What's In Blue

Briefing on Political Developments in Burundi

Tomorrow (26 March), at the request of the US, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Tayé-Brook Zerihoun will brief Council members in consultations on the situation in Burundi. The request comes at a time of deterioration in the political situation. At press time, no outcome had been circulated to Council members.

The Council recently decided to begin closing the UN Office in Burundi (BNUB) and to transfer its responsibilities to the UN Country Team by 1 January 2015. Since August 2013, Burundi has expressed its wish to see BNUB terminated because it viewed its presence as a signal to private foreign investors that the country was unstable.

Most Council members, as well as the Secretary-General-based on the conclusions of a Strategic Assessment Mission (S/2014/36))- were then of the opinion that, in order to ensure future progress in Burundi, BNUB should stay on the ground until after the July 2015 elections. They were at the same time cognisant of the fact that, as a Chapter VI political mission, legally BNUB requires the consent of the host government and that practically it would be impossible to implement its mandate without official cooperation. Council members such as China and Russia had particularly emphasised the need to respect the wishes of the government at the time.

Given these circumstances, France, the UK and the US tried to persuade Burundi to extend the presence of BNUB, or at the very least extend the duration of its transition period into a UN Country Team. A compromise solution with Burundi was found and on 13 February the Council adopted resolution 2137, extending the mandate of BNUB for the last time until 31 December 2014 (S/PV.7110). The Council also requested the Secretary-General to prepare BNUB’s transition and transfer of responsibilities to the UN Country Team by that date.

The US request for a briefing on Burundi comes at a time of increasing political turmoil in Burundi. Most notable are events that have occurred since 8 March, when police tried to stop a sporting event they claimed was a front for illegal demonstrations. The situation deteriorated and some of the participants sought refuge in the offices of the Solidarity and Democracy Movement (MSD) opposition party headquarters, taking two policemen hostage. Several people were injured and many were arrested.

On 17 March, Interior Minister Edouard Nduwimana announced that the activities of the MSD were suspended for four months for incitement to violence and acts of revolt. On 23 March, 21 members of the MSD were given life sentences after being found guilty of armed revolt by a Bujumbura court; 26 more were given shortened sentences of between 2-10 years; while 21 were acquitted from any wrongdoing. The whereabouts of the chairman of the MSD, Alexis Sinduhije, are unknown and he is expected to face charges if apprehended.

Another worrying development is the continued political controversy around President Pierre Nkurunziza’s initiative for constitutional amendments that alter power-sharing arrangements between the Hutu and Tutsi that are fundamental to the 28 August 2000 Arusha Accords. On 21 March, members of the incumbent National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) party, tabled the constitutional changes in parliament, but fell one vote short of the 85 required to pass the amendments despite holding 81 of the 106 seats in the parliament. CNDD-FDD officials are apparently planning to put the constitutional changes to a referendum after their failed attempt in the legislative branch.

In the background of the constitutional controversy, the three ministers of the Tutsi-led Union for National Progress (UPRONA) party—resigned from the Hutu-dominated coalition government after Vice President Bernard Busokoza, also from UPRONA party, was sacked from the government on 1 February 2014.

Council members will be anxious to hear of these recent developments and their security and political ramifications, especially given the recent decision to transition to the UN Country Team by 1 January 2015.

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