On Monday (30 November), Council members are expecting a briefing in consultations by Jamal Benomar, the newly appointed Special Adviser of the Secretary-General, on the situation in Burundi. The briefing comes in accordance with the Council’s recent request in resolution 2148 (12 November) for the Secretary-General to update the Council within 15 days on the situation in Burundi, including by presenting options on the future presence of the UN in the country.
The resolution further welcomed the 17 October communiqué of the AU PSC (PSC/PR/COMM.(DLI)) and the proposed steps outlined in the communiqué, while “looking forward” to their full implementation. (For more on the content of the communiqué, see our 9 November What’s in Blue story, “Council to Hold Urgent Meeting on Burundi.” It expresses the Council’s intention to consider additional measures against “all Burundian actors whose actions and statements contribute to the perpetuation of violence and impede the search for a peaceful solution”. (Explicit reference to the threat of targeted sanctions by the Council, included in the original draft, was omitted from the text, due to objections from China, Russia and Venezuela).
Council members have been following the continuing crisis in Burundi with concern, as politically motivated violence in the country continues and hate speech with ethnic undertones becomes more prevalent. In a briefing to the Council on 9 November, High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein told Council members that at least 240 people have been killed since protests began in April, when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced that he would run for a third term, a decision largely viewed as unconstitutional. (Nkurunziza was elected for a third term on 21 July). In addition, media reports suggest that about 210,000 Burundians have fled to neighbouring countries during the period.
Clashes between security forces and government supporters on the one hand, and opposition supporters on the other, continue to result in casualties and the political activities of many opposition groups are increasingly curbed by the government. On 23 November, Burundi suspended the licenses of ten NGOs over allegations they have been involved in anti-government activities. In a statement made on 25 November, Al Hussein deplored this measure as “an attempt by Burundian authorities to silence dissenting voices and to limit the democratic space”. He further lamented that the number of people killed in Burundi continues to steadily grow, including 41 people since 7 November, when the President’s ultimatum for Burundians to hand in all weapons ended. He added, however, that there is still a chance to end the crisis before a full-blown civil war breaks out.
The US imposed sanctions on four Burundian individuals on 23 November. The visa restrictions and assets freezes were imposed on Alain Guillaume Bunyoni, minister of public security; Godefroid Bizimana, deputy director-general of the national police; Godefroid Niyombare, major general and former chief of Burundi’s intelligence service; and Cyrille Ndayirukiye, former minister of defense. (Bizimana is also one of four Burundians sanctioned by the EU on 1 October). The Executive Order issued allows the US Department of Treasury to impose further sanctions on individuals who engage in acts or policies that threaten the peace, security, or stability of Burundi, human rights abuses, and attacks on UN personnel. Thomas Perriello, the U.S. Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa, added that the US will expand the list “as needed”. This step comes in addition to the decision of the AU Peace and Security Council on 17 October to impose sanctions on Burundian stakeholders who have perpetuated violence.
During the consultations on 9 November, the idea of a Council mission to Burundi was raised, as it has been in the past. Discussions between Council members on such a trip for early December have been ongoing, and the issue may be raised in the consultations. Several Council members see such a trip as a chance for the Council to get a first-hand impression of the situation on the ground (some Council members have complained that the information provided to the Council has been one-sided against the government). It would also provide the Council with the opportunity to send a clear message to the government that a political solution, based on an inclusive dialogue between all stakeholders, is essential and that the Council may resort to more forceful measures if necessitated by the situation. Finally, Council members see value in a mission that would bolster the Council’s support for the AU and East African Community efforts. In spite of the potential benefits of such a trip, one concern of some members seems to be that such a mission could prove counter-productive if the Council is unable to present Burundi with a united front as opposed to fragmented voices.
Another element of interest for Council members is hearing the initial impressions Benomar, as he visited Kampala, Addis Ababa and Burundi recently. In particular, they may want his input on possible options for the future role and presence of the UN in Burundi, as the UN Electoral Observation Mission in Burundi (MENUB) concluded its mandate on 18 November. Council members will be especially interested in Benomar’s impression of the positions of the Burundian government–and those of the AU and the EAC–on UN engagement with Burundi.