|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
1st Meeting (PM)
Peacebuilding Commission Calls for Conducive Environment for Burundi’s May Elections
as It Adopts Conclusions of Fourth Biannual Review of Strategic Framework
External Relations Minister Describes Election Budget Deficit,
Appeals to Partners to Redouble Efforts to Rapidly Mobilize Resources
The Peacebuilding Commission today adopted the conclusions of its fourth biannual review of the implementation of the Strategic Framework for Peacebuilding in Burundi, following an appeal by Burundi’s Minister of External Relations and International Cooperation for partners to redouble efforts to mobilize resources for the country’s elections in May –- the anticipated crowning moment in Burundi’s peace consolidation -- and to make permanent the results achieved so far.
Pivotal to the recommendations of the Commission’s wide-ranging text, which both looks back at the country’s accomplishments and presents a forward-looking series of steps for the Government, as well as the Commission and international partners (document PBC/4/BDI/L.1), is a call on the Government to ensure a conducive environment for the elections and respect the results by, among other things, strengthening dialogue between all stakeholders; ensuring security of the electoral process and promoting a zero tolerance policy on the use of violence and intimidation; and encouraging political parties, the media and youth groups to respect their agreed Codes of Good Conduct.
Towards good governance, the Commission calls for the rapid finalization of the National Strategy for Governance and the Fight against Corruption and, among other steps, swift settlement of cases currently before the courts. On the ceasefire agreement between the Government and the Front national de libération (FNL), the Government was asked to ensure that the remaining posts promised the FNL were filled and that the process of inserting former combatant children into formal education and employment was expedited.
Commission recommendations in the security sector include the start of implementation of the national action plan for the reform of the defence and security system in the country and the continued professionalization of the defence and security forces throughout the country. Efforts should also be made to increase disarmament of the civilian population and to control arms held by security and defence forces, in order to strengthen security around the elections and increase the public’s confidence in those forces, particularly by concluding a second voluntary civilian disarmament campaign before the elections.
In the area of justice, promotion of human rights and action to combat impunity, the Commission called for, among other things, the finalization of the proposed law establishing the National Independent Human Rights Commission, in accordance with the Paris Principles, in order to operationalize that body as soon as possible. Other areas of focus concerned the gender dimension of peace consolidation; land issues and socio-economic reintegration; regional integration; and mobilization and coordination of international assistance.
The first recommendation for the Commission and international partners also concerns the electoral cycle, with a call for increased efforts to mobilize remaining technical and financial resources needed and ensure that they were made available as soon as possible. The series of additional recommendations concerned: good governance and the fight against corruption; security sector reform; land issues; socio-economic reintegration; the gender dimension; regional integration; mobilization and coordination of international assistance; and long-term engagement of the Peacebuilding Commission with Burundi.
On behalf of the Government, Burundi’s External Relations Minister, Augustin Nsanze, presented the country’s report on implementation of the Strategic Framework, explaining that it had been drawn up at a time when the Group of Coordination of Partners had seen fit to merge two frameworks: the Strategic Framework for Peacebuilding and the framework to combat poverty. The “merger” had been the result of considerable efforts made in peacebuilding and had marked a positive stage towards development. And with the merger, the methodology for preparing the present report had changed, which had led to, among other things, the participation of key groups, including bilateral and multilateral partners, and representatives of civil society, women’s organizations, the private sector, political parties, religious groups, and the United Nations system.
He said that the progress and present trends demonstrated that the various partners had “generally speaking” fulfilled their commitments to peacebuilding in Burundi. Concerning good governance, an environment conducive to free and transparent elections had become a reality through the adoption and dissemination of the electoral code. The 17 provincial independent electoral commissions and 129 independent communal electoral commissions had been established, with a mandate to distribute electoral files and ensure the proper conduct of future balloting in their respective areas.
