What's In Blue

Posted Wed 15 Apr 2015

Burundi Consultations

Tomorrow afternoon (16 April), Council members will be briefed in consultations by Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, on recent developments in Burundi. The US requested the briefing from the Secretariat on Monday, in the context of the upcoming presidential and legislative elections and the potential for instability in the country. A press statement noting the concerns of Council members about the security and political developments in the country, including ensuring the holding of free and fair elections, is a possible outcome, but at this point, it is unlikely to be negotiated prior to the briefing tomorrow.

Zerihoun is expected to brief on the political situation and election-related developments. He will also update Council members on the security situation, specifically as it relates to the electoral process, with communal and legislative elections scheduled for 26 May and presidential elections due on 26 June. (After the closing of the UN Office in Burundi [BNUB] on 31 December 2014, the UN Electoral Observation Mission in Burundi [MENUB] was established on 1 January 2015, in accordance with resolution 2137). Increased political tensions and violence have been evident in recent weeks in Burundi, especially due to growing expectations that the ruling party, the National Council for the Defence of Democracy-Defence Forces of Democracy (Cndd-FDD), intends to nominate incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza as its presidential candidate. Nkurunziza is currently finishing his second term as president, and his expected candidacy for a third term may be a violation of Burundi’s 2005 constitution, which states that the president should be elected by “universal suffrage” for a maximum of two five-year terms. This has been a polarising political issue, including within a faction of the Cndd-FDD itself. Nkurunziza’s opponents contend that the Arusha Accord—the peace agreement that is the basis of the constitution—provides no exception to the two-term limit. However, his supporters argue that he was not elected by a popular vote for his first term in 2005, but through a vote of the parliament; therefore, they believe he is eligible for another term.

Council members focused on the possibility that Nkurunziza may seek reelection during their visit to Burundi on 13 March. During the visit, they met with MENUB, the UN Country Team, the ministers of foreign affairs and the interior, the heads of Burundi’s electoral and human rights commissions, political parties and actors, civil society and lastly, with Nkurunziza. During their meeting with Nkurunziza, Council members conveyed views they had heard in their meetings earlier that day that a third term would be very divisive and a risk to Burundi’s stability. Members stressed that the president should take actions that ensure the country’s unity. It seems Nkurunziza’s response was that the matter was a legal issue to be decided on by the constitutional court and that he intended to abide by the court’s decision.

Given Council members’ concerns about instability related to the elections, the security situation in the country will likely be an important focus of the discussion tomorrow. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein raised similar concerns earlier today. In a press conference, Zeid, visiting the country since Sunday (12 April), noted the increase in politically motivated harassment, intimidation and acts of violence, as well as a reported rise in hate speech. In recent weeks, more than 4,000 Burundians have crossed the border into Rwanda, fearing for their safety and the actions of the Imbonerakure, the youth wing of Burundi’s ruling party, claiming an upsurge of attacks against supporters of opposition parties and those opposing a third term by Nkurunziza. (The Imbonerakure have been repeatedly accused in recent years of politically motivated violence, perpetrated with the backing of the government, against opposition leaders and supporters.)

The Council last met on Burundi on 21 January (S/PV.7364), to mark the drawdown of BNUB at the end of 2014. Subsequently, after four weeks of negotiations, the Council adopted a presidential statement (S/PRST/2015/6), welcoming significant progress made by Burundi since the adoption of the Arusha Agreement in 2000, while at the same time noting remaining challenges to overcome to ensure that progress is not reversed. Challenges noted in the statement included reports of intimidation, harassment, political violence, arbitrary arrest and detention and infringing on the rights of freedom of peaceful assembly and expression. The Council also called on Burundi to ensure an inclusive and credible electoral process and to ensure that all human rights violations and abuses are seriously investigated and that perpetrators are held accountable.

Several Council members are of the view that a press statement at this juncture will be timely. They will likely wish to convey their concerns over the political and security situation, including the recent violence and impunity of the Imbonerakure and the importance of abiding by the constitutional order. It is expected that any press statement adopted will need to balance the perspectives of those on the Council that support strong language on the security and political challenges in Burundi, in particular in the context of the elections, such as the US and France, and those Council members, such as Russia, that wish to emphasise the notable progress achieved in the country in recovering from a bloody civil war.

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