What's In Blue

Posted Fri 17 Nov 2017

Briefing on Developments in Burundi

On Monday (20 November), the Security Council will be briefed by the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Michel Kafando, and the Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission Burundi configuration, Ambassador Jürg Lauber (Switzerland), on the situation in Burundi, followed by consultations. A representative from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is expected to participate in the consultations. Resolution 2303 of 29 July 2016 requests the Secretary-General to report to the Council on the situation in Burundi every three months. As Kafando last briefed the Council on 26 July, the briefing was initially expected in October following a written report to the Council. However, the meeting was postponed until after Kafando’s recent visit to the region, and it was agreed that Kafando would only brief the Council orally; a written report is expected before the next briefing.

Kafando is expected to brief the Council on recent developments in the country, his latest meetings, and the work of his office. 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, continues to be tense. Serious human rights abuses are reported to be committed daily with impunity, and oppression and state control over Burundian society remain high, exerted mainly by the government and the Imbonerakure, the youth group of Nkurunziza’s party. Despite the apparent stability in the security situation, many fear the situation is untenable and masks a serious risk of violent escalation between the government and those that oppose it. The Burundian government, for its part, maintains that the security situation is good throughout the country.

On the political front, Council members will be interested in hearing more about a proposed bill to amend the Burundian constitution. In a cabinet meeting held on 24 October, the Council of Ministers agreed to push forward significant constitutional amendments. According to media reports, while the delicate ethnic representation of the constitution is left intact, there are several significant changes proposed. These include replacing the two five-year presidential terms with two seven-year terms. Moreover, it is proposed that terms served before the expected 2020 elections be discounted, thus giving the incumbent Nkurunziza the opportunity to run for a new seven-year presidential term, once renewable. As mentioned above, his election for his third term (based on a highly controversial interpretation of the constitution) sparked the current political crisis.

Also reportedly envisioned in the constitutional amendments is a substantial change in the current positions of the two vice presidents, one from the ruling coalition and one from the opposition. A prime minister instead of a vice-president will be drawn from the coalition, and the position of vice-president from the opposition will remain a mainly symbolic position. The constitutional amendments apparently also make it easier to pass certain laws in parliament by reducing the majority required. It appears that the government intends to put these constitutional amendments to a referendum.

Opposition figures have come out strongly against these amendments, asserting that they conflict with the Arusha Agreement that ended the civil war in Burundi and on which the constitution was based. They suggest that a referendum under current political conditions will not be free and fair. Council members will be interested to hear full information about the proposed amendments and the modalities and the likelihood of their adoption, and an assessment of the possible ramifications for Burundi’s stability if the process goes ahead.

Kafando will also update Council members on his recent week-long visit to Burundi and the region. In Burundi, he met with Alain Aimée Nyamitwe, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the Burundian Ombudsman, Edouard Nduwimana. According to a statement issued by Kafando’s office, the discussion centered on the inter-Burundian dialogue. Afterwards he met with Benjamin Mkapa, the AU facilitator of the East African Community (EAC) of the inter-Burundian dialogue, on 3 November. On 7 November, Mkapa met with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, the mediator of the inter-Burundian dialogue on behalf of the EAC; they agreed to meet again on 23 November and that the next dialogue session should be held on 27 November.

The dialogue has yet to produce any substantive advances, and most discussions are still focused on whether to keep it in Tanzania or move its location to Burundi, as well as on which opposition groups should have a seat at the table. Some in the opposition view Mkapa as partial towards Nkurunziza and claim that Nkurunziza is unwilling to truly engage with the opposition.

Council members may also inquire about the political ramifications of the recent 9 November decision by the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber III, authorising the ICC Prosecutor to advance her preliminary investigation and open a formal investigation regarding crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court allegedly committed in Burundi or by nationals of Burundi outside Burundi from 26 April 2015 until 26 October 2017. Burundi withdrew from the Court on 26 October 2016. According to the ICC’s Rome Statute, the withdrawal takes effect after a year, thus on 26 October 2017. The decision notes that the prosecutor has presented materials that offer a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation in relation to crimes against humanity. The Chamber noted that it is estimated that at least 1,200 persons were allegedly killed, thousands illegally detained, thousands reportedly tortured, hundreds disappeared, and 413,490 persons displaced during this period. Museveni and Tanzanian President John Magufuli stated that the decision derails efforts for a lasting solution to the situation in Burundi.

Lauber will update the Council on his activities since last briefing the Council on 26 July (S/PV.8013). Lauber has not subsequently visited Burundi but has met with AU representatives in Addis Ababa and with Mkapa in Geneva.

Council members will also be interested in the current status of negotiations between Burundi and OHCHR on the reopening of the latter’s office, which Burundi officially suspended on 11 October 2016. (Though formally suspended, OHCHR has continued to function unofficially with some capacity, with Burundi’s consent). Burundi took this action following the 20 September report (A/HRC/33/37) of the UN Independent Investigation in Burundi (UNIIB) mandated by the Human Rights Council, which found “abundant evidence of gross human rights violations,” by the government, possibly amounting to crimes against humanity. In addition, on 30 September, the HRC adopted a resolution creating for one year a commission of inquiry to investigate violations in Burundi since April 2015 (the report of the commission was issued on 11 August, supporting the conclusions of the UNIIB).

The Council has been at an impasse with respect to its engagement with Burundi, split between those who view the situation as an internal issue lacking a pressing security dimension and those who see it as volatile and closely related to international peace and security because it threatens the viability of the 2000 Arusha Accord. Council members that are more critical of Burundi are extremely concerned at the recent developments, but at this juncture, there are no indications that positions in the Council have changed to allow for concrete action. Other Council members are of the view that the Council must find a renewed platform for engagement with Burundi and Nkurunziza, detached from the deployment of a police component authorised in resolution 2303, which remains unimplemented.