The electoral code spelled out the chronology for the elections, which had allowed the National Independent Electoral Commission to elaborate the election timetable, he continued. A national identification card had been made available at no cost to more than 1 million individuals, targeting women and vulnerable populations. Other identification cards, such as baptismal certificates, driving licenses and passports had also been validated. In early 2010, voter registration had been conducted throughout the country and expanded to included Burundian citizens abroad. Those without national identification cards had been able to register to vote, which had raised the total number of voters to more than 3.5 million; more than half of those were women.
He said his Government and its partners had organized a campaign for public education in civics. The standing forum for dialogue among political parties had been legalized, and the representation of women in political parties had been mandated at a minimum of 30 per cent. Touching on other significant developments, he said the Interior Ministry had taken measures towards better cooperation between political parties and decentralized administrative authorities, and had instructed the latter to no longer permit young militant individuals to use sports to serve political aims. In other words, certain political parties would have to give up certain dangerous behaviours.
Noting that the political climate as well as legal and operational frameworks had benefited from international contributions, he said that the total revised national budget for elections accounted for more than $52 million. That budget would be covered by contributions to the trust fund managed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). He provided a detailed accounting of budgetary allocations and sources of financing, which had included disbursements from the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, UNDP, Norway, Japan, United Kingdom, Switzerland and Egypt. There were also contributions from other countries, including the United States and Germany.
But, if all pledges were honoured, he said that available resources would still only amount to 63.48 per cent of the total budget. Two months away from the first ballot, in May, that budget deficit was “highly distressing”. The Government would make a new financial push “to the tune of $2 million” to contribute to the safe holding of the elections, and Belgium had also just pledged additional financing. But, he appealed to the United Nations, and particularly, to the Peacebuilding Commission, the Political Affairs Department and the United Nations Integrated Office in Burundi (BINUB) to redouble their efforts in advocating for the “rapid mobilization of the requisite funds for the elections and for their immediate disbursement, at each and every opportunity, and for those partners that had already made commitments, such as the [European Union], China and India, to rapidly come through on their pledges”.
He added his Government’s hope that those involved daily in peacebuilding in the country would serve as “driving forces” in mobilizing and disbursing financial resources for the elections.
On combating corruption, he said the entire institutional framework had been established, the most recent institution of which had been the ombudsman; the law establishing that office had been adopted on 25 January. While the electoral process required an ongoing dialogue among all partners, mechanisms to combat corruption required consistent material support. Some political partners had exhibited “certain reactionary reflexes” to democracy. Thirteen years of civil war had so drastically impoverished the citizens that the temptation to yet again commit offences in the management of public funds was “still very much alive”. Combating it was all the more necessary because budgetary constraints had not allowed for the harmonization of salaries, as proposed by the ad hoc commission.
Turning to the ceasefire agreement between the Government and the FNL, he said that integration of civilian FNL authorities in the administration was continuing. Plans of action were evolving to take into account the gender dimension within defence and security personnel. The disarmament of the population had achieved very positive results, but that campaign must continue. The present state of affairs in the security realm was the result of cooperation between the Government and its partners, to whom the Government was grateful for their ongoing support. Rule of law and justice should improve with the adoption and dissemination of the code of criminal procedure now being drawn up. Meanwhile, the Justice Ministry had initiated several actions to combat impunity, including the appointment of focal points for the courts and major tribunals to take up such issues as protection of minors and to combat gender-based violence.
As for an independent human rights commission, he said certain partners had “illusions” that its competences would exceed those of the State. Once misunderstandings were resolved, the text for the parliamentary session was in place and costs for the body had been included in the 2010 budget. Concern about increasing women’s representation in such institutions could be allayed through implementation of the electoral code. He deplored the attitude of certain partners whose strategies continued to maintain the ethnic imbalance, which was completely rejected by the Arusha Agreement.
