SOUTH AFRICAN FACILITATOR TELLS OF ‘SIGNIFICANT STEP FORWARD’ AS SECURITY COUNCIL CONSIDERS SITUATION IN BURUNDI

11 December 2008
SC/9531

SOUTH AFRICAN FACILITATOR TELLS OF ‘SIGNIFICANT STEP FORWARD’ AS SECURITY COUNCIL CONSIDERS SITUATION IN BURUNDI

11 December 2008
Security Council
SC/9531
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

6037th Meeting (PM)

SOUTH AFRICAN FACILITATOR TELLS OF ‘SIGNIFICANT STEP FORWARD’

AS SECURITY COUNCIL CONSIDERS SITUATION IN BURUNDI

 

A “significant step forward” had been made in resolving the differences between the Government of Burundi and its sole remaining armed opposition group after years of distrust and relapses into violence between them, the South African Facilitator of the Burundi Peace Process told the Security Council this afternoon.

Facilitator and South African Defence Minister Charles Nqakula recalled that, on 4 December, the Government and the Parti pour la Libération du Peuple Hutu-Forces Nationales de Libération (Palipehutu-FNL)had met at the Great Lakes Summit in Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura, and finalized the four matters that had threatened to scuttle the 2006 Comprehensive Ceasefire Agreement.

According to agreements at the Summit, he said, the first group of Palipehutu-FNL combatants would start reporting to assembly areas tomorrow, 12 December, to begin the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration exercise, and the reporting process would be completed by 31 December, with the Comprehensive Ceasefire Agreement fully in place by that date.  The period from 1 to 31 January would then be used as a “mop-up” phase.

To achieve that, he said, the Summit had agreed to the Palipehutu-FNL demand for the release of political and war prisoners and the appointment of their leaders into organs of State.  President Pierre Nkurunziza had also agreed to those conditions and offered 33 positions for senior Palipehutu-FNL party members in State institutions.

However, the Summit had denied a demand by Palipehutu-FNL to disband and reformulate the Burundian Army, he said, noting that, in order to participate in the Government, the party must change its name, as “Palipehutu” meant “party for the liberation of Hutu people”, and as such would contravene the Constitution of Burundi, which forbade ethnically based political entities.  The party was in the process of informing its membership of those decisions.

Anders Lidén ( Sweden), Chair of the Burundi Configuration of Peacebuilding Commission, said the country indeed seemed to be on the right track towards the consolidation of peace, but, since it was situated in a very volatile region, it needed sustained international support to prevent it from relapsing into armed conflict.  There was a need for close cooperation between the Security Council and the Peacebuilding Commission to support the Burundians and ensure that, this time around, the agreements reached would be implemented fully.  “If we fail to do so and allow things to fall apart, the consequences for Burundi and the region could be devastating,” he warned.

He said the Commission would convene a country-specific meeting tomorrow in order to hear from regional actors, the Burundian Government, the United Nations and other interested parties about the most critical needs for implementation of the ceasefire.  The disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process must move on with urgency, and the Commission had ensured that there was an immediate World Bank programme in place.  However, further support must be mobilized for other priorities, including the transformation of Palipehutu-FNL into a political party ready to participate in the elections of 2010, and for continuing regional engagement on the ground.

Burundi’s representative thanked the Secretary-General for his assistance in making the 4 December Summit a success and agreed with his recommendation to extend the mandate of the Nations Integrated Office in Burundi (BINUB) and prepare for its transfer to the Department of Political Affairs.  It was to be hoped that the mandate extension would help the alignment of all United Nations agencies.

He said the Government was making progress in both democratic governance and human rights, citing the establishment of independent electoral and human rights commissions, among other factors.  The economy had enjoyed a growth rate of 4.5 per cent and its performance could be enhanced further if the political deadlines were met and the external debt was forgiven.  Foreign investors were invited to visit the country, which had a new investment law, and to look into the tourism and mining sectors as areas of interest.

Following those presentations, the representative of Costa Rica took the floor to commend the Facilitation and the parties in Burundi on the recent agreements, while calling on Palipehutu-FNL to immediately release the child soldiers still under its control.  At the same time, the Government should release political detainees.  The state of human rights in the country was a matter of deep concern.

After hearing those statements, the Council proceeded into closed consultations on Burundi, as previously agreed.

The meeting began at 3:15 p.m. and ended at 3:55 p.m.

