What's In Blue

Posted Mon 27 Jan 2014

Burundi Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow (28 January), the Security Council will be briefed by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN Office in Burundi (BNUB), Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, and Ambassador Paul Seger (Switzerland), the chair of the Burundi configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC). The briefing will be followed by consultations. BNUB’s mandate expires on 15 February and Council members will be keen to discuss the government’s recent request to see BNUB come to an end.

On 17 January, Burundi forwarded a 15 January letter from Foreign Minister Laurent Kavakure which unequivocally stated that Burundi wished BNUB to shut down and that Onanga-Anyanga should ensure that BNUB concluded all operations within six months of its termination date. It seems the government views BNUB’s presence as a signal to private foreign investors that the country is unstable and therefore as an impediment to progress.

A Strategic Assessment Mission (SAM) requested in resolution 2090, which last renewed BNUB, visited Burundi from 4-10 November to assess the country’s progress. The mission was led by the Department of Political Affairs and included representatives from the Departments of Peacekeeping Operations and Field Support, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Peacebuilding Support Office, the UN Development Program, the UN Refugee Agency and the UN Children’s Fund. The findings of the SAM were discussed in the UN Policy Committee on 17 December and included in the Secretary-General’s report on BNUB (S/2014/36). The SAM concluded that the security situation in Burundi remained stable, but in light of the political and institutional challenges in the country, and human rights concerns, BNUB should remain until after the June 2015 general elections. Council members may be looking for an assessment of the risk that these challenges could pose leading up to the elections next year.

Following the SAM, Onanga-Anyanga held talks with the government to try to reach an agreement regarding a continued UN political presence in the country. While several scenarios were discussed, the most agreeable compromise seemed to be a smaller political mission with a focus on specific issues, such as electoral assistance, that would remain in the country until after the June 2015 elections. In a 26 December letter to President Pierre Nkurunziza, the Secretary-General suggested a UN political mission on those terms. However, on 31 December, Nkurunziza informed the Secretary-General that Burundi rejected this proposal.

Seger is likely to focus on his visit to Burundi from 13-17 January to assess peacebuilding efforts in the country. Prior to the visit, he was informed that, as opposed to past practice, interaction with the government would be limited to two meetings with the foreign minister and the second vice president. This appears to be a reflection of the politically limited role the government wishes the PBC to play, although it still would like the PBC country configuration to continue to operate till after the elections. During the visit, Seger told his interlocutors that he is also of the opinion that BNUB should remain in place at least until after the elections as Burundi is at a critical juncture.

It seems that most Council members are also of the opinion that, in order to ensure future progress in Burundi, BNUB should stay on the ground until after the June 2015 elections and that a political mission is still needed. Yet all Council members are cognisant that BNUB, as a Chapter VI political mission, requires the consent of the host government as a matter of law. In addition, BNUB would not be able to implement its mandate without official cooperation. While Council members are in agreement that a Chapter VII decision is not warranted as the security situation in the country is stable they are also aware that there is a need to thoroughly evaluate Burundi’s progress in achieving the benchmarks for the future evolution of BNUB into a UN country team.

Given Burundi’s position on BNUB, some Council members, like France, have tried – to a certain extent – to persuade the government to change its position on an UN political presence but with no success. As a last resort, they will seek to apply pressure on Burundi to accept that BNUB’s drawdown period be extended beyond six months. Others, like China and Russia, are of the view that the wishes of the government need to be respected.