Burundi’s Transformation to Stability Still Fragile, Reversible, despite Progress, Secretary-General’s Executive Representative Tells Security Council

9 December 2010
SC/10106

Burundi’s Transformation to Stability Still Fragile, Reversible, despite Progress, Secretary-General’s Executive Representative Tells Security Council

9 December 2010
Security Council
SC/10106
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

6439th Meeting (AM)

Burundi’s Transformation to Stability Still Fragile, Reversible, despite Progress,

Secretary-General’s Executive Representative Tells Security Council

 

‘New Chapter’ Takes Centre Stage after Electoral Cycle,

Says Chair of Peacebuilding Commission’s Country-specific Configuration

Recommending a continuing but smaller United Nations presence in Burundi to the Security Council this morning, the Secretary-General’s Executive Representative said the country’s transformation to stability and democracy was progressing but remained fragile and reversible.

“It is imperative, at this critical stage, to accompany and support the democratically elected authorities, in the hope that they will continue to resolve their differences by dialogue and consultation,” said Charles Petrie, who also heads the United Nations Integrated Office in Burundi (BINUB).  “That is the model that will allow Burundi to overcome political challenges and to embrace sustainable development.”

He was delivering his last briefing to the Council in his current capacity as he conveyed the Secretary-General’s recommendations, contained in his latest report, for the replacement of BINUB with a lighter United Nations presence after its mandate expires at the end of this month.  Also present to brief the Council were Augustine Nsanze, Burundi’s Minister for External Relations and International Cooperation, and Paul Seger ( Switzerland), Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission’s Burundi configuration.

Mr. Petrie said the concept for the proposed new United Nations Office in Burundi (BNUB) had been developed through wide consultations, at the request of the Government, to redefine the Organization’s role in the country following the general elections, held from 24 May to 7 September and supported by the world body with a basket fund managed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

During the period under review, the security situation had remained “stable but still worrying”, he said.  National and international observers had stated that communal elections, held on 24 May, had been conducted in conformity with international norms and the irregularities observed had not been significant enough to call into question the results or credibility of the polls.  However, 12 opposition parties had rejected the results, boycotted the rest of the electoral process and instructed their members not to take up their seats in communal councils, he said.

He went on to say that, despite his own efforts to promote dialogue — and those of the Secretary-General during a 9 June visit — only one major opposition party had participated in the subsequent elections.  President Pierre Nkurunziza had been re-elected and his party, the National Council for the Defence of Democracy-Forces for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), had obtained a large parliamentary majority.

The Secretary-General’s report described intimidation of various political leaders, including the head of the opposition Forces nationales de libération (FNL), who was now in hiding, he said.  The report also described impunity for human rights violations, including torture and restrictions on the freedoms of expression and association.  Even more serious were extrajudiciary executions and politically motivated assassinations, he said, remarking that, in light of that situation, State consolidation remained deficient.

However, dialogue between the United Nations and the Government on human rights was ongoing and making some progress, he said.  In addition, national consultations on putting transitional justice mechanisms in place had been held and publicized.  Burundi’s National Security Council, meeting on 9 November, had called for the sanctioning of security forces found guilty of human rights violations.  At the same time, rumours of the birth of a new armed movement had fed fears of a return to the violence of the past.

Mr. Petrie said that, despite those concerns, it was important to underscore the remarkable progress made, the absence of large-scale violence during and after the elections, and the fact that the election represented the affirmation of an independent and vocal civil society.

During the reporting period, the United Nations had supported several initiatives to help women participate actively in the electoral process, he said.  As a result, the 30 per cent constitutional quota for women in the National Assembly had been exceeded, with women making up 46 per cent of senators.  The Government had also committed itself to fighting corruption, a major challenge to economic development.  That effort had already resulted in the dismissal of corrupt senior officials from public companies, and launched the drafting process for Burundi’s second poverty reduction strategy paper.

A most welcomed development had been the steady progress in the reintegration of former combatants, he said.  With final assistance having been distributed to thousands of them nearly 4,000 adults “associated” with FNL combatants had gained employment in infrastructure projects through support by UNDP.  Burundi had also been removed from the list of countries monitored for the deployment of child soldiers, following the release of the last group of children associated with armed groups, he said.

Other positive developments included Burundi’s efforts to integrate into the East African Community (EAC), having ratified the EAC Common Market Protocol and assuming the subregional group’s presidency in November, Mr. Petrie said before thanking the Council, the Government of Burundi and all other stakeholders and partners for their support during his tenure.

Mr. Seger ( Switzerland) said the Burundi configuration, in its fourth year of engagement with Burundi, continued to support the country’s efforts on a range of peacebuilding activities.  In determining next steps, it must not lose sight of the fact that 8.5 million Burundian citizens were its core constituents.  “We all have the responsibility to support the Government as it delivers to this population the key services, as Government is accountable for,” he said.

