|MAJOR PEACEKEEPING OPERATIONS|
Burundi: A major breakthrough in peacekeeping
The UN’s work in Burundi in 2005 may be considered a success in peacekeeping and a vital demonstration of the importance of strong and sustained international support for a nascent post-conflict democracy. Established in June 2004 to support a political transition to an era of democracy and national reconciliation, the UN Operation in Burundi (ONUB) in 2005 conducted intense electoral assistance activities culminating in the presidential election of 19 August.
An ambitious electoral timetable was drawn up by the Independent National Electoral Commission at the request of the Great Lakes Regional Peace Initiative on Burundi, a group of mediators which includes, among others, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Burundian electoral marathon comprised six separate elections over a period of seven months, beginning with a constitutional referendum in February and ending in September with elections at the village level.
During the period of elections, ONUB provided support for the electoral process in the form of logistics, transport of ballot boxes and papers throughout the country, and voter education through public information activities.
While the western part of the country continued to be affected by repeated attacks by the Palipehutu-FNL (Forces de Liberation Nationale) rebels, the UN helped with the organization of the first elections since 1993. After twelve years of civil war which caused great suffering, the population was determined to participate and turned out massively in February, voting overwhelmingly in favour of the posttransition constitution. Out of 3.3 million registered voters, 92 per cent exercised their civil right, with 90 per cent casting a “yes” vote.
Three months later, on 3 June, voters again turned out in large numbers, giving a landslide victory to Pierre Nkurunziza’s Conseil National pour la Défense de la Démocratie-Forces pour la Défense de la Démocratie (CNDD-FDD) in the communal elections, which won 93 of the 129 communes.
On 4 July, voters once again went to the polls to elect members of the National Assembly. On 29 July, an electoral college of commune and provincial councils indirectly elected members of the Senate. Lawmakers were also selected in order to ensure a balance in the gender and ethnic representation in the Parliament, as required under the constitution. Four of the country’s former heads of state, and representatives from the Hutu, Tutsi and Twa ethnic communities were amongst the selected senators.
On 19 August, a joint session of members of the National Assembly and the Senate overwhelmingly elected Pierre Nkurunziza of the CNDD-FDD as the new President of Burundi. The last in the series of elections was conducted at the village level in September.
The success of the peace process led to an influx of some 55,000 Burundian refugees in 2005 – mainly from Tanzania, and thousands of internally displaced persons also returned to their communities of origin. UN agencies made significant contributions to help the country address this new challenge. The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, supported the returns and rehabilitated and built schools, houses and health centres.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) provided assistance such as stationery to schools; the World Food Programme (WFP) opened school canteens, continued food-for-work projects and provided food aid to vulnerable populations in the northern provinces, where there were food shortages.
ONUB’s activities have included: supporting the disarmament and demobilization of combatants; protection of human rights and strengthening the police and judiciary. Through its quick impact projects, the mission has addressed some local needs by building community centres and schools and providing assistance to needy children and former child soldiers.
With the establishment of a democratically- elected Government, ONUB’s mandate is to change during 2006. A gradual withdrawal of peacekeepers, which began in December, is expected to continue. However, nationwide peace continues to be elusive, since the Palipehutu-FNL rebel group had yet to agree to a ceasefire and to commence peace talks.
Meanwhile, the new Government has to grapple with the daunting tasks of rebuilding an economy left in shambles by the decade-long, war and reconciling ethnic communities torn apart by the fratricidal conflict and deep-rooted mistrust.
It must work to integrate the country’s economic and social fabric, resettle the massive influx of refugees encouraged to return home by the prospects of peace, provide employment to former combatants and gardiens de la paix, and find resources to deliver on the promise of free primary education for all.
Most of these challenges can be met only with the continued assistance of the international community. To consolidate the gains of the peace process, ONUB will continue working closely with the new government, focusing its activities on promoting human rights and helping to establish a National Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a vital step in the promoting national reconciliation.
It will also help train the national police force and assist security sector reform. The Burundi Partners Forum will also play an important role in mobilizing international support for Burundi’s nascent democracy.
Prepared by the Peace and Security Section, United Nations Department of Public Information.
© United Nations 2006