What's In Blue

Posted Fri 18 Mar 2016

Burundi Briefing and Consultations on Recent Visits

This afternoon (18 March), Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein; Ambassador Jürg Lauber, the chair of the Peacebuilding Commission’s (PBC) Burundi Configuration; Permanent Representative Albert Shingiro of Burundi; and Permanent Representative Tuvako Manongi of Tanzania on behalf of the East African Community (EAC) are expected to brief the Council on Burundi. A representative from OCHA will be present. The briefing will be followed by consultations.

France requested the meeting to take stock of the situation in the country following several recent high-level visits to the country, including by the Secretary-General (22-23 February); by the AU High-Level Delegation (25-26 February), which comprised 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; and by Ambassador Lauber, as chair of the PBC Burundi configuration (mid-February). The meeting also comes shortly after the Security Council’s visiting mission to the country on 21-22 January. It seems African members of the Council suggested a discussion on the outcome of these visits when a draft presidential statement on Burundi was not adopted in late February because of a lack of consensus.

It is possible that France may circulate a draft resolution during or shortly after tomorrow’s consultations. A draft resolution may offer an opportunity for the Council to reiterate its concerns about the human rights situation in the country, to signal support for mediation efforts, and to revisit the idea of an international police presence in the country, which was suggested by Russia during the Council’s visiting mission to Burundi. The main point of contention during the failed negotiations on the draft presidential statement revolved around contingency planning for a possible UN police presence in Burundi. (For more on these negotiations, please see our 24 February What’s in Blue story, Negotiations on a Draft Presidential Statement on Burundi.)

International mediation efforts will be an important feature of the meeting. Members may be interested in learning more about any steps the government has taken to adhere to its commitments to international actors. For example, at a press conference in Bujumbura on 23 February, the Secretary-General announced that Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza agreed to withdraw some media bans, cancel arrest warrants and release 1,200 detainees. Members may want to know whether and to what extent these steps have been taken. Additionally, at the conclusion of the AU High-Level delegation’s visit, President Zuma, speaking on behalf of the delegation, announced that Burundi had consented to the deployment of 100 AU human-rights observers and 100 military monitors. Members may seek more information on the deployment, as Burundi had already agreed “in principle” to the deployment of 100 human rights and military observers authorised by the AU in October 2015 [PSC/PR/COMM.(DLI)], but the monitors were unable to start work, due to a lack of agreement on a memorandum of understanding regarding the terms of their deployment. The AU stated that the negotiations stalled because Burundi had insisted that the observers work in tandem with Burundian officials to produce a joint report to the AU.

One issue that may be raised is the EAC’s role in the mediation. As the mediation led by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has stalled, the EAC appointed former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa as coordinator of the inter-Burundian dialogue. Though the process is still headed by Museveni, who was reelected in February as Ugandan president, Mkapa’s appointment signals EAC’s intention to energise the mediation. The EAC’s mediation is expected to be an important element of Ambassador Manongi’s briefing.

The security and human rights situation will be an important topic of discussion, as violence continues. Well over 400 people have been killed, and more than 250,000 have fled the country since President Pierre Nkurunziza announced in April 2015 that he would run for what many saw as an unconstitutional third term. 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.

In briefing on the human rights situation, Zeid may refer to the UN Independent Investigation on Burundi (UNIIB), created by the Human Rights Council in December 2015. UNIIB, which consists of a team of three independent experts, completed its first visit to the country on 8 March, and one of its experts is expected to brief the Human Rights Council on the initial findings of the investigation 21 March. In recent months, Zeid has expressed alarm at human rights violations occurring in Burundi, including killings, torture, sexual violence, and enforced disappearances. Council members, who were briefed during their visit by the OHCHR office in Burundi and were given accounts of the human rights situation by civil society, will be very interested in the findings of the UNIIB.

In his briefing as chair of the PBC’s Burundi Configuration, Ambassador Lauber will brief on his mid-February visit to Burundi, Rwanda, and Ethiopia. He is expected to share information on his 9 March informal meeting with the 43 member states that comprise the Burundi PBC configuration.

Council members may use the consultations following the briefings as an opportunity for a more in-depth discussion of how the different organisations can work together to address the situation in Burundi in a coordinated manner. In this sense, discussion on how to ensure that the different organisations involved in the mediation process can work most effectively together and maximise their impact could be useful.