Burundi Briefing by Political Affairs Head
Tomorrow (8 April), the Council will be briefed under “Any Other Business” by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman on recent developments in Burundi. This is the second time in less than a month that Council members will receive a briefing on Burundi. On 26 March, at the request of the US, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Tayé-Brook Zerihoun updated Council members in consultations on the deterioration in the political situation. At press time, no draft outcome document had been circulated, but a press statement remained a possibility.
Tomorrow’s briefing was initiated by the UN Secretariat. Since the 26 March briefing, the situation on the ground has continued to deteriorate. There have been reports of increased violent activities by the Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the incumbent National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) party. Yesterday (6 April), following a meeting in Kigali with First Vice-President of Burundi Prosper Bazombanza, the Secretary-General expressed strong concerns about reports concerning activities of youth groups and urged the relevant national authorities to investigate these reports. The Secretary-General also encouraged political dialogue ahead of the July 2015 elections. Feltman may provide more information from the Secretary-General’s meeting with Bazombanza.
The recent reports of violence are only the latest in a series of worrying political and security developments, which provided the impetus for tomorrow’s briefing, as well as the briefing on 26 March. The High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay stated on 7 March that at least 19 violent incidents involving members of the Imbonerakure, who are believed to number as many as 1,000, have been documented since the beginning of the year, including the reported killing of an opposition youth leader on 19 February. These incidents include beatings, acts of extortion and intimidation of political opponents, and the prohibition and disruption of political meetings. Furthermore, media reports have alleged that President Pierre Nkurunziza has been providing the Imbonerakure with machetes, arms and uniforms. Also of possible concern to Council members is the suspension of the Movement for Solidarity and Democracy (MSD) opposition party and life sentences for 21 of its members, who were found guilty of armed revolt.
Another worrying development has been the continued political controversy around 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 CNDD-FDD party tabled proposed 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. In the context of this 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.
Of particular concern is that the deterioration of the political and security situation in Burundi comes not long after the Council decided to drawdown the UN Office in Burundi (BNUB) and to transfer its responsibilities to the UN Country Team by 1 January 2015. Most Council members, as well as the Secretary-General, were of the opinion that, in order to ensure future progress in Burundi, BNUB should stay on the ground until after the July 2015 elections, in keeping with the conclusions of the Strategic Assessment Mission’s report (S/2014/36) released on 20 January. 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, in particular, emphasised the need to respect the wishes of the government at the time. 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.