Regarding questions of land, property and economic recovery, a new law had been adopted on 4 September 2009, which, among other things, allowed the provincial commissions to settle disputes and made mandatory the decisions of the national commission. Some 1,823 lawsuits had been settled during the period covered by the present report. A strategy of integration of all individuals affected by conflict had been adopted by the Council of Ministers in February. It was based on high-level intensive projects, financed by UNDP, among others. The Government expected to see the Peacebuilding Commission advocate vigorously for mobilization of the resources necessary for reintegration, as that would be a major challenge following the elections. In anticipation of that, the Government, together with its partners, had just established the sector group for community, recovery, repatriation and reintegration. It could not have achieved that and other results without regional and international support.
In the economic sphere, he said his country had established the value-added tax to harmonize its customs system with those of the rest of the East African community and was participating, with Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in a review of basic texts of the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries to adapt them to the new subregional environment. Burundi would have to take a similar step at the regional level and hoped that its partners would demonstrate concrete interest in support of the country in the region. At a Paris conference of the advisory group in October 2009, key sectors in Burundi requiring attention had been identified, including agriculture, water and energy, roads and transport, information technology and communication, tourism, and the private sector. He urged follow-up to that meeting.
In conclusion, he said that the measures and organizational arrangements for the implementation of the recommendations of the Commission existed; the paragraph on Burundi’s elections was eloquent. The structures to combat corruption were also in place, but capacity needed to be strengthened in terms of human and material and financial resources, of which Burundi alone could not manage. The Government had already taken several measures to fulfil the other recommendations. Some would require time, because of the means and funds required, or because they required a national process to reach a minimum consensus. He was referring, in particular, to legislation on access, matrimonial regimes and liberalization. Nevertheless, Burundi would keep those items on its agenda. He thanked all at the United Nations for their unswerving support and the country’s regional partners and the international community as a whole, both near and far, who had given their time and energy to the cause of peace in Burundi.
Central to the remarks of the Secretary-General’s Executive Representative in Burundi, Bintou Keita, was that the elections, though crucial, were not the end of the peacebuilding process in Burundi. Beyond that deadline, the international community needed to look at the country’s socio-economic development in the medium- and long-term. The sustainable reintegration of displaced persons, demobilized adults and other vulnerable groups remained a significant challenge. Demobilized children required particular attention. As long as those vulnerable people were not integrated into the country’s economic and social life, they would be a destabilizing factor capable of undermining the achievements of peacebuilding. She commended the Government for its efforts to tackle that matter through its socio-economic strategy, which was both inclusive and participatory, while maximizing existing financial resources. But, she stressed that mobilizing the necessary resources for that “delicate” undertaking must be a priority.
Also speaking before adoption of the conclusions of the review was Jan Grauls of Belgium, who said he was pleased with the results of the fourth assessment and in full agreement with its conclusions and recommendations. Regarding the electoral process, Belgium was pleased with the smooth registration. However, it was deeply concerned by the continued unrest and violent incidents among young militants. The forum for political dialogue could miss its objective if it was not truly open. After an initial contribution of 2 million euros to the electoral fund, Belgium had decided to supply a second amount in the same sum to correct the deficiencies. It would send two messages with that contribution. First, Burundi must urgently endeavour to establish priorities when it came to election expenses. That discussion would take place in a pilot committee for the support of the election cycle. Some non-essential expenses could be eliminated and the overall budget could remain at $52 million. Secondly, Belgium had decided to provide that second instalment in the expectation that other lenders would follow suit. Belgium played an active role in many provinces seriously affected by conflict through its programme for bilateral cooperation, he added.
Burundi was an example of the Peacebuilding Commission’s engagement yielding some significant results and lessons, said Judy Cheng-Hopkins, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support. Burundi exemplified how the Commission’s engagement could lead to improved dialogue with stakeholders. The current review of the Strategic Framework had generated an honest assessment of progress and remaining challenges. Those posed by the upcoming elections was a high peacebuilding priority, requiring the Commission’s sustained attention and support. This was “truly a pivotal moment in the history of the country”, and most Member States had realized the elections’ importance, she said.
