Council to Adopt Presidential Statement on Burundi
Today (18 February), the Council is set to adopt a presidential statement on Burundi. The statement comes at a time of transition from the UN Office in Burundi (BNUB) to the UN Electoral Observation Mission in Burundi (MENUB). (In accordance with resolution 2137, the BNUB’s mandate ended on 31 December 2014 and MENUB was established on 1 January 2015.)
France, the penholder on Burundi, initially circulated the draft presidential statement on 29 January, with the intention of noting the progress achieved in Burundi, while highlighting remaining concerns over the situation in the country, such as limits on political space and political violence ahead of upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections. It became apparent during two rounds of negotiations that several Council members, including the African members, wanted the text to include more supportive language on the progress achieved in Burundi in recent years and less language on the remaining challenges and concerns. Other members were against omitting or significantly weakening language on the remaining areas of concern which they viewed as the key objective of the presidential statement. Council members were at an impasse on this issue for over a week. Following French bilateral negotiations with Council members over the past several days, it seems that the draft that will be adopted later today retains most of the language expressing concern over various issues in Burundi with some adjustments. It seems that certain positive language was added to reflect areas of progress in the country that may have helped to convince some member states to agree to the draft presidential statement.
In the draft, the Council welcomes the significant progress made by Burundi since the adoption of the Arusha Agreement in 2000, notably in the restoration of security and stability in the country. At the same time, the draft notes that there remain challenges to overcome to ensure that progress is not reversed, especially with respect to the May-August 2015 legislative and presidential elections. While noting the engagement of the Burundian government in implementing the code of conduct for parties and roadmap towards the elections, the draft expresses concern with reports of intimidation, harassment, political violence, arbitrary arrest and detention infringing on the rights of freedom of peaceful assembly and expression.
The Council also takes note in the draft of the reports of a reduction of extrajudicial killings, cases of torture and ill-treatment, as well as politically-motivated acts of violence and government efforts in this respect. However, it goes on to express concern over restrictions on freedom of expression and opinion, peaceful assembly and association, as well as continued threats against journalists and representatives of civil society, including human rights defenders. The draft further calls on Burundi to increase its efforts to hold people accountable for such acts.
Also related to accountability, the draft expresses the Council’s concern over the 30 December 2014 incident in Cibitoke province, looks forward to the outcome of the investigation announced by the government, and stresses the need for the investigation to be independent and impartial. During a 21 January briefing, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman reported to the Council on this incident in which the Burundian army clashed with an unidentified armed group crossing the border from the Democratic Republic of the Congo into Burundi’s Cibitoke province. Over the course of several days, the Burundian army reportedly defeated the group, killing close to 100 of its members. (According to Human Rights Watch, 47 of these were executed by the Burundi military, police and members of the ruling party’s youth wing, the Imbonerakure, after surrendering.)
On economic development, noting that Burundi remains one of the poorest countries in the world, the draft urges Burundi to continue its efforts to implement a zero tolerance policy on corruption, including by holding individuals that violate such a policy accountable. It seems the language on corruption was strengthened in the final draft at the request of the US, which broke silence on the presidential statement yesterday.
Finally, the draft reiterates the Council’s request that MENUB report to the Council through the Secretary-General before the elections (scheduled to commence in May), as well as during and after them.