Briefing on Burundi
On Thursday (13 October), the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Jamal Benomar, will brief Council members in consultations on recent developments in Burundi before his next visit to the country.
Benomar’s briefing will be the first on Burundi since the Council adopted resolution 2303 on 29 July, authorising a police component with a ceiling of 228 officers to monitor the security situation and support OHCHR human rights monitoring, headed by a senior police adviser and under the authority of the Special Adviser’s office. In addition, the Secretary-General is asked to take the necessary steps for the protection of UN personnel and facilities, including the police component, in consultation with Burundi. Resolution 2303, adopted under Chapter VI, urges Burundi to cooperate fully with the police component including by allowing unhindered access to detention facilities. At the same time, the resolution takes note of the fact that Burundi had only consented to the deployment of 50 police officers, namely for training the local police.
The resolution further requested the Secretary-General to strengthen the Special Adviser’s office with additional political officers, and to report back to the Council within 30 days on proposals to enable the UN to facilitate the deployment of AU human rights observers and military experts, and on modalities for cooperation between the police component and the AU deployment.
In response to the resolution, in a letter sent to the Secretary-General on 19 August, Burundi rejected both the deployment of any force in its territory and the expansion of the Special Adviser’s office, noting that the resolution cannot be implemented without its consent.
In a letter of 19 September (S/2016/799), the Secretary-General transmitted the report asked for in resolution 2303. In it, he called on the Council to continue to engage with Burundi to secure its cooperation for the deployment and activities of both the UN police component and the AU observers. Regarding the latter, he reported that the AU has so far deployed 47 human rights observers and 23 military experts to Burundi (out of an authorised 200), all of whom are operating in Bujumbura. He added that due to financial and logistical constraints, along with security concerns, the AU has not been able to operate fully throughout the country and deploy the available additional personnel. Furthermore, little progress has been made towards the signature of a memorandum of understanding between the AU and Burundi regarding the terms of deployment, though the AU has reported that the access of those currently deployed has not been restricted in practice thus far. The Secretary-General also proposed that the Council could provide him with the mandate to provide a targeted logistical support package for the AU deployment.
Council members will be interested to hear from Benomar if there has been any headway made with the government concerning the possibility of deploying the police component. Some countries may be looking to get an assessment from Benomar as to whether there is still the possibility of an initial smaller deployment, in accordance with the scope of consent previously expressed by Burundi. Council members may also ask Benomar about any recent progress in the East African Community-led Burundian inter-dialogue, facilitated by former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa. Media reports suggest that thus far little progress has been made in solving the current political crisis, which started in April 2015 when incumbent Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza announced that he would run for a controversial third term.
Assuming Burundi remains firm in its rejection of resolution 2303, Council members could take this opportunity to consider the options for moving forward on Burundi. This may include finding a new basis for engagement with the government in order to get resolution 2203 implemented.
This will also be the first opportunity for the Council to discuss the Secretary-General’s proposal for a logistical support package for the AU observer mission, though it seems that several Council members are strongly against any such package.
The situation in Burundi itself remains grave. Although the number of violent incidents and casualties has subsided in recent months, the 20 September report of the UN Independent Investigation on Burundi (UNIIB), mandated by the Human Rights Council (HRC) (A/HRC/33/37) to investigate violations and abuses of human rights between 15 April 2015 and 30 June 2016, has highlighted that systematic human rights violations in Burundi have been and are taking place with impunity, committed primarily by the government. The report notes that the overall level of oppression and control over Burundian society has increased, manifested by arbitrary deprivations of life, enforced disappearances, cases of torture and other forms of ill-treatment and arbitrary detention on a massive scale. These actions are taking place in an environment where freedoms of expression, association and assembly are virtually non-existent. On 30 September, the Human Rights Council established a commission of inquiry to investigate human rights violations and abuses in Burundi since April 2015, including on their extent and whether they may constitute international crimes, and their perpetrators (A/HRC/33/L.31). In addition, on 23 September the UN Refugee Agency announced that the number of refugees “fleeing violence, threats, extrajudicial killings, abduction, torture and persecution in Burundi has passed the 300,000 mark”, and is likely to continue to rise.