Background

Before the Council was the fourth report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Integrated Office in Burundi (BINUB), in which he recommends a mandate extension until 31 December 2009, a mandate review by June 2009 and a strengthening of cooperation between the Office and the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC).

In the report (document S/2008/745), the Secretary-General observes that, while Burundi has made commendable advances in key areas of peace consolidation, the country continues to face serious challenges, emanating primarily from the stalled implementation of the 2006 Comprehensive Ceasefire Agreement.  The insistence by the Parti pour la Libération du Peuple Hutu-Forces Nationales de Libération (Palipehutu-FNL) on being recognized as a political party under its current name is one of the reasons for the current impasse [the inclusion of the word Hutu in a political party’s name would be against the intent of the Constitution, which forbids ethnically based political entities].

The Secretary-General urges the Government of Burundi and Palipehutu-FNL to spare no effort to reach the necessary difficult compromises and calls on both to heed the recent messages from the leaders of the Regional Peace Initiative.  He also urges the leader of Palipehutu-FNL immediately and unconditionally to release the children associated with them.  In addition, the Secretary-General is concerned about the increasing number of arrests of opposition members and representatives of civil society and the media.  Human rights violations continue to be of concern, including the high incidence of sexual violence and widespread criminality.

According to the report, the Peacebuilding Commission’s engagement in Burundi has provided valuable support for the promotion of peace and stability, and projects backed by the Peacebuilding Fund have proven to be an important vehicle for implementing key aspects of BINUB’s peace-consolidation mandate.  The Office will continue to assist the Government in enacting sector-wide security reforms and completing the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process.  The Secretary-General encourages the Government, the World Bank and other partners to establish expeditiously, with the support of BINUB and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), a new Burundi-specific demobilization and reintegration funding mechanism.

The Secretary-General strongly encourages the African Union to extend the mandate of its special task force, which reassures Palipehutu-FNL that its members will be protected during their participation in the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process.  He also exhorts the Government to take all necessary measures to create an environment conducive to the holding of free, fair and peaceful elections.

Briefings

CHARLES NQAKULA, Facilitator of the Burundi Peace Process and Minister for Defence of South Africa, said that, since his last meeting with the Council in 2007, a significant step forward had been taken to resolve differences between the Government of Burundi and Palipehutu-FNL, the only group in the country remaining outside of the democratization process.  On 4 December, the two parties had met at the Great Lakes Summit in Bujumbura, Burundi’s capital, and finalized the four matters that had threatened to scuttle the 2006 Comprehensive Ceasefire Agreement, including the demand by Palipehutu-FNL that the Burundian Army be disbanded and reformulated.  The Summit had “shot down” that demand, although the party continued to argue for various arrangements that would produce a new army.

He said the Summit had agreed, however, to the Palipehutu-FNL demand for the release of political and war prisoners, and the appointment of its leaders into the organs of State, both of which had previously been agreed by President Pierre Nkurunziza, who had offered 33 positions for senior Palipehutu-FNL members in State institutions.  In order for them to participate in national politics, however, the Summit said the party must change its name, given that “Palipehutu” meant “party for the liberation of the Hutu people” and the inclusion of that term in a political party’s name would contravene the Constitution.  The party was currently informing members about that decision.  Also agreed at the Summit, as part of the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process, reporting to assembly areas by Palipehutu-FNL combatants would begin tomorrow, 12 December, and be completed by 31 December.

After many years of distrust between the parties and relapses into violence, the situation in the country was now calm, he said, adding that the Facilitation had been instructed by the Great Lakes Regional Initiative to implement the Comprehensive Ceasefire Agreement fully by 31 December.  The period from 1 to 31 January would be used as a “mop-up” phase.  The Facilitation team would scale down its operations and the African Union special task force would begin its withdrawal, which should be completed by the end of March, when the Facilitation would also close down.

ANDERS LIDÉN ( Sweden), Chair of the Burundi Configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, said the close collaboration between the Council and the Commission was essential in the case of Burundi, a country that now seemed to be on the right track towards the consolidation of peace.  However, it was situated in a very volatile region and needed the sustained support of the international community to prevent it from relapsing into armed conflict.  Peace and stability in Burundi was a key building block for peace and stability in the region as a whole.  The implementation of the Comprehensive Ceasefire Agreement was a first crucial step for effective peacebuilding.

