Briefing and Consultations on Burundi ahead of Presidential Elections
Tomorrow (9 July), Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Tayé-Brook Zerihoun and the High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein will brief the Security Council on the situation in Burundi, followed by consultations.
This briefing continues the series of meetings Council members have had since President Pierre Nkurunziza’s 25 April announcement that he would run in the presidential election, and the violent protests that ensued. Since the current crisis erupted, at least 70 deaths have been reported and roughly 144,000 refugees have fled the country. During this period Council members have met seven times, and issued one presidential statement as well as three press statements, largely related to the elections.
The Council has been split between those Council members, such as Russia, China and the African members, who see this as an internal constitutional issue, and those such as the US and the European countries, who took a hard line against Nkurunziza’s third-term bid, the crackdown on the opposition and government restrictions on civil and political rights. This disagreement has resulted in relatively weak messages from the Council, which has not gone beyond reiterating the need for dialogue, disarmament of youth groups and upholding the rule of law.
Meanwhile, parliamentary and municipal elections took place in Burundi on 29 June, despite calls for postponement by the Secretary-General and in communiqués issued by recent AU and East African Community (EAC) summits. Fifteen opposition parties boycotted the ballot. Today it was announced that Nkurunziza’s party won 77 of 100 seats in the parliament.
The UN Electoral Observation Mission (MENUB) released a preliminary statement on 2 July, taking the view that in light of violations of human rights and other fundamental freedoms in the country, the environment was not conducive for free, credible and inclusive elections. MENUB also noted similar concerns expressed by the AU, EAC, and the International Conference on Great Lakes Region. Burundi responded to this statement by publicly rejecting the designation of the head of the UN Office for Central Africa, Abdoulaye Bathily, as the UN envoy appointed to facilitate dialogue among Burundian stakeholders (the previous envoy, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Great Lakes Region, Said Djinnit, stepped down after complaints of bias from opposition parties).
Also on 2 July, Council members were briefed under “any other business” (AOB) on the 29 June elections by Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Ŝimonović, Deputy Head of MENUB Issaka Souna and Bathily (the briefing was originally scheduled as “consultations” but some Council members preferred it be taken up during AOB, which does not appear on the programme of work, as they did not want the Council to appear overly focused on Burundi). Ŝimonović warned about the possible spillover of the crisis to neighbouring countries and expressed concern that ethnic undertones may come to the fore if the current political conflict is not resolved. In his briefing, Zeid, who visited Burundi between 12-15 April, is expected to further express these concerns. Bathily updated Council members on the lack of progress in the mediation effort since he arrived in Bujumbura as the government refuses to participate in the meetings. An advanced copy of the Secretary-General’s written report on MENUB to the Council was circulated yesterday (7 July). It too warns of the possibility of ethnic violence if the crisis is not contained. The Secretary-General is critical in the report both of the government for rejecting Bathily as mediator, and of the opposition for previously rejecting Djinnit as mediator and for boycotting the elections.
An emergency summit of the EAC on Burundi, which Bathily attended, was held on 6 July in Dar es Salaam. A communiqué released at the end of the meeting called for the postponement to 30 July of the presidential elections scheduled for 15 July. It also called for a unity government to be formed after the elections, regardless of the results. Furthermore, the EAC appointed Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to facilitate dialogue between the Burundian political parties. Burundian opposition parties promptly announced their rejection of Museveni as mediator. Meanwhile the government has announced that it will consider postponing the presidential ballots to 26 July, the furthest delay allowed by the constitutional framework.
Council members will be interested to hear more about the discussions during the EAC summit and what role the UN, and Bathily in particular, can play in light of the appointment of Museveni as mediator by the EAC. Another point of interest for some Council members is what follows the elections. As it is clear that Nkurunziza is set on running for a third term and will likely win the polls, questions are being asked now about the best options for the Council to ensure Burundi recovers from the current crisis, divisions are healed, law and order restored and basic freedoms upheld. Another possible issue for discussion is what sort of UN presence is needed once MENUB’s mandate comes to an end after the election cycle.
Today the Chair of the Burundi Configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, who was in Burundi from 1 – 3 July, briefed the Configuration on the security situation during the current electoral period, and the need for national reconciliation after the elections. He also told members that the Burundi government indicated that it would like continue to work with the Configuration after the elections. Seger last briefed the Council in January 2015.