Expected Council Action
In May, a Secretariat representative is expected to brief the Council on the situation in Burundi, in keeping with quarterly briefings on the issue requested by resolution 2303.
Key Recent Developments
Presidential elections in Burundi are scheduled for 20 May. President Pierre Nkurunziza—whose election to a controversial third term in 2015 precipitated mass demonstrations and an increase in violence and repression against his opponents—has said that he does not plan to run. The National Council for the Defense of Democracy–Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD)—Nkurunziza’s (and Burundi’s ruling) party—has announced that its secretary general, Evariste Ndayishimiye, will be its candidate. The candidate of the National Congress for Liberty, the leading opposition party, is Agathon Rwasa.
Since Nkurunziza announced in April 2015 that he would run for a third term and his subsequent re-election, hundreds of civilians have been killed in clashes with security forces, and nearly half a million people have fled their homes. The government maintains that the security situation is stable throughout the country. According to UNHCR, as of 31 March, there were 334,261 Burundian refugees, mostly in Tanzania, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda, with an additional 102,722 internally displaced persons as of 3 April.
In its 4 September 2019 report, the Human Rights Council’s (HRC) Commission of Inquiry on Burundi found that suppression of civil liberties is intensifying ahead of the election. It also notes that violations of the right to life, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, sexual violence, and violations of economic and social rights—some of which may constitute crimes against humanity—are conducted in a climate of impunity. The commission further identified the CNDD-FDD’s youth league, the Imbonerakure, and government security forces as the main perpetrators. In addition, the Imbonerakure is forcibly collecting funding from the population for the presidential election. On 16 January, the European Parliament adopted a resolution strongly condemning “the current restrictions on freedom of expression in Burundi… in particular in the run-up to the 2020 elections”.
The East African Community (EAC)—which was expected to lead a mediation process involving the Burundian government and opposition as well as civil society organisations, but which has not materialised in four years—announced on 8 February that it would send an elections observation mission to the country for the upcoming elections. Recent media reports suggest that former Tanzanian Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda was expected to lead the EAC elections observation mission. However, at the time of writing, the EAC has not clarified the size or timeline of the mission’s deployment. There is also some question as to whether or not the mission would be permitted to enter Burundi, given concerns around COVID-19.
The chair of the Burundi configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, Ambassador Jürg Lauber (Switzerland), along with Assistant Secretary-General for Africa, Bintou Keita, visited Burundi from 2 to 6 February 2020. In his 24 March letter addressed to the president of the Security Council, Lauber submitted a report from the trip in which he observed that, during his visit, all of his Burundian, regional and international interlocutors were “united in their wish for a credible, inclusive, transparent and peaceful electoral process”. However, Lauber recommended that the “electoral period must not deflect attention from acute and chronic needs of the population” and encouraged the Burundian authorities “at all levels to facilitate cooperation to meet those needs”.
On 26 February, Council members held an informal interactive dialogue (IID) on the situation in Burundi. This was originally envisaged as a formal public briefing followed by consultations, but the president of the Council—Belgium—decided instead to hold an IID, which allows for non-Council members to participate in a private discussion. Though Burundi was invited, it did not participate; however, several regional countries did. Some Council members used the IID to emphasise the need for the upcoming elections to be held in an inclusive, peaceful and transparent manner.
On 10 April, the Commission of Inquiry released a statement expressing concern about the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and its potential impact on the Burundian population, saying that measures taken by the government remained insufficient to address the pandemic. The statement highlighted Burundi’s fragile health system. It also noted that more than 70 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and the increased risk that the coronavirus would spread in Burundi’s overpopulated prisons. It also expressed regret that “some humanitarian organisations were refused access to sites where persons were quarantined in deplorable conditions”. The president of the commission, Doudou Diène, noted that combatting the pandemic “is more challenging in a pre-electoral context such as in Burundi, as it requires even more vigilance… [and] should not be used for political or economic purposes”.
The last formal Council meeting on Burundi took place on 30 October 2019. Then-Special Envoy to Burundi Michel Kafando highlighted tensions due to “an increase in the level of political intolerance and a growing threat to civil and political freedoms”. He also announced his intention to resign.
The Council’s last resolution on Burundi was resolution 2303, adopted in July 2016. Several elements of that resolution, such as the creation of a UN police component in Burundi for an initial period of one year, have never been implemented.
Human Rights-Related Developments
During its 43rd session, the HRC held an interactive dialogue on Burundi on 9 March with an oral briefing by the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, which noted that the eight risk factors identified in the commission’s September 2019 report (A/HRC/42/49) – that is, an environment of instability; a history of serious human rights violations; the weakness of State structures; the existence of reasons, aims or drivers that justify the use of violence against particular groups; the capacity of potential perpetrators to commit atrocity crimes; the absence of internal and external elements that can contribute to preventing an escalation of violence, ending it or lessening its impact; enabling circumstances or preparatory actions, whether sudden or gradual, that provide an environment conducive to the commission of atrocity crimes; and triggering factors – are still present, and some are even more marked than before. A deterioration of the situation in regard to political, economic and security stability was highlighted as was the widespread climate of impunity and an increase in hate speech with political or ethnic dimensions or both.
Key Issues and Options
Increased suppression of civil liberties ahead of the presidential elections, the threat of elections-related violence and the stalled inter-Burundian dialogue remain concerns that the Council will wish to monitor closely. One option would be to adopt a presidential statement ahead of the election, calling on Burundi to take steps towards an inclusive, transparent and peaceful electoral process, including respect for civil liberties, and urging the EAC to invigorate efforts to revive its mediation efforts.
Another major issue is the continued lack of accountability for human rights violations over the last several years, amplified by the closure in February 2019 of the country’s UN Human Rights Office at the insistence of the government after a 23-year presence. The Council may encourage Burundi to cooperate fully with all UN bodies.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Council divisions over Burundi persist. Some members maintain that, given the political tensions and human rights violations in the country, Burundi should remain on the Council’s agenda, while others, notably Russia and China, argue that the country should come off the agenda, as it does not represent a threat to international peace and security. In the Council’s last formal meeting on Burundi on 30 October 2019, South Africa appealed to the Council “to support the Government of Burundi and the East African Community mediation process as it lays the foundation for an environment that is conducive to the holding of democratic elections”. While 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 is adamant in its opposition to what it considers interference by the international community in its internal affairs.
Some Council members are concerned about the upcoming elections and have emphasised that elections should be held in a credible and transparent manner. The Council has had difficulty finding new channels with which to re-engage Burundi. The conduct of the upcoming elections could provide the Council an opportunity to revisit the nature of its engagement with Burundi and the frequency and timing of Council briefings.
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.|
|24 October 2019S/2019/837||This was the Secretary-General’s report on the situation in Burundi.|
|Security Council Letters|
|24 March 2020S/2020/232||This letter from the chair of the PBC’s Burundi configuration Jürg Lauber transmitted the report of his to 2 to 6 February 2020 visit to Burundi.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|30 October 2019S/PV.8652||This was a briefing by Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Burundi Michel Kafando.|