Briefing on Burundi by Political Affairs Head
Tomorrow (21 October), Council members will be briefed during consultations on the situation in Burundi, by the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman. The briefing is being held at the request of France, in light of the continuing political turmoil and violence in the country. Council members last discussed Burundi on 28 August, under “any other business”. A substantive AU communiqué adopted on 17 October, may have provided further impetus for a Council discussion on Burundi. Council members may negotiate a press statement following the meeting.
Until late August Council members were watching the volatile situation in Burundi closely following President Pierre Nkurunziza’s announcement on 25 April that he would run for a third presidential term. Political unrest and violence have continued to plague Burundi since that announcement, persisting even after Nkurunziza won the 21 July presidential poll and his party won 77 of the 100 seats in the parliamentary elections of 29 June.
On 28 September, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Al Hussein voiced concern over the spiraling violence in Burundi and said that since April his office had registered 134 killings, 90 cases of torture, as well as hundreds of cases of arbitrary arrest and detention, including 704 arrests since the beginning of September alone. He added that his office documented incidents of targeted attacks on members of the opposition and civil society, as well as on members and supporters of the ruling party, their families, high-level government officials and military leaders. Violent attacks have continued into October. On 15 October, in a statement condemning the killing of 11 people in Bujumbura, the Secretary-General called on Burundian authorities to undertake a rigorous and prompt investigation into the circumstances and motives and bring the perpetrators to justice.
The AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) met on 17 October and released a communiqué (PSC/PR/COMM.(DLI)), expressing the PSC’s deep concern about the continuing political impasse marked by a lack of dialogue on the serious problems facing Burundi due to the non inclusive and non consensual nature of the June and July 2015 elections. The communiqué stresses that the elections were held despite requests for their postponement from the East African Community (EAC), the AU and others of the international community. The communiqué calls for the urgent resumption of the mediation process, through the mediation efforts of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on behalf of the EAC. It further notes the growing insecurity and the continued rise in violence in Burundi, as well as the increased cases of human rights abuses. The PSC, which has deployed human rights observers and military experts to the country, adopted operative measures at the meeting, including an investigation into human rights violations against civilians; imposing targeted sanctions against Burundian stakeholders who have perpetuated the violence; requesting the AU Commission to finalise contingency planning for deployment of an African-led mission if needed; and increasing the number of human rights observers and military experts in Burundi while adding a police component to the mission.
In response, Burundi’s Foreign Minister Alain Nyamitwe said that his country will cooperate with any AU investigation, while noting that the threat of sanctions will only exacerbate the tense situation, which the government is trying to defuse.
The AU communiqué follows the imposition of sanctions on four Burundian individuals by the EU on 1 October. The four are Godefroid Bizimana, the deputy head of the national police, who allegedly made decisions leading to disproportionate use of force against peaceful demonstrators; Gervais Ndirakobuca, a cabinet official responsible for police matters, accused of giving instructions that prompted violations of international human rights law; Joseph Niyonzima, a senior intelligence official accused of arming and training a pro-government militia; and Leonard Ngendakumana, a former general who took part in the attempted coup against Nkurunziza in May, accused of placing obstacles in finding a peaceful solution to the crisis.
With the reelection of Nkurunziza seen as a fait accompli, several Council members are of the view that more attention could be paid to preventing any further deterioration of the situation on the ground, the restoration of stability and security and putting a strong emphasis on the need for dialogue between the government and all opposition parties. Some Council members take the view that with the latest position articulated by the AU, there may be space for adopting a more proactive position by the Council on these points. It is possible that the support of the region may convince other Council members to take a stronger position against the Burundian government’s security policies and urge for real dialogue with opposition parties on finding a solution to the political crisis. However, at press time it was unclear if any member would press for a stronger outcome than a press statement, or if a consensus statement can be more substantive than previous recent statements from the Council on Burundi.
Postscript: On 28 October the Council adopted a presidential statement (S/2015/PRST/18) expressing concern about insecurity and violence in Burundi, condemning human rights abuses and calling for all stakeholders to engage in dialogue.