August 2019 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 July 2019
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AFRICA

Burundi

Expected Council Action

In August, a representative of the UN Secretariat 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.

Key Recent Developments

The security and political situation in Burundi has remained unsettled since April 2015 when Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza announced that he would run for a controversial third term later that year, leading to a sharp deterioration of the situation with violence and repression against his opponents. Nkurunziza won a third term and according to a subsequent amendment to the constitution would be able to run again but has stated that he does not plan to do so and will also accept the result of the election. Hundreds of Burundian civilians have been killed since April 2015 in clashes with security forces, and about half a million people have fled the country as a result. While the Burundian government maintains that the security situation is stable 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 National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy. Human Rights Watch reported in June an increase in such abuses against purported members of opposition parties since February, when a new party was registered: the National Congress for Freedom (Congrès national pour la liberté—CNL). The head of the CNL, Agathon Rwasa, is considering running for president.

Freedom of the press, including access to the country by foreign media, has been severely restricted. On 3 July, President Nkurunziza signed a presidential decree appointing Eric Nshimirimana, the head of the Imbonerakure, the youth wing of his party responsible for most of the violence aimed at political opponents, as director-general of the National Radio Television of Burundi (RTNB). The appointment came against the backdrop of the withdrawal of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)’s operating licence in March and the continued suspension of the Voice of America by Burundi’s National Council of Communication. BBC announced the winding up of its operations in Burundi on 16 July.

Arbitrary killings, enforced disappearances, torture, and arbitrary detentions continue as the overall level of oppression and state control over Burundian society, including the political opposition, persists. These actions are taking place in an environment where freedom of expression, association and assembly are suppressed. The repression of these freedoms is of particular concern as the country prepares for presidential elections in 2020.

According to UNHCR, Burundi is the world’s tenth-largest refugee-producing country, with 344,304 refugees mostly in Tanzania, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, as at 30 June. Within the first half of this year, 14,104 refugees voluntarily returned to Burundi. According to the International Organisation of Migration, there were 115,708 internally displaced persons in May.

On 17 July, the World Health Organization declared the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo an international health emergency, naming Burundi as one of the countries most at risk of being affected by Ebola.

Resolution 2303 asked the Secretary-General to provide written reports, as necessary, on grave security incidents, violations of international humanitarian law and violations or abuses of human rights. There has not been a written report on the situation in Burundi since November 2018. The last Council briefing on the situation in the country took place on 14 June, when Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, AU Commissioner for Peace and Security Smaїl Chergui (via video teleconference) and Ambassador Jürg Lauber (Switzerland), the chair of the Burundi configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, briefed the Council. Fernandez-Taranco said that the human rights situation “remains worrying in view of many violations of fundamental civic and political freedoms”. Chergui also stated that the AU was still receiving “reports of ongoing cases of human rights violations.” Lauber reported that “a number of interlocutors voiced concerns about alleged violent incidents and human rights violations that were not being properly investigated and prosecuted.” A majority of Council members echoed concerns over the human rights situation. At the other end of the spectrum, China and Russia again stated that the situation in Burundi should be taken off the Security Council’s agenda. The representative of Burundi argued that “our current political and security situation is no threat to international peace and security and does not justify arbitrarily keeping my country on the Council’s agenda.”

Relations between Burundi and the East African Community (EAC) continue to be strained, with the EAC-led inter-Burundian dialogue—envisioned as a mediated consultative process between the government and the opposition, civil society organisations, including women, young people and members of the media and religious groups—consequently remaining stalled. In his 14 June briefing to the Council, Chergui said that there was no alternative to the inter-Burundian dialogue, which “must resume as quickly as possible”.

As of late June, the UN’s 2019 humanitarian response plan for Burundi of $106.3 million had been funded at 30.5 percent, with $73.8 million outstanding.

Human Rights-Related Developments

During its 41st session, the Human Rights Council (HRC) held an interactive dialogue on 2 July with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi. The commission said that since its last oral presentation to the HRC in March, it had carried out missions to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ethiopia, France, Belgium and the UK to collect information on human rights violations committed since May 2018 from victims and direct witnesses of these abuses. (Burundi has not granted the commission’s request to visit the country.) The commission told the HRC that “serious human rights abuses continue since May 2018, particularly summary executions, arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, ill-treatment and sexual violence, as well as restriction of civil liberties” with most victims being opponents of the government or the ruling party. Burundian citizens who had fled the country and have since returned were also targeted, the commission said. It also warned that the elections scheduled for 2020 “could become the scene of a serious deterioration of the human rights situation”. The commission will present a report to the HRC during its 42nd session in September.

Key Issues and Options

The stalled EAC-led mediation and, more broadly, the lack of inclusiveness ahead of the 2020 presidential election remain serious concerns that the Council will need to monitor closely. An option would be to adopt a presidential statement, showing support for the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy in Burundi, noting Nkurunziza’s commitment not to run for president in 2020 and not to contest the election results, urging the EAC to intensify efforts to revive the inter-Burundian dialogue, and calling on Burundi to take steps towards an inclusive electoral process, including respect for 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 in February of the UN Human Rights Office in the country at the insistence of the government after a 23-year presence. The Council may encourage Burundi to cooperate fully with all UN bodies.

One possible way for the Council to address some of these issues would be to establish a sanctions committee for Burundi in order to be able to impose targeted sanctions against those obstructing a genuine political dialogue and those responsible for human rights violations.

Council Dynamics

Council members agree that the continued viability of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreements is important as a basis for stability in Burundi. Burundi, for its part, remains entrenched in its opposition to what they consider interference by the international community in its internal affairs.

To date, the Council has been unable to find a fresh avenue to re-engage with Burundi over the political situation. Some Council members, notwithstanding political, human rights and humanitarian concerns, continue to question the need to keep Burundi on the Council’s agenda, viewing such concerns as internal issues lacking an international peace and security dimension. While considering the programme of work for August, some Council members spoke against holding the quarterly briefing on Burundi, an issue that may arise when the programme is scheduled for adoption at the beginning of the month. Similar difficulties around the quarterly briefing have arisen in the past: a briefing that was originally scheduled to take place on 28 May was postponed until June, at the request of Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo and with the support of the African members of the Council.

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.
Secretary-General’s Reports
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.
20 November 2018S/2018/1028 This was the Secretary-General’s report on the situation in Burundi.
Security Council Meeting Records
14 June 2019S/PV.8550 Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support Oscar Fernandez-Taranco briefed the Council on the situation in Burundi.
19 February 2019S/PV.8465 The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Michel Kafando, briefed the Council on Burundi.
Security Council Meeting Records
14 June 2019S/PV.8550 Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support Oscar Fernandez-Taranco briefed the Council on the situation in Burundi.
19 February 2019S/PV.8465 The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Michel Kafando, briefed the Council on Burundi.