As for the Peacebuilding Fund, “we are not in the habit of funding elections per se, because if we were to do that as a practice across the board in all 15 countries where we operate, then funds would run out very soon”. But, she said there were always exceptions and the Fund’s guidelines provided for those, and here, where the link to continued momentum for peacebuilding and inclusiveness was so critical towards future peace and State-building, in this particular case, “we’re ready to make an exception”. So, the Fund would discuss with the Government and BINUB in the next few days what it could disburse towards that end. “I can assure you it will be significant and it will be fast,” she stressed.
She added that she was glad that women’s development had remained a top priority in the evaluation of the Strategic Framework. She was well aware of the dynamic nature of women’s participation in Burundian society and she looked forward to discussing women’s contribution in the quest for peace.
Speaking via videoconference from Bujumbura, in a session moderated by Colonel Mbaye Faye of BINUB, were other senior representatives of the Burundian Government, the international community, the United Nations and national stakeholders. They included Liberata Mulamula, Executive Secretary of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region; Raymond Kamenyero, a representative of civil society organizations; and Consolata Ndayishimiye, a private sector representative.
Also participating from the capital was Colonel Yaya Samake, on behalf of the African Union, who asserted that security was now in the hands of Burundian stakeholders, and that he had full confidence in them. The African Union, he said, had been galvanized in Burundi to make its contribution to the election process, which it hoped would be an example for the rest of Africa. It had already sent a multidisciplinary mission to assess the support it could provide to peacebuilding and socio-economic recovery. That mission had been greatly interested in the electoral process and had consulted at length with stakeholders.
He noted that the Union had sent a second multidisciplinary mission in charge of assessing election preparations to see what the Union could do to help Burundi during that critical period. Within the framework of preventive diplomacy and its own monitoring mechanism, the African Union mission in Burundi, in partnership with BINUB, continued to provide follow-up from a political and security point of view in the pre-election period.
Alain Dartenucq, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the Union was satisfied with the conduct of the electoral process and successful voter registration and adherence to the election timetable. However, it was concerned about the behaviour of some youth groups organized by certain political parties, with the alleged objective of sports. Their radical slogans had in fact led to violent clashes. Such continued incidents could poison the atmosphere for that very sensitive process. He was also concerned about the impact on the political dialogue forum, about which the Union had great hopes.
The European Commission’s contribution of more than 4 million euros had been spent as of 10 March, he said. The Union still had questions about Burundi’s budget, and it hoped it would be finalized and refined, categorizing and prioritizing clearly the activities to be financed. The Union had decided to send an observer mission at the end of April to cover the entire territory of Burundi, namely 17 provinces, in response to a request by Burundi’s President. It meanwhile encouraged the authorities and civil society to normalize their relationships and respect commitments on all sides to lessen present tensions in this electoral period.
Acting Chair of today’s meeting Zachary D. Muburi-Muita (Burundi) reported on the Peacebuilding Commission’s recent field visit to Burundi, which he said had contributed greatly to the present biannual review process. In brief remarks following adoption of the review’s conclusions, he agreed with previous speakers that the election process in Burundi was at a critical stage. The funding gap in the electoral budget should be closed urgently, and he said he would like to count “one more time” on the generosity of members of the Burundi configuration, as well as other international and regional partners who were supporting the elections.
There was overall agreement that successful elections were a key milestone to the consolidation of democracy and, therefore, to sustainable economic development, he said. But peacebuilding in Burundi did not end with the elections. He urged the Commission to remain engaged with a longer-term perspective focused on socio-economic reintegration of war-affected populations, transitional justice, rule of law, creating an environment conductive to developing economic activity and attracting national and foreign investment. That long-term engagement required that the Burundi Configuration aim for closer strategic partnership with the European Union, the African Development Bank, and the International Financial Institutes, as well as with the institutions of regional integration, such as the East African Community.
Additional statements following adoption of the text were made by the representatives of Uganda, Germany, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania, United States, Sweden, Netherlands, Kenya, Switzerland, South Africa, Czech Republic, Canada, Chile and Mexico.
The Permanent Observer of the African Union also spoke.
* *** *