Dispatches from the Field: Burundi
Bujumbura: Meetings with Former Burundian Officials and UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Council members arrived in Bujumbura yesterday evening (21 January) for the start of their three-day visit to Burundi and Addis Ababa. Upon arrival Council members were greeted by the Special Advisor of the Secretary-General, Jamal Benomar, and the Resident Coordinator of the UN Country Team, Paolo Lembo.
Council members then met with three former Burundian officials: former president Domitien Ndayizeye, former president Jean-Baptiste Bagaza and former presidential military advisor and head of the Peace and Reconciliation Commission, Leonidas Nijimbere. The officials stressed the importance of maintaining the spirit and letter of the Arusha Peace Accords, including the balance of power-sharing and ethnic representation. They emphasised that it is in this spirit that an inter-Burundian dialogue must be revived, possibly with international involvement. The speakers called for the African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi (MAPROBU) mandated by the African Union to deploy in Burundi to restore security.
Several Council members inquired about the steps Burundians would want the Council to take at this juncture. They spoke about the need for government consent for the proposed AU peacekeeping mission to deploy and how to obtain this from President Nkurunziza.
After this meeting, Council members were briefed by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on the human rights situation in the country. They were told that the situation has taken a turn for the worse, in particular after the 11 December 2015 attacks on military facilities. The government’s response resulted in an unprecedented number of deaths and an increase in forced disappearances. Witnesses reported seeing nine mass graves for victims of the government’s crackdown. Incidents of sexual and gender based violence, which reportedly have had an anti-Tutsi dimension, are a further worrying development. Council members were told that any hint of an ethnic dimension to the conflict must be quashed immediately. Council members were informed that there have been some positive results in addressing human rights issues with the government, and some people were released from custody at the request of OHCHR.
Council members then attended dinner with several Burundian ministers, including Burundian Foreign Minister Alain Nyamitwe.
Bujumbura: Meetings with Government Officials, Political Parties, Civil Society, Religious Leaders and Journalists
The following day began with a meeting with Nyamitwe followed by a meeting with First Vice President of Burundi Gaston Sindimwo. Both stated that Burundi is in discussions with the AU regarding acceptable forms of AU deployment in the country.
Council members then met representatives of civil society who, like OHCHR, spoke of increasing incidents of human rights abuses. The representatives called on Council members to put in place urgent and long-term mechanisms to restore peace and security in Burundi.
Council members next met with representatives from political parties. First, representatives from opposition parties addressed Council members. Several said that MAPROBU was essential for peace and security. Accountability and justice for crimes committed against the population were also urged. Council members were called upon to act before the situation deteriorates further.
Representatives from parties within the government spoke with varying voices on the way forward. Among other interventions, there were calls for an all inclusive dialogue and a national unity government. The lack of progress in the mediation process under the auspices of the East African Community, led by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, was also raised.
Next, Council members met with religious leaders. They were told that the situation in Burundi is largely stable, that reports in the media are exaggerated and that there is no need for foreign deployment in the country.
Lastly in this series of meetings, Council members heard from Burundian journalists. The journalists told Council members that independent media in Burundi had been shut down, that they suffer from intimidation and that they are only able to operate through social media.
Gitega: Meeting with President Pierre Nkurunziza
Council members travelled out of Bujumbura to meet with President Pierre Nkurunziza at a presidential facility in the town of Gitega. In a meeting that lasted just over two hours, it seems that Nkurunziza told Council members that the reality in Burundi is much better than that reported in the media. He said that the current violence does not carry an ethnic dimension and guaranteed that there would never be a genocide in Burundi.
Nkurunziza raised the issue of attacks against Burundi which he said were conducted by rebels being trained and armed by Rwanda, and said that this must come to an end. Burundi’s permanent representative to the UN, Albert Shingiro, who was present at the meeting with Nkurunziza, told the press after the meeting that he welcomed comments made by US permanent representative Samantha Power about sending “a strong message to the government of Rwanda”.
Several points were emphasised by Council members who took the floor. As a starting point, some members made it clear that the Council delegation was not there to discuss the issue of Nkurunziza’s presidency but rather to talk about the way forward in resolving the crisis. Council members stressed the need for the dialogue to be more inclusive. Several members wanted to hear Nkurunziza’s views on enhancing the UN’s role in the mediation process, mainly through the involvement of Benomar. Some members raised the need for Burundi to accept some form of international presence, whether MAPROBU, human rights or military observers, or a police force to work with and train local police.
It seems that Nkurunziza reiterated the previously stated position that only those opposition parties that are recognised and peaceful can be included in the inter-Burundian dialogue. It seems that he would like Museveni to continue to lead the mediation, though other actors could play a role in it as well. Referring to the idea of an AU deployment, he seemed to suggest that this could not be forced on Burundi.
Several Council members came out of the meeting with Nkurunziza with a sense of disappointment, as despite some encouraging signs of flexibility in earlier meetings with officials, the president did not show a real shift from previously stated positions or much willingness to compromise on the major issues raised. However, the fact that Council members presented Nkurunziza with a largely unified message on the different issues was seen as a positive sign that they had come closer to a common position.
Day 3 – Addis Ababa
Tomorrow morning, the Council members will have an informal meeting with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General to the African Union, Haile Menkerios, followed by an informal meeting with the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC), with both Burundi and Somalia on the agenda. Council members are likely to raise some of the issues brought up in their meetings in Burundi with the PSC members and discuss possible options for moving forward.