The Peacebuilding Commission’s engagement had four entry points:  mobilizing resources; making the poverty reduction strategy “conflict-sensitive”; supporting the whole array of rule-of-law issues; and supporting dialogue as a way to address socio-economic and political challenges.  All signs indicated that the overwhelming majority of Burundians were tired of war and committed to peace.

Recalling his visit to Bujumbura from 30 June to 3 July, he said he had concluded that the Commission should continue to assist Burundi with parliamentary elections and focus its cooperation in accordance with the political situation prevailing thereafter.  Following an 11 May meeting of the Configuration, the funding gap for the election budget had been closed, he said.  Out of a total budget of $46.5 million, the Government of Burundi had contributed $7.9 million from its own budget, and the rest had been covered mainly by members of the configuration.  Several other countries had provided resources, as had the African Union, the European Union and UNDP.

To fill critical gaps, the Peacebuilding Fund had provided $3 million to the electoral budget, he continued, adding that, throughout the reporting period, he and the rest of the configuration membership had interacted with several institutions and other key stakeholders with the aim of developing or deepening relations so as to better support peacebuilding efforts.  Some of those interactions had led to financial contributions, others had generated mutual appreciation of the need to work together, and still others had laid the foundation for enhanced future cooperation, he said.

“Clearly, with the completion of this year’s electoral cycle — to the satisfaction of all observers — Burundi opens a new chapter — one that takes the building of a sustainable economy and economical improvement for all centre stage,” he said, adding:  “The outlook is good in many regards.”  There was a stable, newly legitimized Government at work, and the prospect of integration into the East African Community, which would make Burundi part of a larger market.

He emphasized, however, that for economic development to take off and the economy to function successfully, there must also be a set of non-economic conditions in place in addition to social, institutional and political conditions — the oft-mentioned “conducive environment” — to which challenges remained.  Some configuration members were particularly concerned about the significant increase in human rights violations, including cases of torture, infringements of civil rights and measures perceived as intimidations of the press.  There was also the social challenge of a “growth of fear”, and the risk of donor fatigue.

Noting that the Peacebuilding Commission’s engagement “as we know it” would soon be at end, he said the Strategic Framework for Peacebuilding in Burundi would have to be reviewed in its entirety.  The Government had indicated that it welcomed the Commission’s continuing engagement, and during the fifth biannual review of the Strategic Framework, therefore, peacebuilding issues warranting its further engagement would be defined.

Taking the floor after those presentations, Minister Nsanze said the Government of Burundi appreciated BINUB’s advocacy role in the electoral process, which had resulted in successful elections in terms of participation, security and transparency.  As for the post-electoral situation, the Government was not responsible for the exile of leaders of parties that had boycotted the elections and gone into hiding, declaring that their security was threatened.  Regarding “space for dialogue”, the parties themselves had created the standing forum for dialogue, he pointed out.

He said the Government was aware of residual insecurity and was continuing its campaign to disarm civilians while acquiring the equipment needed to mark and track weapons.  It had also created a national commission to settle land disputes.  Unfortunately, the media claimed a new rebellion was brewing, he noted, emphasizing that human rights, the concern of the National Independent Human Rights Commission, was on the agenda of the current parliamentary session.

Disturbed at having read in the Secretary-General’s report that the election period had been marked by a lack of freedom of expression and association, he stressed that the media had freely covered the elections and civil society had deployed monitors throughout the country, unhampered.  The Government always punished officials found guilty of human rights or gender-based violations, and the independent expert on human rights had taken note of that.

In the medium term, the Government would improve the professionalism of its defence and security forces, with the support of the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany and Switzerland, he said.  Children’s rights were also of vital concern to the Government, he said, pointing out that the President had just expanded free education to ensure the basic right of primary education and to keep children from working before the legal age.

As for arbitrary arrests, he conceded that they did occur, but detainees attempted to sow the seeds of confusion instead of assuming responsibility for the crimes for which they were arrested.  Certain partners had concluded that a climate of impunity prevailed in Burundi, but that was a hasty conclusion since investigations were not yet complete.

The Minister assured the Council that the report on national consultations regarding the establishment of transitional justice mechanisms had been submitted to the presidential tripartite steering committee on 7 December.  The Government and the United Nations should finalize agreement on outstanding issues in that regard, he said, adding that Parliament had elected an ombudsman.  In short, an institutional framework for good governance, security-sector reform and the rule of law was in place.

There was now a need to strengthen capacities for improving performance, he emphasized.  The Secretary-General’s report was pessimistic about the economic situation, but Burundi would meet the challenge, he stressed, noting that, in a time of post-conflict instability, the country had been able to stabilize the rate of inflation.  Among other advances, the Government had just launched a new strategic framework for growth and poverty reduction, which would enable the development of the agricultural, energy, and information technology sectors.  Additionally, Burundi would chair the East African Community in 2011.

However, he pointed out persistent problems with civil society, stressing that they should be supporting the Government rather than behaving in an “anti-patriotic” or “covert” fashion, with financing from certain “small funders”.

