Negotiations on a Draft Presidential Statement on Burundi
Council members have been negotiating a draft presidential statement on the situation in Burundi. The draft statement was circulated by France on Friday night (19 February) after bilateral discussions with Council members. Several members wanted the Council to adopt an outcome in support of a high-level visit by African leaders to Burundi scheduled for 25-26 February. However, at press time, silence had been broken several times, and an adoption has yet to be scheduled.
The draft text focuses mainly on points that have already been agreed among Council members in recent texts and deliberations, including condemnation of violence, support for the Ugandan-led mediation process, deeper involvement for the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Jamal Benomar, who has been leading UN good offices efforts in Burundi, and some form of international presence in Burundi.
The situation in Burundi remains fragile and violence that began after an April announcement by President Pierre Nkurunziza that he would run for what many saw as an unconstitutional third term continues. Over 400 people have been killed since April, and some 240,000 have fled the country. Recent months have also seen an escalation in violence and increasing militarisation of the conflict by opposition groups, which Burundi claims are being aided by Rwanda. The Council has maintained close attention to the situation, including by visiting, and was last briefed by Benomar on 10 February.
The Council has closely followed regional efforts to resolve the crisis. On 29 January, during the AU Summit, the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) adopted a communiqué on Burundi (PSC/AHG/COMM.3(DLXXI)) that took note of Burundi’s objection to the deployment of the African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi (MAPROBU) as mandated by the PSC on 17 December 2015 (PSC/PR/COMM.(DLXV)). The PSC decided not to deploy MAPROBU at that juncture and to continue to support the mediation efforts led by Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni, under the auspices of the East African Community. (The mediation has been dormant since parties last met in Uganda on 28 December 2015). The PSC further decided to dispatch a high-level delegation to Burundi to hold consultations on an inclusive inter‐Burundian dialogue.
This delegation is expected to include President Ould Abdel Aziz of Mauritania, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, President Macky Sall of Senegal, President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia.
The Security Council visited Burundi on 21-22 January. During their meetings with President Pierre Nkurunziza and government ministers, Council members sought to persuade the Burundian government to accept and facilitate some form of international presence, whether human rights and military observers, or MAPROBU, both mandated by the AU. Russia proposed a police force that would train and accompany local police units, seeking to improve the latter’s work and restore trust between the police and the local population. Council members further strove to persuade the Burundian government to accept the participation of all Burundian stakeholders in the Uganda-led mediation and a greater role for Benomar in facilitating dialogue .
The draft text circulated by France condemned acts of violence committed by all parties, expressing concern over cases of human rights violations and abuses, including extra-judicial killings, sexual violence, acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, recruitment and use of children, and arbitrary arrests, among others. One delegation wanted to delete the reference to these human rights violations and instead call on the government and others to refrain from any action that would threaten peace and stability in the country. At press time, some of the human rights related language had been retained, but there were still differences over whether specific reference to sexual violence should be in the draft presidential statement.
The proposal of a UN police component is a key element in the draft presidential statement. The initial French draft signaled the Council’s intention to strengthen Benomar’s support team for conflict prevention in Burundi by adding a UN police component to protect human rights and advance the rule of law. It made clear that this would be carried out in consultation with the Burundian government and in coordination with the AU. It seems that the issue of police presence was framed in the context of Benomar’s support team in order to secure the agreement of Council members who are cautious about explicitly supporting future UN mission deployment. These members believe that including the police presence as part of the support team will help to obtain Burundian consent. However, the US took the position that the idea of UN police deployment should be dealt with in the text as a stand-alone issue, as it exceeded the scope of the Special Adviser’s support team. Other Council members wanted to emphasise the role of such a police component in training local police forces in addition to monitoring. Several attempts to bridge the differences included leaving the relationship between the police component and Benomar’s team imprecise by referring to the strengthening of UN engagement including through Benomar’s team, “including through” a police component. While it seems that several members are supportive of the idea of embracing the police component within the support team, Egypt has been particularly insistent, as it believes that this option is most likely to get the consent of the government. At press time, there was no agreement on an acceptable formulation for the police component. The draft presidential statement requests the Secretary-General to consult with the Burundian government and present options on police deployment within 15 days.
During their visit, Council members assured Nkurunziza that they would urge Rwanda not to interfere in Burundi’s affairs. The draft presidential statement calls on “neighbouring countries” not to support the activities of armed movements in any way. It further calls on Burundi to facilitate without further delay the full deployment of the AU human rights observers and military experts. In a related development, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) sent a letter (S/2016/140) to the President of the Council on 11 February, demanding that the Council condemn reported Rwandan recruitment and training of Burundian refugees, who transit through the DRC on their way back to Burundi, to carry out anti-government operations in Burundi.
The Secretary-General‘s visit to Burundi from 22-23 February is commended in the draft presidential statement. During the visit, the Secretary-General brought together representatives from the government, ruling party and opposition parties to discuss the future of the country. Council members may be interested in hearing from the Secretary-General about these discussions and his assessment of the prospects for an inclusive dialogue.