He recalled that, in discussions with Burundians during his visit in late October, they had referred to peace and security as the “number one priority”.  They needed security to move on with their lives and to believe in the future.  The breakthrough last week in talks between the Government and Palipehutu-FNL was, therefore, good news indeed.  The Declaration signed last week should bring an end to the conflict, giving Palipehutu-FNL the opportunity to enter political life as a party under a new name.  There was now a need to support the Burundians in order to ensure that, this time around, the agreement could be implemented fully.  “If we fail to do so and allow things to fall apart, the consequences for Burundi and the region could be devastating.”

The strategic framework for peacebuilding in Burundi, as well as the conclusions of the biannual review in June, provided a strong call for Peacebuilding Commission support for the peace process, he said.  The Commission would convene a country-specific meeting tomorrow to hear from the regional actors, the Burundian Government, the United Nations and other interested parties about the most urgent needs for the ceasefire’s implementation.  The disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process must move on with urgency.  The Commission had ensured there was an immediate World Bank programme in place and further support must be mobilized for other priorities, including the transformation of Palipehutu-FNL into a political party ready to participate in the 2010 elections, and for regional engagement to remain on the ground.  International involvement, in particular through the African Union and the Regional Initiative, would continue to be crucial.

Mutual trust, as well as confidence in the institutions of the State, would be necessary to prepare for the electoral process and it was crucial that the 2010 elections be considered free and fair, he stressed.  Peacebuilding in Burundi was a long-term partnership for peace and development, requiring sustained resources and coordination.  The Peacebuilding Commission’s biannual review on January 2009 would provide an opportunity to review progress and to call for further international support.

The joint efforts to consolidate peace would also lay the foundation for full-scale implementation of the Government’s poverty reduction strategy, he said.  There would be a need to further enhance the integrated structure of BINUB and the United Nations country team to ensure the Organization’s effective support of peacebuilding in Burundi.  The Peacebuilding Commission in New York would not be able to prove its relevance without the effective coordination and involvement of all stakeholders on the ground in Bujumbura.

Statements

AUGUSTIN NSANZE ( Burundi) said the 4 December Regional Initiative Summit in Bujumbura had reached a positive conclusion, thanks to the Secretary-General, among others.  Burundi agreed with the Secretary-General’s recommendation to extend BINUB’s mandate by 12 months and to review progress and problems in June 2009, in order to prepare for its transfer from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to the Department of Political Affairs.

He said there was no reason to dwell on the events occurring between 15 May and 10 November as described in the report, because the Summit had led to a positive conclusion that had restored hope and the Government now wished to move on to the next stage.  As for the incident in which BINUB vehicles had been attacked, the dispute between BINUB and former employees of the United Nations Operation in Burundi (ONUB) was now being studied by labour-relations bodies in terms of international labour law.

Welcoming United Nations efforts to implement its integrated peacebuilding support strategy over the past two years, he expressed the hope that the mandate extension would enhance implementation through better alignment of all United Nations agencies.  As for the report’s consideration of democratic governance, there was a need to revisit that aspect, with particular regard to the organization of the 2010 elections, in order to clear up any misunderstandings.  The Government was in the process of establishing an independent national electoral commission.

Saying he was struck by references in the report to freedom of expression and human rights in general, he pointed out that the Government was setting up an independent national human rights commission.  While a number of arrests had been reported, they should not overshadow Government efforts to restore order in a country that was emerging from 40 years of military dictatorship and a dozen years of inter-ethnic civil war.  Nobody was above the law, including journalists, who might express themselves without regard for the ethical code that governed their profession.

Noting that his country had a growth rate of 4.5 per cent, he said Burundi’s performance could be enhanced further if the completion point was being reached as planned and external debt was forgiven.  Burundi encouraged foreign investors to visit the country, which had a new investment law, and to look into the tourism and mining sectors as areas of interest.

SAUL WEISLEDER ( Costa Rica), supporting the extension of BINUB’s mandate, commended the Facilitation and the parties in Burundi on the recent agreements.  However, it was a cause of concern that child soldiers were still deployed by Palipehutu-FNL, which should release them immediately.  Another cause of concern was the detention of opposition and media members, among others.  The establishment of an independent human rights commission was welcome, but that did not allay those concerns.  Costa Rica called on the Burundian authorities to respect the rights of assembly and freedom of the press.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.