|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
6236th Meeting (AM)
Burundi Needs Continued International Aid despite Post-Conflict Progress,
Says Head of UN Political Office, in Briefing to Security Council
Burundi was making commendable progress in emerging from the civil conflict that had ravaged the country for more than a decade, but it required continued international assistance in several critical areas, Youssef Mahmoud, Executive Representative of the Secretary-General, told the Security Council today.
“I therefore encourage development partners to redouble their efforts to help Burundi meet its anti-poverty goals and develop the main sectors that can generate growth”, said Mr. Mahmoud, who also heads the United Nations Integrated Office in Burundi (BINUB).
Introducing the Secretary-General’s latest report on Burundi, Mr. Mahmoud said another immediate challenge was funding for the electoral process leading to polls planned for 2010. With many of the pledges made so far yet to be disbursed, $3 million still needed to be urgently mobilized before the end of December. He thanked those countries that had already made firm pledges.
He said BINUB and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) were also looking, as a matter of urgency, into practical ways to help potential voters who could not afford the administrative costs of acquiring a national identity card. The Office was exploring, with regional organizations both in Africa and outside, the possibility of their sending to Burundi long-term observers who would arrive a few months before the elections and stay for several weeks after.
Outlining recent developments in the peace process, Mr. Mahmoud said that, with the mandate of the Partnership for Peace coming to an end on 31 December, the African Union Special Task Force charged with the close protection of some leaders of the National Liberation Forces (FNL) would be leaving. It had been decided that close protection would be provided by a unit selected from national forces. Other residual tasks discussed by the Partnership were the assignment of the remaining Government posts to the FNL and the release of additional political and war prisoners, he said. Those matters had been entrusted to the Government and the FNL to finalize.
Also briefing the Council, Peter Maurer ( Switzerland), Chairman of the Peacebuilding Commission’s country-specific configuration on Burundi, said the parties in Burundi were determined to complete the peace process, despite the challenges. “All political actors share the conviction that falling back into armed conflict is no option, has to be avoided at all costs, and would destroy the hard-won chances of embarking on a path to sustainable development.”
He said the elections would be a test of the sustainability of the peace process. It was, therefore, crucial to create an environment conducive to free, fair and peaceful elections. The prospects were, so far, encouraging, with the necessary legal framework in place and the preparatory process almost on track. In addition, the National Independent Electoral Commission enjoyed a high degree of acceptance, and a promising start had been made to elaborating a national strategy for the socio-economic reintegration of groups impacted by the conflict.
Reporting a widespread fear of violence among the population, despite the progress achieved, he said many people had expressed concern about intimidation, limitations on civil rights, threats or even physical attacks, mainly from youth groups. There must be a “firewall” between robust political dispute and violence, and there were still too many small weapons in private hands, despite the Government’s disarmament programme. All parties must commit themselves to peaceful participation in the election process and avoid provocation.
He said his priority as Chairperson would be closely monitoring election safety and the implementation of the Government’s zero-tolerance policy. There was concern over a decrease in trust between the opposition and the ruling party, including complaints that the latter was becoming less willing to engage in meaningful dialogue. It was paramount that all stakeholders find common political ground while competing for power, in order to be able to address the root causes of the conflict.
Augustin Nsanze, Minister for External Relations and International Cooperation of Burundi, welcomed the report’s recognition of the additional progress made towards the sustainable stabilization of the country, highlighting, among other things, advances in the electoral process, legalization on the Permanent Forum for Political Dialogue among political parties, and anti-corruption measures, as well as work on a national strategy for the sustainable reintegration of people affected by the conflict.
Moreover, he said, the Secretary-General’s report had found no evidence of the presence of members of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) in Burundi, as had been alleged by the Council’s Sanctions Committee on the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Also, the World Bank had admitted Burundi to the Highly-Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) Initiative.
However, he took issue with a number of items in the report, including remarks on the security situation, which was not any worse than that in other countries, where murders took place on an hourly basis. Incidents of violence due to payback, land disputes and looting were being addressed through the disarmament of the civilian population, among other measures. Other issues based on “gratuitous assertions and incomplete information” concerned the administrative posts promised to the FNL, the rule of law, human rights concerns and the situation of women and children, he said.
All those issues were being addressed, he said, adding that a National Human Rights Council was being established. Sexual violence was being repressed through legislative measures. He condemned other irregularities and errors in the report, stressing that the future mandate of BINUB should be limited to electoral assistance, support for democratic governance, continuing peacebuilding, and the promotion of awareness of the gender dimension in all those areas.
Welcoming the report’s recommendation that the electoral process should be based on the principle of equity, he said that principle depended also on BINUB’s application of that same principle in exercising its mandate. For some time now, the Office had not upheld that principle on the ground. It would be unfortunate for the partnership between the United Nations and Burundi if the Government would have to request the replacement of the Organization’s representatives on the ground.
The meeting began at 10:52 a.m. and ended at 11:38 a.m.
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