Expected Council Action
In February, a representative from the Secretariat is expected to brief the Council on the situation in Burundi.
Key Recent Developments
The political and security situations in Burundi have remained unsettled since April 2015 when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced that he would run for a controversial third term later that year, leading to mass demonstrations and a sharp increase in violence and repression against his opponents. Nkurunziza won the third term and, according to a subsequent amendment to the constitution, would be able to run again and remain in power up until 2034. He has said that he does not plan to run in the May 2020 election and will accept the result of the election. However, his party, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), has not yet announced a candidate for the election.
Hundreds of 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 government maintains that the security situation is stable throughout the country, the 4 September 2019 report of the Human Rights Council’s (HRC) Commission of Inquiry on Burundi found that the suppression of civil liberties is intensifying ahead of the election. The commission further found that violations of the right to life, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and other forms of ill-treatment, sexual violence, and violations of economic and social rights, some of which may constitute crimes against humanity, are conducted in a general climate of impunity. It identified the youth league of the CNDD-FDD, the Imbonerakure, and government security forces as the main perpetrators. On 16 January, the European Parliament adopted a resolution strongly condemning “the current restrictions on freedom of expression in Burundi, including the broader sets of limitations to public freedoms, as well as the large-scale violations of human rights, intimidation and arbitrary arrests of journalists and the broadcast bans that have reinforced the climate of fear for Burundi’s media, increased the constraints on reporting and prevented proper coverage, in particular in the run-up to the 2020 elections”. A December 2019 report by Human Rights Watch said that the Imbonerakure continue to forcibly collect funding for the presidential election from the population.
According to UNHCR, there were 332,840 Burundian refugees, mostly in Tanzania, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda, on 31 December 2019. An additional 103,352 people were internally displaced by November 2019, while 20,916 refugees returned to Burundi with the assistance of UNHCR during 2019.
The Council’s last resolution on Burundi, resolution 2303, requested the Secretary-General to report to the Council on a quarterly basis and “to provide written reports immediately to the Security Council, as necessary, on grave security incidents, violations of international humanitarian law and violations or abuses of human rights”. There was one written report in 2019. The last Council briefing on Burundi took place on 30 October 2019. During that meeting, then-Special Envoy to Burundi Michel Kafando announced his intention to leave his post. He further noted that the situation in Burundi remained tense because of “an increase in the level of political intolerance and a growing threat to civil and political freedoms”. The security situation had nonetheless improved, according to Kafando. He further referred to the deteriorating socioeconomic situation. Seventy percent of the population lives below the poverty line of less than $1.90 a day. Ambassador Jürg Lauber (Switzerland), the chair of the Burundi configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, also briefed the Council on 30 October. In their statements after the briefings, a majority of Council members echoed concerns over the human rights situation. The representative of Burundi reiterated the country’s regular call “for Burundi to be removed from the Council agenda”, a position again supported by China and Russia.
Relations between Burundi and the East African Community (EAC) continue to be strained. The EAC-led inter-Burundian dialogue—envisioned as a mediated consultative process among the government and the opposition, civil society organisations, including women, young people and members of the media; and religious groups—has not materialised in four years. In his 30 October briefing, Kafando said that this was “undoubtedly due to a lack of political will on the part of the parties” as well as a lack of “firm commitment by States of the subregion”.
By the end of 2019, the UN’s 2019 humanitarian response plan for Burundi of $106.3 million has been funded at 64.7 percent, with $37.5 million outstanding.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 23 October, the HRC’s Commission of Inquiry on Burundi gave an oral briefing to the Third Committee of the General Assembly on their 4 September report (A/HRC/42/49). The report, which was presented to the HRC during its 42nd session on 17 September 2019, concludes that serious human rights violations have continued to be committed in Burundi since the Commission’s last report, which covered 2017-2018. It identifies several risk factors in the run-up to the 2020 presidential and legislative elections and calls for close monitoring of the situation. It recommends that the Security Council ensure the effective implementation of resolution 2303, refer to the International Criminal Court any international crime that might be committed, and impose individual sanctions against the principal alleged perpetrators of gross human rights violations and international crimes in Burundi. (The HRC renewed the mandate of the Commission for another year in resolution 42/26, adopted on 27 September 2019.)
Key Issues and Options
The intensified suppression of civil liberties ahead of the presidential election and the stalled EAC-led mediation remain serious concerns that the Council will need to monitor closely. An option would be to adopt a presidential statement ahead of the election, noting Nkurunziza’s commitment not to run for president 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 civil liberties.
Another major issue is the continued lack of accountability for human rights violations over the last several years, magnified by the closure in February 2019 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. Council members concerned about the human rights situation in the country ahead of the election could organise an Arria-formula meeting with the HRC’s Commission of Inquiry on Burundi to discuss its recommendations to the Council.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Council members agree that the continued viability of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreements—which ended the Burundian civil war in 2000—is important as a basis for stability in the country. Burundi, for its part, remains entrenched in its opposition to what it considers interference by the international community in its internal affairs. This may affect the way forward for the office of the Special Envoy.
To date, the Council has been unable to find a fresh avenue to re-engage with Burundi. The continued improvement in the security situation led some members to argue that—notwithstanding political, human rights and humanitarian concerns—there is no need to keep Burundi on the Council’s agenda, viewing such concerns as internal issues lacking an international peace and security dimension. During the meeting in February, some Council members may question the need for the quarterly briefing on Burundi to continue. Similar difficulties around the quarterly briefing have arisen in the past.
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.|
|24 October 2019S/2019/837||This was the Secretary-General’s report on the situation in Burundi.|
|1 October 2019S/2019/783||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|
|30 October 2019S/PV.8652||This was a briefing by Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Burundi Michel Kafando.|