Expected Council Action
In May, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Michel Kafando, is expected to brief the Council on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation in Burundi. The chair of the Peacebuilding Commission’s Burundi Configuration, Ambassador Jürg Lauber (Switzerland), may also brief.
The Netherlands and Equatorial-Guinea are expected to organise an Arria-formula meeting during May to discuss the situation in Burundi further, with a particular focus on the Arusha Accord, which in 2000 put an end to civil war and ethnic violence and established the basis for the current constitution.
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.
A referendum on amendments to the constitution is scheduled for 17 May. The amendments remove references to the Arusha Accord. They extend the presidential term from the current five years to seven years and provide that the maximum of two presidential terms is to be counted from the adoption of the amendments, thus allowing Nkurunziza to run for re-election in 2020. The amendments further provide for a possible future review of the ethnic quotas—a key element of the Arusha Accord—of 60 percent Hutu and 40 percent Tutsi in the executive branch, the parliament and the judicial branch.
On 26 February, Kafando briefed the Council on the Secretary-General’s latest report. Lauber also briefed the Council. In the report, the Secretary-General expressed concern regarding the lack of inclusiveness and consensus among the key political stakeholders regarding the upcoming referendum.
During consultations following the briefing, France proposed circulating a draft presidential statement to address the current situation. About five weeks after the draft was first circulated, on 5 April, the Council adopted a presidential statement condemning all violations and abuses of human rights in Burundi. The statement supported the inter-Burundian dialogue led by the East African Community (EAC), while expressing concern over its slow progress and the lack of engagement by the Burundian government. While not mentioning the referendum explicitly, the statement called on Burundi to undertake all political initiatives through a broad consensus of all stakeholders, which requires a political and security environment that all political actors can feel confident about. The Council expressed its expectation that the 2020 elections will be free, fair, transparent, peaceful and inclusive. 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, is not mentioned in the statement.
On 16 April, a joint UN-AU communiqué was issued expressing concern over the decision by the government of Burundi to suspend its participation in the Inter-Burundi Dialogue led by the EAC. In a statement the following day, Burundi’s ambassador to the UN, Albert Shingiro, expressed Burundi’s commitment to the dialogue and said that it was in touch with the EAC facilitator of the dialogue, Benjamin Mkapa, regarding the next meeting. (Burundi cancelled a meeting planned for the end of April to allow it to focus on the referendum, according to the government.) The joint UN-AU statement has since been removed from the AU website.
Also on 17 April, several media outlets reported that Burundi’s security forces and the Imbonerakure have been killing, beating and intimidating suspected opponents of Nkurunziza, in order to ensure a favourable result in the referendum.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 1 February, the president of the Human Rights Council (HRC), Vojislav Šuc, announced the appointment of Doudou Diène (Senegal) to serve as a member and new chairperson of the three person HRC-mandated Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, replacing Fatsah Ouguergouz (Alergia). In early March, Lucy Asuagbor (Cameroon) was appointed, replacing Reine Alapini Gansou (Benin) following her election as a judge at the ICC. Françoise Hampson (UK) remains the third member of the commission.
During its 37th session, the HRC held a clustered interactive dialogue with the commission on 13 March, which noted that restrictions imposed on the media continue and that only government-organised demonstrations are allowed. The commission said it had received information and testimonies regarding harassment committed by officials against people considering voting against the proposed constitutional reforms. The commission also highlighted the increase in taxes on sugar and fuel, further burdening the population in the midst of a humanitarian emergency, in which more than three million people require assistance. Burundi, speaking as the concerned country, rejected the report, saying that it was rife with false allegations, and it accused the HRC President of trying to extend the commission’s mandate to new areas that were not under its mandate. The commission will present an oral briefing at the HRC’s 38th session in June and a final report at its 39th session in September.
In a 21 March address at the HRC introducing country reports, briefings and updates of the Secretary-General and High Commissioner for Human Rights, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore remarked that there were continued reports of killings, enforced disappearances, torture and ill-treatment, sexual violence, and arbitrary arrests and detention in Burundi.
Developments in the Peacebuilding Commission
On 16 April, Lauber briefed the Burundi configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) on his 27-30 March visit to Burundi. During his visit, he met with Nkurunziza and other ministers; the president of the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI), Pierre Claver Ndayiragije; the leaders of several political parties; and Kafando, among others. Lauber stressed that there is a need for coherence among UN actors and the international community and for finding common ground with the government in order to build trust and a better sense of partnership. Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, also addressed the configuration members.
Key Issues and Options
The pressing issue is ensuring that the referendum of 17 May does not prompt Burundi to descend into chaos and further violence. The Council could monitor developments as they unfold and meet as necessary. An option would be to adopt a presidential or press statement after the referendum, addressing issues that arose, with a view towards the conduct of the 2020 elections.
Another major issue is the continued lack of accountability for potential human rights violations, including crimes against humanity, over the last few years in Burundi, a trend that may be exacerbated further during the referendum.
The lack of progress in the EAC-led mediation is of serious concern, particularly in light of Burundi’s insistence that the dialogue be held in Burundi, thus excluding from the discussions some opposition parties in exile that are not recognised by the government.
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. Perhaps the Arria-formula meeting, currently scheduled for late May, could address possible options, including those that uphold the centrality of the Arusha Accord to any political solution.
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. The fact that the 5 April presidential statement does not mention resolution 2303 suggests that Council members have all but given up on the implementation of certain elements of the resolution, such as the police deployment.
The prolonged negotiations over the 5 April presidential statement, consisting mostly of previously agreed language, further highlighted that Council members are divided. Some Council members, questioning the need for the Council’s involvement as they view the situation as an internal issue lacking a pressing security dimension, refused to refer directly to the referendum and the circumstances surrounding it, which they view as a sovereign prerogative of Burundi.
Though all Council members agree on the importance of the viability of the Arusha Accord, only some Council members view the constitutional amendment process as a key event that may potentially destabilise Burundi further, similar to events that unfolded in April 2015. These members continue to see the situation as volatile and a threat to the Arusha Accords, which ended ethnic-based violence and a civil war.
France is the penholder on Burundi.
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 Presidential Statement|
|5 April 2018 S/PRST/2018/7||This was a presidential statement condemning all violations and abuses of human rights in Burundi.|
|25 January 2018 S/2018/89||This was the Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation in Burundi.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|5 April 2018 S/PV.8223||This was a meeting at which a presidential statement condemning human rights abuses in Burundi was adopted.|
|26 February 2018 S/PV.8189||This was a briefing by Special Envoy Michel Kafando on the Secretary-General’s latest report on Burundi. The chair of the Peacebuilding Commission Burundi Configuration, Ambassador Jürg Lauber (Switzerland) also briefed the Council.|