Turning to plans for the proposed new United Nations presence, he said the new structure, as conceived, would be tailored to realities on the ground.  The Government was ready to cooperate with it for the good of Burundi’s people.

The meeting began at 10:16 a.m. and ended at 11:02 a.m.

Background

Meeting this morning to consider the situation in Burundi, the Security Council had before it the seventh report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Integrated Office in Burundi (BINUB), which provides an update of developments in the country since his last report (document S/2009/611) of 30 November 2009, and outlines proposals on the mandate and structure if a post-BINUB presence.

The report (document S/2010/608) says Burundi has made significant progress over the past year in moving away from its violent past towards a future of peace, stability and development, though security, food, human rights and sexual violence remain matters of concern.  Among the advances cited are the holding of five consecutive elections (communal, presidential, legislative, senatorial and local), even though some of them were boycotted by opposition parties.  For the first time since 1993, the authorities successfully took on the challenge entirely on their own in a country that was for decades torn by largely ethnic violence in which hundreds of thousands of people perished.

“Despite the deep divide among political actors over the elections and the fact that a single party will dominate the political landscape for the next five years,” the report says, “it is remarkable that neither of those factors has led to the return of large-scale violence, as had been widely feared.  “I believe that the fact that confrontation has remained predominantly confined to the political realm is a testament to the maturing of the political class of Burundi, the vibrant role played by its increasingly strong and independent civil society, and, above all, the population’s desire for lasting peace and development.”

However, the Secretary-General adds:  “I am deeply concerned about signs of a returning climate of impunity, the resurgence of acts of torture, intimidation, extrajudicial executions and arrests of opposition members, as well as restrictions on the freedom of expression and assembly.”  With BINUB’s mandate expiring at the end of the year, he proposes its replacement by a scaled-down mission to be known as the United Nations Office in Burundi (BNUB) as of 1 January 2011, for an initial period of one year, to complement the various agencies of the Organization working in the country.

The mandate of the proposed new Office will include monitoring key indicators on democracy and governance, providing advice on the security sector and strengthening human rights and justice institutions, the report states.  BNUB is likely to be substantially smaller than BINUB, in accordance with the Government’s request, it notes, recalling that the scaling down of the former United Nations Operation in Burundi (ONUB) to BINUB in 2006 created significant tension among national staff, with one group of former staff members still demanding reparations for wrongful dismissal, staging demonstrations, destroying United Nations property and threatening to kidnap staff.  “To reduce the risk of a similar reaction, I urge the Government of Burundi to work closely with the United Nations to assist BINUB national staff in their transition to either the public or the private sector,” the Secretary-General writes.

According to the report, the security situation, although relatively stable over the past year, remains a concern, with a high incidence of criminal activities such as armed robbery, killings and sexual violence.  There has also been a “significant increase in human rights violations”, including severe restrictions on the freedom of expression and association, and the jailing of opposition party members.  The report cites an increase in extrajudicial and/or politically motivated killings from 27 in 2009 to 29 recorded so far this year, noting that BINUB confirmed 18 cases of torture while none were reported in 2009.

“Sexual and gender-based violence continues to be a major challenge,” the Secretary-General reports, noting that between January and October, the Ministry of Human Rights and Gender registered 1,727 rape cases.  He stresses United Nations efforts to combat sexual and gender violence, and generally to promote human rights and civilian protection by regularly reporting violations, briefing the diplomatic community and organizing awareness programmes for State employees and youth groups.  But he also notes that women are represented in the National Assembly at a rate of 32 per cent, above the 30 per cent rate required by the Constitution, and their representation in the Senate is 46 per cent, the highest proportion in Africa and second in the world at this level.

Outlining other challenges, the report says there is a “considerable risk” that children will be recruited by armed groups due to the heightened tensions surrounding the electoral cycle.  Additionally, the food situation, although improved thanks to favourable weather, remains worrying.  Also, with some 100,000 people internally displaced and more than 200,000 refugees still in the United Republic of Tanzania, land disputes and the lack of socio-economic amenities remain a challenge as returns continue.  “Potential civil unrest, natural disasters, epidemic outbreaks, poverty and recurrent food insecurity could still have significant humanitarian consequences and a negative impact on development efforts,” the Secretary-General warns, stressing the important role that the Organization must play in monitoring the situation and updating contingency plans for responding to a sudden deterioration.

Alongside Sierra Leone, Burundi was the first country targeted when the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission was launched in 2006 to provide financial, economic and other support to prevent countries emerging from conflict from relapsing back into bloodshed, the report states, noting that it continues to monitor the country closely.  “The situation in Burundi has sufficiently progressed, in spite of the concerns expressed above,” the Secretary-General writes.  “I, therefore, encourage the international community to gradually shift its engagement in the country from support for the peace process to assistance in the areas of recovery, development and democratic consolidation.”  He concludes:  “The next five years will be critical in this regard, not least because of the still highly volatile political and security situation in the Great Lakes region.”

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