Burundi Briefing and Consultations
Tomorrow (30 October), the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Michel Kafando, will brief the Security Council on the situation in Burundi and the Secretary-General’s 23 October report on Burundi (S/2019/837), in keeping with quarterly briefings on the issue requested by resolution 2303. This is the first written report on Burundi since 15 November 2018 (S/2018/1028). In addition to Kafando, who has not briefed the Council since 19 February, Ambassador Jürg Lauber (Switzerland), the chair of the Burundi configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC), is also expected to brief.
The security and political situations in Burundi have remained unsettled since April 2015 when Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza announced that he would run for a controversial third term later that year, leading to a sharp deterioration of the situation with violence and repression against his opponents. Hundreds of Burundian civilians have been killed since April 2015 in clashes with security forces, and about half a million people have fled the country. Nkurunziza won a third term, and according to a subsequent amendment to the constitution, he would be able to run again. While Nkurunziza has reiterated on several occasions that he will not seek another term in office, the ruling party has yet to designate its candidate for the next presidential election in May 2020.
The report notes that though the security situation has improved across the country over the last year, violence and human rights violations continue to occur, and remain a grave concern. It notes that the victims of human rights violations are predominantly persons perceived as political opponents to the ruling party, civil society members, and those who contested Nkurunziza’s third term and voted against the constitutional amendments in May 2018. Between 14 June and 15 October, the report continues, independent media sources reported 110 cases of arbitrary arrests and detentions; 37 cases of intimidation, including arson and destruction of opposition party offices; 27 cases of ill-treatment; and 11 cases of killing of members of opposition parties. These difficult conditions are a source of concern for a number of Council members, especially as Burundi continues to prepare for presidential, legislative and local elections in May 2020.
The report notes that Burundi, for its part, refuses to acknowledge human rights abuses in the country, and recalls that the OHCHR Office in Burundi was closed on 28 February at the behest of the government. In this context, it also notes that the 4 September report of the Human Rights Council-mandated Commission of Inquiry on Burundi found that the suppression of civil liberties is intensifying ahead of the scheduled elections (A/HRC/42/49). The commission further found that violations of the right to life, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and other forms of ill-treatment, sexual violence, and violations of economic and social rights, some of which may constitute crimes against humanity, are conducted in a general climate of impunity. It identified the youth league of the ruling party (the Imbonerakure) and the security forces as the main perpetrators. In a presidential statement adopted on 5 April 2018 (S/PRST/2018/7), the Council’s most recent formal outcome on Burundi, the Council strongly condemned human rights violations and abuses in Burundi and reiterated its regret at the government’s decision to “suspend all cooperation and collaboration with the Office of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR)”.
In addressing the humanitarian situation, the report notes as a positive development that the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance in Burundi has decreased from 3.6 million in 2018 to 1.8 million in 2019. At the same time, it expresses concern over the August bilateral agreement between Burundi and Tanzania to repatriate 280,000 Burundian refugees from Tanzania, beginning on 1 October, noting that these returns must be voluntary. For its part, the Council, in its April 2018 presidential statement on Burundi, called on governments in the region to ensure that returns to Burundi are “voluntary, based on informed decisions and in safety and dignity”.
Council members may be interested to hear from Kafando about his recent interactions with Burundian officials and his efforts to relieve political tensions in the country. The report notes that Kafando’s office continues to interact with all Burundian stakeholders, including government officials, in an effort to foster discussion and promote an environment conducive to political dialogue. They may also inquire about the prospects of reviving the East African Community (EAC)-led inter-Burundian dialogue which has been dormant since its Facilitator, Benjamin Mkapa, presented his final report on 1 February 2019 to the Summit of EAC Heads of State. The Secretary-General’s report notes that the Burundian government, which boycotted the last round of talks in October 2018, considers the process to be over, while the opposition is critical of the international community’s inability to compel Burundi to participate in an inclusive dialogue. The Secretary-General considers that holding the 2020 elections in the current environment of tension and mistrust may lead to renewed violence.
The relationship between the fraught political environment and a possible deterioration in overall security may also be of interest to Council members. In recent meetings on Burundi, some Council members, such as the UK and France, have maintained that the fragile political and humanitarian situations necessitate that the Security Council remain seized of this issue and follow the situation in Burundi closely. Others, such as Russia and China, are of the view that the situation in Burundi does not pose a threat to international peace and security and thus should not be on the Council’s agenda. They view continued Council attention to Burundi as counterproductive to stability in Burundi.
The Secretary-General’s report also notes the dire state of the Burundian economy. It further notes that between June and October, the Peacebuilding Fund continued implementing projects in Burundi that totalled $16.3 million. Lauber is expected to update the Council on his recent discussions with Burundi officials, including his meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ezechiel Nibigira, with whom he met on 27 September in the margins of the opening of the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly. Lauber may also highlight the next steps in terms of peacebuilding activities in Burundi and his priorities, including continuing the dialogue with Burundi and its international partners on socioeconomic issues in the country, and utilising the PBC as a platform for dialogue to assist Burundi toward free, fair, inclusive and peaceful elections in 2020. Council members may be interested to hear from Lauber on his recent engagement with Burundi on its socio-economic challenges and how the international community can engage more effectively with the country on these issues during this period of political tensions and human rights concerns.
Council members last met on Burundi on 28 August, when Michael Kingsley, Director of the Central and Southern Africa Division of the UN Department for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Lauber, as well as representatives from neighbouring countries, participated in an informal interactive dialogue with Council members