Briefing on Burundi
Tomorrow (9 March), the Council will be briefed in consultations by the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General for Conflict Prevention, Jamal Benomar, on the Secretary-General’s report on the situation in Burundi (S/2017/165).
The security and political situation in Burundi, which deteriorated sharply after April 2015 when Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza announced that he would run for a controversial third term, remains dire. While the number of casualties has declined and the security situation has improved, the report notes that the current situation is unsustainable. Serious human rights abuses continue to be committed daily with impunity, mainly by the government and the Imbonerakure, the youth group of the Nkurunziza’s party. The overall level of oppression and state control over Burundian society has increased, manifested by arbitrary deprivations of life, enforced disappearances, cases of torture, and large-scale arbitrary detention. Furthermore, these actions are taking place in an environment where freedoms of expression, association, and assembly are virtually non-existent. An estimated 387,000 people have fled the country since the beginning of the crisis, and the report notes that it is estimated that that number will surpass 500,000 by the end of the year. The report highlights, in particular, allegations of more than 200 cases of enforced disappearances since October 2016.
Council members will be interested in Benomar’s views on possible avenues for renewed engagement with Burundi, which has shunned international cooperation, particularly since the political crisis began. According to media reports, in October 2016, Nkurunziza requested the replacement of Benomar as Special Adviser. (Over the years Burundi has rejected engagement with successive UN envoys.) Burundi has ceased all cooperation with OHCHR, refuses to cooperate with the Commission of Inquiry mandated by the Human Rights Council (HRC), and withdrew from the ICC, which has been conducting a preliminary investigation into the situation in Burundi. In particular, they may be interested in hearing whether Burundi would allow for greater UN involvement in facilitating dialogue between Burundian stakeholders. In addition, members may be looking for recommendations on how to incentivise Burundi to find a political solution to the crisis.
The Inter-Burundian Dialogue, led by the East African Community (EAC) and facilitated by former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, continues to struggle. The latest round of talks was held in Tanzania between 16-19 February. On the first day, the Burundian government officially demanded that Tanzania arrest several of the opposition attendees, whom it accuses of violent insurrection and leading a foiled coup plot in May 2015. The warrants, which were not issued, would have affected several members of the main umbrella opposition movement, the National Council for the Restoration of Arusha Agreement and Rule of Law (CNARED), who are currently in exile. After the ruling party refused to sit down with the opposition, Mkapa met with them in a hotel outside the International Arusha Conference Center. The government also rejected Benomar’s participation in the Arusha talks. On the last day of the meetings, Mkapa called for an urgent EAC heads-of-state summit in order to invigorate the dialogue.
The two sides remain divided: the government claiming there is no crisis and focusing on the 2020 elections, and the opposition demanding a transitional government and the removal of Nkurunziza before those elections.
Moreover, Nkurunziza has hinted he may run for a fourth term in 2020. The Secretary-General’s report notes that Nkurunziza has suggested in a statement at the end of 2016 that he might seek a fourth term in office “if the Burundian people decide to change the Constitution according to their wishes”. On 16 February, the Council of Ministers of Burundi established a commission to amend the Burundian constitution, though it is as yet unclear if those amendments would touch upon presidential term limits. This follows an internal Burundian dialogue process which concluded that the majority of citizens demanded an end to presidential term limits. However, many opposition and civil society groups did not participate in the process which they claim was marred by a lack of inclusiveness and transparency, with the objective of producing a predetermined political outcome by the government. Council members will also be interested to hear from Benomar about the current status of the internal dialogue process.
The report, due by 29 January, was circulated to Council members only on 23 February, thus postponing the consultations from February to March. It concludes that the foundational values of the Arusha Agreement, namely, justice, the rule of law, democracy, good governance, respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals, unity, solidarity, gender equality, and tolerance among the various political and ethnic components of the Burundian people, have all been undermined. It notes that adoption of constitutional amendments that would reverse provisions of the Arusha Agreement and eliminate presidential term limits would, under the current circumstances, bear the risk of plunging the country back into armed conflict, with unpredictable repercussions for the region. It calls for urgent measures to ensure accountability and prevent impunity, and calls on Burundi to renew cooperation with the Commission of Inquiry mandated by the HRC and to hold all perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses to account. It further calls on Burundi to renew cooperation and engage with the international community more generally.
The report also highlights other areas of resolution 2303, adopted on 29 July 2016, which have not been implemented. The resolution authorised a police component with a ceiling of 228 officers to monitor the security situation and support the human rights monitoring of OHCHR, under the authority of Benomar’s office, and urged Burundi to cooperate fully with the police component, including giving unhindered access to detention facilities. Burundi has publicly rejected the resolution. Council members may seek Benomar’s views on the prospects of implementing resolution 2303, in full or in part, with the cooperation of Burundi.
Another issue raised in the report is the partial deployment of the AU human rights observers and military experts to Burundi, due to the fact Burundi has yet to sign a memorandum of understanding with the AU on their deployment and activities. As of February 2017, only 45 human rights observers (out of 100), 32 of whom are funded by the Peacebuilding Fund, have been deployed to Burundi, and only 23 military experts (out of 100). In accordance with resolution 2303, after a funding request from the AU, the Secretariat provided the Council with options for funding the AU observers on 19 September 2016 through a logistical support package. The report requests the Council to consider this issue, but the Council has yet to act, as several Council members are opposed in principle to funding AU operations outside the purview of the UN.