Burundi: Presidential Statement
Today (4 December) the Security Council will adopt a presidential statement on Burundi which calls on the government of Burundi to cooperate with the UN to address a number of challenges that the country faces, while also requesting the Secretary-General to cease providing periodic reporting on the situation in Burundi and instead cover the country in the context of his regular reporting on Central Africa and the Great Lakes region. France, as the penholder on Burundi, circulated a draft text on 27 November. A round of informal negotiations was held on 1 December. France circulated an updated version of the draft yesterday (3 December). The draft passed silence this morning.
While it appears that there was broad agreement amongst Council members to end the Secretary-General’s periodic reporting on Burundi, reaching consensus on the draft text required compromise. There were differences in how prominently different Council members wanted to refer to Burundi’s many challenges on, for example, human rights, the rule of law and fundamental freedoms. The draft text recognises gains in these areas, but “stresses important work ahead”, while also raising “continued concern” about human rights violations and abuses.
Another sticking point was how to reference the Secretary-General’s 2 November report of his strategic assessment mission, which visited Burundi from 14 to 19 September and was tasked with providing recommendations for enhancing cooperation between the UN and Burundi. Some Council members appeared to take issue with some of the report’s recommendations. The final draft contains a reference to the Secretary-General’s report but mentions only its “relevant recommendations”, without specifics. The strategic assessment report offers a broad assessment of the political, peacebuilding, security, socioeconomic, and humanitarian situations in the country. It concludes by calling on the Burundian government to work with the UN to “sustain the gains made thus far and to advance national reconciliation, peacebuilding, social cohesion, socioeconomic development, humanitarian priorities and respect for human rights and the rule of law”.
The draft presidential statement further takes note of the improved security situation in Burundi, following presidential elections last May, as well as both gains and continued challenges on issues such as national reconciliation, the rule of law and the preservation of democratic space, peacebuilding, social cohesion, and development. In addition to calling for an end to human rights violations, the draft statement calls on the Burundian government to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable. The draft further calls for the Burundian government and the UN to cooperate in addressing the country’s challenges.
Discussions between the Secretary-General and the Burundian government to “allow sufficient time for a smooth transition of the Office of the Special Envoy” are encouraged in the draft outcome. The strategic assessment mission report recommended that the Office of the Special Envoy for Burundi be extended until 31 December 2021, while it “transitions to the new United Nations presence, the details of which will be agreed to by the United Nations and the Government of Burundi”.
Several other issues are highlighted as well. These include: the need for discussions between international actors and the Burundian government regarding the resumption of financial and technical assistance; engagement of the Peacebuilding Commission—as well as amongst Burundi and the UN, the AU, and the region—to support Burundi in achieving sustainable peace, reconciliation and development; and coordination amongst the UN, the AU, regional actors and Guarantors of the Arusha Peace Agreement to assist Burundi in implementing the agreement.
Burundi has been a divisive issue for the Council in recent years, and this draft presidential statement follows several Council meetings in the last 16 months that highlighted the question of whether or not Burundi should remain on its agenda. Some members—including the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany and Belgium, amongst others—have maintained that, given the political tensions and human rights violations in the country, Burundi should remain on the Council’s agenda. Others—notably Russia, China and the Council’s three African members—have argued that the country should come off the agenda, as it does not represent a threat to international peace and security. (Under the current rules of procedure, for an item to be removed from the Council’s “seizure list”—which is published annually and updated weekly—three years need to have passed since the Council last formally discussed the item or there needs to be Council agreement on having that item removed from the agenda.) Members have agreed that the Council should seek improved engagement with Burundi. The successful completion of the elections process and the peaceful transition of power appears to have been the impetus for Council members to look anew at ways to promote improved engagement with Burundi and reduce reporting on the country.