Presidential Statement on Burundi Ahead of Elections
This afternoon the Security Council will adopt a presidential statement ahead of the parliamentary election in Burundi on Monday and the presidential elections scheduled for 15 July. It also follows Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s call for a postponement of the elections after opposition parties announced that they would be boycotting them, as well recent AU and East African Community (EAC) summits which issued communiqués focused on the need to postpone the elections.
On 31 May the EAC held an emergency summit on Burundi in Dar es Salaam. Participants included the members of the EAC—Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda—as well as South African President Jacob Zuma, the Chairperson of the AU Commission Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Said Djinnit. The EAC communiqué issued following the summit called for a postponement of the elections for 45 days, a period during which the members of the summit would consult with all stakeholders in Burundi on the way forward. 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. In response, Burundi announced a new electoral calendar, with parliamentary and local elections scheduled for 29 June and presidential elections for 15 July.
On 13 June, the AU Peace and Security Council issued a communiqué (S/2015/436) in support of the EAC’s call for a postponement of the parliamentary and presidential elections. It called for the date of the election to be set by consensus among the Burundian parties and based on a technical assessment undertaken by the UN. The AU decided to deploy human rights observers and military experts to verify the process of disarming the militias and other armed groups. In addition it decided to send a ministerial-level delegation to Burundi in July to assess the implementation of the communiqué, indicated its willingness to take measures against those perpetuating violence and impeding a political solution and explicitly requested the Security Council to endorse the communiqué.
France appears to have circulated the draft presidential statement on 21 June in response to the AU’s explicit request for Council endorsement. The original version of the draft text took note of the conclusions in the AU communiqué. It expressed a shared concern with that of the AU and EAC that the political dialogue had not produced the expected results and that conditions are currently not conducive for holding elections. Like the AU communiqué, the draft presidential statement emphasised that the Burundian political parties should all agree on the date of the election. It further stressed that the Burundian dialogue should address concerns over the protection of civil and human rights, including the freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, release of detainees, respect for the rule of law and disarmament of youth groups prior to the elections.
However, over the week several members had amendments to the text. Russia, supported by China, did not want to highlight the lack of success in the political dialogue or that conditions for elections have yet to be met. Significantly, Russia suggested that as the elections have already been postponed by the government, there is no room for further delays and for a new schedule to be adopted by consensus. In essence, their position entailed noting the AU and EAC statements but not adopting them as the Council’s own position. It seems that the African members of the Council had similar views to Russia and China.
The draft under silence this morning appears to be an attempt to accommodate the different views. It does not include language on how conditions for holding elections have not been met but instead notes that the AU communiqué states that the current situation can jeopardise the gains achieved in Burundi over the years and destabilise the region. In addition, instead of emphasising that a new election date should be set by consensus by the Burundian parties, it now simply notes that the AU made a statement to that effect, and makes reference to the spirit of the EAC’s communiqué of 31 May requesting a postponement of the elections and that the basis for this date should be a technical assessment by the UN.
The draft text under silence calls on the parties to participate in inclusive dialogue in the “spirit of the Arusha Agreements, and the Constitution” on what is needed to create conducive conditions for the elections. It seems that Russia and the African Council members were particularly keen to include the reference to the constitution. (On 5 May Burundi’s Constitutional Court ruled that the renewal of the presidential term through direct universal suffrage for five years was not against the constitution of Burundi. This is in line with Nkurunziza’s position that as he was not elected by popular vote for his first term in 2005, but through a vote of parliament, he is eligible for another term. The opposition, however, contends that the Arusha Accord—the peace agreement that is the basis of the constitution—provides no exception to the two-term limit.) The draft text also emphasises that the dialogue should address all matters of disagreement and address concerns that could affect the elections.
The Council was briefed on 4 June by Djinnit via video teleconference and by Adama Dieng, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide. Dieng briefed Council members on his recent visit to the country and stated that further violence may escalate into an ethnic conflict. Djinnit updated Council members on the EAC summit. Several Council members were disappointed with the fact that although the issue was discussed, the EAC was unable to come out with a statement regarding Nkurunziza’s third term. Some also expressed disappointment that the EAC did not elaborate on the conditions necessary for moving forward with the elections.
Council members released a press statement that day taking note of the EAC communiqué and calling on all Burundian parties to reach agreement on: a new electoral calendar; protection of civil and human rights, including freedom of peaceful assembly and for members of the political opposition to campaign freely; release of detainees; holding accountable those who have used violence; respect for the rule of law; and urgent disarmament of all armed youth groups allied to political parties.
Djinnit stepped down as mediator on 11 June after several opposition parties requested his removal, alleging that he had been biased. The head of the UN Office for Central Africa, Abdoulaye Bathily, has been appointed as the new mediator.
Like the AU, the EU foreign ministers on 18 June stated that they are considering the adoption, if necessary, of targeted restrictive measures against perpetrators of violence and serious violations of human rights in Burundi.
Burundi sent a letter to the Council on 16 June with the current electoral schedule, stating that as the constitutional deadline for the new president to be sworn in is 26 August 2015, any further postponements will result in a constitutional vacuum (S/2015/437). Burundi further commented that the only way past the current crisis is to organise elections and let the Burundian people choose their leaders freely. It also reiterated its commitment to creating and maintaining an environment conducive to the holding of free, democratic, peaceful and inclusive elections.