|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
7006th Meeting (AM)
Burundi Making Notable Strides, But Most Citizens Struggle to Make Ends Meet,
Head of Local United Nations Office Tells Security Council in Briefing
Peacebuilding Configuration Urges Forthrightness
As Representative Voices Fear Nation ‘Running Out of Strength and Creativity’
Despite fiscal woes that threatened to derail hard-won stability gains, Burundi had made significant strides this year in political reform and in preparing for peaceful, free and fair elections in 2015, the United Nations senior official in that country told the Security Council this morning.
For the first time since 2010, all Burundian political actors, including those returning from exile, had agreed, through a series of workshops held in March and May, on a road map for inclusive political dialogue, creation of a security environment conducive for holding elections and freedom for all political actors to carry out their respective activities, said Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Office in Burundi (BNUB).
“The return of key political figures to Burundi marks significant progress and is an encouraging sign of the increasing willingness of all political actors to collaborate,” he added.
BNUB would support the election process, Mr. Onanga-Anyanga said, describing it as a “test for the young political democracy” and the possible foundation for a more united, prosperous nation. During the third week of August, the Secretary-General would send a mission to assess the country’s needs during the elections.
In that connection, the Special Representative had met with senior Burundian authorities in recent months to discuss peace consolidation against a series of benchmarks for turning BNUB into a United Nations country team, in line with Council resolution 2090 (2013) of 13 February, by which the Office, in its current form, had been extended until 15 February 2014.
Pointing to other encouraging developments, Mr. Onanga-Anyanga cited the launch of broader, more open dialogue on resolving land disputes, a sensitive issue in the landlocked country since property and other assets had been unlawfully seized during the 1972 crisis.
Moreover, a new criminal code signed in April had led to improved rule-of-law procedures and enhanced oversight and accountability, and the Government had pressed ahead with implementation of a national strategy for good governance and fighting corruption, he said.
In an address to commemorate Independence Day, the President had reaffirmed his commitment to set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission; a draft law to that effect was before Parliament, Mr. Onanga-Anyanga reported. And by year’s end, the Peacebuilding Fund’s reintegration programme for war-affected populations in Burundi would be completed.
But, after three years of strong revenue growth, the country now would likely miss its 2013 revenue targets by a substantial margin, threatening development gains and currency exchange, he said. Burundi still struggled with high rates of extreme poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition, and most Burundians faced a daily struggle to make ends meet. In January, the central market of Bujumbura burned to the ground, with profound, grave consequences for socioeconomic life nationwide.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) had identified several urgent fiscal policy changes required to balance the books, he added, stressing the need for Burundi’s leaders to take those steps and for development partners to provide direct foreign investment and aid in such priority areas as energy, infrastructure, agriculture and youth employment.
In mid-July, the Government had held a conference to attract external partners’ support; a second conference focused on governance and energy was planned for October, he said.
While Burundi’s overall security and stability was commendable, sporadic clashes between Government forces and armed groups continued, and instability in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo had an adverse impact, he said. In a bid to stem regional instability, Burundian officials had actively participated in regional and global efforts to strengthen peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and had launched a second civilian disarmament campaign in May.
Turning to human rights, he reported a mixed picture in the first half of 2013, with far less politically motivated killings, but more cases of torture and inhuman treatment.
Paul Seger, President of the Burundi Configuration of the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission, said that during a trip last month to Bujumbura, he had met, in close cooperation with BNUB, senior Government representatives, including the President and heads of main political parties.
He said that despite significant progress, he agreed the country still faced several challenges. There was a real risk of a gap between the Government’s expectations on the one hand, and those of the international community on the other. Moreover, the fragility of the Burundian economy required urgent action.
While the two recent workshops on elections had promoted a democratic, transparent and open dialogue between the Government and the opposition, the recent adoption of a new press law, as well as other draft laws under consideration — particularly on non-profit associations and public demonstrations — could potentially harm peacebuilding, he said. The same applied to the Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the governing party, which sometimes assumed the role of State security institutions and resorted to intimidation methods and threats.
Echoing the Special Representative’s remarks, he said the socioeconomic situation was difficult, and he recommended that the Government follow the recent IMF recommendations. On the other hand, progress had been made with respect to the follow-up to the Geneva Conference. Last week, the Government had organized the first sectoral conference for the implementation of projects in the priority sectors of the Second Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper, known as PRSP II. It was important that the spirit of mutual commitments undertaken in Geneva continued to be nourished by both sides — the Government and the international community.
He, too, hailed the law on creating a truth and reconciliation commission as an important milestone. The handling of the “land question” by the National Commission for Land and Other Assets had recently caused a stir, as there was a controversy over the notion of “good-faith purchases”. Given the importance of land ownership in Burundi and its potential ethnic repercussions, the issue deserved the Security Council’s attention.
In sum, he said, “the country has made impressive progress, but what is now needed is to maintain the momentum that has prevailed since the Geneva Conference”. The Burundian Government should show political leadership and redouble its efforts to undertake major reforms in the areas of good political and economic governance and rule of law. Specifically, he encouraged authorities to translate the political workshops’ consensus into improving the electoral code; to employ a liberal interpretation of the new press law; to ensure that laws complied with global standards; and to implement the poverty reduction strategy and IMF recommendations.
At the same time, the international community should step up its commitment to Burundi and maintain constructive, open and forthright communication with the Government. He also strongly recommended the continued presence of BNUB at least until the 2015 election.
Speaking after those briefings, Hermenegilde Niyonzima ( Burundi) said that, quite recently, Belgium had spent a year without a Government; yet peace and security had prevailed there. In contrast, in Burundi, like in many poor countries, 24 hours without a Government could be enough to ignite crime. Belgians had enough to eat, to keep warm, to clothe themselves and to access health care and clean water, while Burundians did not; they were largely living below the poverty threshold.
The quality of governance was only one factor in a country’s well-being, he went on. Since the start of Burundi’s peacebuilding process in 2007, significant progress had been made in all fields, including peace and security, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, the repatriation of refugees, strengthening the rule of law and justice, human rights and combating impunity. The professionalism of the country’s military was becoming evident in other countries across Africa.
Progress was also emerging in resolving political disputes through dialogue. Workshops to build the political capacity had been held in partnership with BNUB, and had facilitated consensus-based debates on adjustments to the electoral code and on preparations for the 2015 elections. While work on freedom of the press and the land code had been portrayed negatively in the media, the Government was committed to dialogue and peace in those areas, as well.
The international community had pledged $2.6 billion to implement the second Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper, he said, noting, however, that support was late in coming and extreme poverty was causing serious problems. Indeed, poverty had become so dire that “living has become synonymous with not dying” and every day was considered a victory over death.
The Government had made great efforts against that difficult backdrop, but it was running out of strength and creativity. The population was patient, he added, but the question was: “For how long?” The Government asked the Council to intercede to ensure that the promises made in Geneva were kept. In turn, the Government promised to continue to work on its reforms and reconstruction.
The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 11:07 a.m.
* *** *For information media • not an official record