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Burundi: Briefing on Elections and Security Situation

Tomorrow (4 June), Council members will be briefed in consultations by the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Said Djinnit via video teleconference (VTC) from Bujumbura on the situation in Burundi, and by Adama Dieng, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide, on his recent visit to the country.

Council members have been following the situation in Burundi closely since violent protests erupted after the ruling party, the National Council for the Defence of Democracy-Defence Forces of Democracy (Cndd-FDD), on 25 April nominated incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza as its candidate to run in the presidential election scheduled for 26 June. (Legislative and municipal elections are currently scheduled for 5 June.) Nkurunziza’s eligibility to run for a third term has been questioned by his opponents and polarised the Cndd-FDD. A failed 13 May coup attempt by Burundi’s former head of intelligence Major-General Godefroid Niyombare, sacked in February for his opposition to Nkurunziza’s third term, has added to the tensions in the country. The crisis has resulted in roughly 100,000 Burundians fleeing to neighbouring countries—mainly Rwanda—in fear for their lives. Reprisals against the protestors by the Imbonerakure, the youth wing of Burundi’s ruling party, which the government has been accused of arming, have been reported.

Members will be interested in hearing more about the East African Community (EAC) emergency summit on Burundi on 31 May in Dar es Salaam which Djinnit attended. Participants included the members of the EAC—Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi—as well as South African President Jacob Zuma and the Chairperson of the AU Commission Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. A communiqué issued following the meeting called for a postponement of the elections “for a period no less than one and a half months” due to the current situation (the 45 day period keeps the elections within the boundaries of the constitutional timeframe). The EAC further called for the disarmament of all armed youth groups, and for the AU and UN to work with the EAC to achieve these objectives. The EU has announced the suspension of its electoral observer mission to Burundi and the Catholic Bishops of Burundi announced that they have withdrawn their support for the elections being held as scheduled.

Following the meeting, Burundi government spokesman Philippe Nzobonariba said that the government was open to the idea of delaying the elections. He added that the issue of Nkurunziza’s third term had not been discussed at the summit, and that Burundi considers matter to be “closed”. News reports coming out of Burundi today indicate that the government has now asked the electoral committee to produce a new electoral timetable in accordance with the EAC communiqué.

Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman met on 1 June with the Burundian First Vice President, Prosper Bazombanza. Feltman endorsed the EAC call for postponement which, he said, provided Burundi with an opportunity to create the conditions for peaceful and credible elections. He encouraged Burundi to seize the opportunity to take concrete steps to ensure the security of the electoral process and the safety of political and civil society actors, as well as the disarmament of armed civilians.

At the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) Burundi configuration meeting this morning (3 June) members received an update on the situation from Djinnit via video teleconference. Djinnit spoke of the difficulties in achieving progress in the dialogue between the government and the opposition. He also briefed the configuration on discussions during the EAC summit and stressed that his priority was resuming the dialogue in Bujumbura as quickly. The UN Country Team Resident Coordinator Agostinho Zacarias updated the configuration on the humanitarian and security situation reporting that the security situation remained tense. He said that the Burundian police were not properly equipped with riot gear and that incidents of direct fire of live rounds by police at protestors had been witnessed. He noted the outflow of refugees while emphasising that within Burundi there is no humanitarian crisis at the moment. The Burundi Minister of Interior, Edouard Nduwimana, also addressed the configuration via video teleconference. He welcomed the EAC communiqué and said that the government would postpone the elections by 45 days.

Dieng concluded a two-day visit to Burundi on 31 May, having met with Nkurunziza and senior government officials, political party leaders, civil society representatives and other key actors. Following the visit, Dieng said that given Burundi’s history of ethnic violence, Burundian political parties must work to prevent any action that could increase the risk of violence against individuals or groups on the basis of their identity, including political affiliation, religious or ethnic identity. He emphasised the importance of respect for fundamental human rights and the rule of law. Council members will be looking for Dieng’s assessment of the current state of ethnic divisions in the country and the potential for further violence based on such divisions.

Council members have been regularly briefed on the situation in Burundi, and have so far agreed on elements to the press and press statements over the last month. Djinnit briefed Council members on 8 May, 14 May and most recently on 27 May regarding his efforts to mediate between the government and the opposition. After the 8 May briefing, in elements to the press, Council members expressed concern over the influx of refugees into neighbouring states and called on all sides to refrain from violence. After the 14 May briefing and the foiled coup, Council members condemned attempts to seize power unlawfully and called for the swift return of the rule of law and the holding of credible elections in the spirit of the Arusha Agreements, again in elements to the press.

The next day, Council members issued a press statement calling for the establishment of a genuine dialogue between all Burundians to create the necessary conditions for credible elections (SC/11896). On 24 May, Council members issued another press statement condemning the killing of opposition leader Zedi Feruzi on 23 May in Bujumbura (SC/11905). On 27 May, Djinnit briefed Council members again in consultations via video teleconference on his latest mediation efforts. He told them that dialogue between the government and the opposition was positive until the attack on Feruzi brought all talks to a halt. (It seems that talks have resumed since.)

The Council, while monitoring the situation closely, has had difficulties coming to a consensus on a clear message as to the best way forward to ensure that the situation in Burundi does not escalate into further violence or conflict. Points of agreement include strong support for Djinnit’s mediation and of regional efforts, and the importance of maintaining constitutional order in Burundi. The main differences revolve around Nkurunziza’s standing for a third term. Some Council members, such as the US, have publicly called for Nkurunziza not to stand for a third term, while others, such as Russia and China, view the third term as an internal constitutional issue that has been resolved by local institutions. In any event, it may be that following the failed coup and in light of Nkurunziza’s insistence on running for a third term, the window for the Council to send a clear message and impact the decision making in Burundi has narrowed significantly. Depending on what Council members hear from Djinnit about the positions taken at the EAC summit meeting on 31 May, there might be a push from some members for the Council to endorse or take note of the EAC communiqué on the postponement of the elections. However, other members may be hesitant to endorse it explicitly if Burundi itself does not indicate its clear willingness to accept the EAC plan or because they do not view the plan as a sufficient framework to solve the current impasse as it does not address the issue of Nkurunziza’s third term or provide sufficient parameters for dialogue concerning the conduct of the elections.


Postscript (5 June): Council members issued a press statement following the meeting.

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