burundi in order to address the political crisis, likely one that is not based on resolution 2303 of 29 July 2016, which authorised the deployment of a police component to Burundi but has not been implemented because of Burundi’s opposition.
Finally, a major issue is the lack of accountability for potential international crimes over the last few years in Burundi, particularly in light of the magnitude of the findings presented in the 11 August 2017 report of the Commission of Inquiry into grave human rights violations established by the Human Rights Council.
One possible way to address these issues would be to impose targeted sanctions against those obstructing a genuine political dialogue, those responsible for human rights violations, and those who are blocking the implementation of resolution 2303.
Burundi remains entrenched in its opposition to the involvement of the international community in the country’s political affairs. The Council, meanwhile, is at an impasse with respect to its engagement with the country. Some Council members have increasingly challenged the need for Council involvement as they view the situation as an internal issue lacking a pressing security dimension. They further note that Burundi is not different from several states in the region that have amended their constitutions or laws to allow incumbent leaders to continue to run and serve for several terms. Other Council members see the situation as volatile and a threat to the viability of the 2000 Arusha Accord, which ended ethnic-based violence and a civil war.
With the Council divided, the current state of affairs in Burundi seems to have become a “tolerable” status quo for the international community as its attention shifts elsewhere. However, some members view the constitutional amendment process as a key event that may potentially destabilise Burundi further, similar to events that unfolded in April 2015.
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 Meeting Records|
|20 November 2017 S/PV.8109||This was a briefing on the situation in Burundi by the Special Envoy for Burundi Michel Kafando and the chair of the PBC Burundi Configuration, Ambassador Jürg Lauber (Switzerland).|
|Human Rights Council Documents|
|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.|