Expected Council Action
In February, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Michel Kafando, is scheduled to brief the Council on the situation in Burundi in accordance with resolution 2303 of 29 July 2016, which requested the Secretary-General to report to the Council on Burundi every three months. Ambassador Jürg Lauber (Switzerland), the chair of the Burundi configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, may also brief; at press time, however, it was unclear if the meeting would take place.
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. While the Burundian government maintains that the security situation is good throughout the country, serious human rights abuses continue to be committed daily with impunity, mainly by the government and the Imbonerakure, the youth wing of 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 freedom of expression, association and assembly is virtually non-existent.
Against this backdrop of oppression and severely limited freedoms, controversial constitutional amendments were approved by a 73 percent majority in a referendum on 17 May 2018. The amendments remove references to the Arusha Accord, which put an end to civil war and ethnic violence in 2000 and established the basis for the current constitution. They 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, as well as the military. The amendments also extend the presidential term to seven years from the previous five and specify that the two-term presidential limit is to be counted from the adoption of the amendments, thus opening the door for Nkurunziza to run for re-election in 2020, although he announced on 7 June 2018 that he would not do so. In an end-of-the year address to the public on 31 December 2018, Nkurunziza said that the new constitution “consolidates national sovereignty and places Burundi in the hands of God”.
Since the referendum, Burundi has started preparations for the 2020 elections, which it says it will fund without external assistance. The preparations include discussions about a draft electoral code. Concerns about inclusivity in these discussions were raised after several opposition leaders were not invited to a 4 January meeting convened by Minister of the Interior Pascal Barandagiye about the draft.
Burundi suspended 30 foreign NGOs in January after they failed to comply with a recent controversial law which tightens financial oversight over them and requires them to hire 60 percent ethnic Hutu staff and 40 percent ethnic Tutsi staff.
The inter-Burundian dialogue between the government and opposition parties—which has been held outside Burundi, led by the East African Community (EAC), with little progress thus far—last convened in Arusha between 25 and 29 October 2018 after months of delay. The facilitator of the dialogue, former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa, submitted a report to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, the official mediator of the dialogue, with recommendations for a roadmap for credible elections in 2020, including dialogue with the exiled opposition. Nkurunziza rejected the report and any concerns about Burundi’s political situation in a letter to Museveni on 4 December 2018. Museveni replied on 8 December, saying that developments related to the third presidential term had disrupted peace in Burundi and undermined the Arusha Accord, which was guaranteed by the EAC, among others. An EAC heads of state meeting on Burundi, which had been postponed twice since November 2018, has now been set for 1 February.
In January, Burundi’s parliament approved a plan to move the country’s capital from Bujumbura to Gitega in a process that will take a few years. Nkurunziza first announced this plan in 2007, saying that Gitega is more centrally located. Some in the opposition see this as an attempt to move political institutions from Bujumbura, known to be an opposition stronghold.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 17 September 2018, the Human Rights Council (HRC) held an interactive dialogue during its 39th session with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, established by HRC resolution 33/24 on 30 September 2016, and considered its report (A/HRC/39/63). The report concluded that the serious human rights violations documented in the first year of the Commission’s mandate, including crimes against humanity, persisted in 2017 and 2018. These included cases of summary execution; enforced disappearance; arbitrary arrest and detention; torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment; sexual violence; and violations of civil liberties such as the freedom of expression, association, assembly and movement. The report found that state entities “are most often implicated in these violations” and perpetrators operate in an overall climate of impunity. One of its recommendations is that the HRC submit the report to the Security Council.
On 28 September 2018, the HRC adopted resolution 39/14, extending the Commission’s mandate for another year and requesting a final report at its 42nd session in September, with oral updates at its 40th and 41st sessions in March and June, respectively. It also urged the Burundian government to authorise the Commission to conduct country visits. The resolution recalled the Security Council’s resolutions 2248 and 2303 and its presidential statement of 5 April 2018. It was adopted with 23 votes in favour, seven against and 17 abstentions. Security Council members also on the HRC voted as follows: Belgium, Germany, Peru and the UK in favour; China against; and Côte d’Ivoire and South Africa abstained.
Key Issues and Options
The post-referendum political situation heading into elections in 2020 and the lack of progress in the EAC-led mediation remain serious concerns that the Council will need to monitor closely. An option would be to adopt a presidential or press statement, noting Nkurunziza’s commitment not to run for president in 2020, urging the EAC to intensify efforts to revive the dialogue and calling on Burundi to allow for an inclusive electoral process.
Another major issue is the continued lack of accountability for human rights violations, including possible crimes against humanity, over the last several years in Burundi. One possible way to address some of these issues would be to impose targeted sanctions against those obstructing a genuine political dialogue and those responsible for human rights violations.
Council members agree that the continued viability of the Arusha Accord as a basis for stability in Burundi is important. Burundi, for its part, remains entrenched in its opposition to the international community’s involvement in its political affairs, most recently manifested by its rejection of efforts by Mkapa, the inter-Burundian dialogue facilitator. The Council has been unable to find a fresh avenue to re-engage with Burundi over the political situation thus far.
Despite the political concerns, some Council members continue to question the need to keep Burundi on the Council’s agenda, viewing the situation as an internal issue that lacks a pressing international peace and security dimension. An attempt by France to discuss Burundi under “any other business” in January was not welcomed by several Council members, including the African members, as they saw no security issue warranting discussion at that time. At press time, it was uncertain whether the meeting on Burundi would take place given the disagreement among Council members. If not, it may happen in March under the French presidency of the Council.
This difference in views also manifested itself with respect to the Secretary-General’s reporting on Burundi. Those questioning the need to discuss Burundi, such as Russia and African members of the Council, prefer that the Secretary-General not produce written reports prior to briefings on Burundi, while other members disagree. The November 2018 report was in written form; however, this has been done sporadically due to the differing views.
France is the penholder on Burundi.
UN DOCUMENTS ON BURUNDI
|Security Council Resolutions|
|29 July 2016S/RES/2303||The Council established a UN police component in Burundi of 228 officers for an initial period of one year.|
|20 November 2018S/2018/1028||This was the Secretary-General’s report on the situation in Burundi.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|21 November 2018S/PV.8408||This was a briefing by Michel Kafando, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Burundi, on the latest Secretary-General’s report on Burundi.|