Expected Council Action
In May, 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.
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.
Arbitrary killing, enforced disappearances, torture, and arbitrary detentions continue as the overall level of oppression and state control over Burundian society persists. Furthermore, these actions are taking place in an environment where freedom of expression, association and assembly are supressed.
On 29 March, Burundi’s National Council of Communication (CNC) announced the withdrawal of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)’s operating licence for producing a “slanderous, deceitful and scathing” documentary and the continued suspension of the Voice of America “until further notice” for employing a Burundian journalist accused of involvement in the failed coup d’état of 13 May 2015.
According to the UNHCR, there were 352,000 refugees in neighbouring countries as at 31 March. At the same time, a total of 61,685 refugees voluntarily returned to Burundi in 2017 and 2018. There were also 130,562 internally displaced people as at 28 February.
The latest Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the region said that strained relations between Burundi and the East African Community (EAC) persisted and have also affected the inter-Burundian dialogue. The dialogue has yet to produce much progress, and its continuation is unclear after the submission of its final report by facilitator Benjamin Mkapa at the end of 2018, with a recommended roadmap for credible elections in 2020, including dialogue with the exiled opposition. On 1 February, at the EAC heads of state summit, Rwanda took over the leadership of the EAC from Uganda and decided to postpone deliberations on the situation in Burundi.
Kafando last briefed the Council on 19 February. He said that “the inter-Burundian dialogue remains the only viable option for resolving the political crisis and the holding of peaceful elections in 2020, in the spirit of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreements”. He urged the government to be more inclusive, particularly in the context of preparations for the elections. Lauber also briefed, urging all stakeholders to create an enabling environment for free, inclusive, democratic and peaceful elections in 2020.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 5 March, High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet announced, “with deep regret”, that the UN Human Rights Office in Burundi was closed on 28 February at the insistence of the government after a 23-year presence in the country. In October 2016, the government suspended all cooperation with the office following the release of the final report (A/HRC/33/37) of the UN Independent Investigation in Burundi, established by the Human Rights Council (HRC) on 17 December 2015. “Even as our Office in Burundi closes, we will continue to explore other ways to work to shed light on human rights concerns and support the advocacy, promotion and protection of human rights in the country,” Bachelet said in her statement.
During its 40th session, the HRC held an interactive dialogue on 12 March with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, whose mandate was renewed by the HRC for a third term by resolution 39/14 of 28 September 2018. “In view of the upcoming elections scheduled for 2020, our mandate is especially important. We will pay particular attention to civil liberties and factors that may trigger violence or human rights violations”, the commission said. It also called on Burundi to reconsider its position and accept the commission’s requests to visit the country.
Key Issues and Options
The lack of progress in the EAC-led mediation and, more broadly, lack of inclusiveness ahead of the 2020 election 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 take steps towards an inclusive electoral process, including respect for the freedom of expression and association.
Another major issue is the continued lack of accountability for human rights violations over the last several years in Burundi, magnified by the closure of the UN Human Rights Office in the country. The Council may encourage Burundi to cooperate fully with all UN bodies.
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.
The Council has been unable to find a fresh avenue to re-engage with Burundi over the political situation thus far. Some Council members, despite the political concerns, 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. When considering the programme of work for February, several Council members questioned the need to hold the quarterly briefing on Burundi, though ultimately the briefing was held as scheduled. It does not seem that similar disagreement has arisen with respect to the May briefing, but the issue may resurface.
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.|
|12 March 2019S/2019/229||This was the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Great Lakes Region.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|19 February 2019S/PV.8465||The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Michel Kafando, briefed the Council on Burundi.|