|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
6538th Meeting (AM)
International Community Should Commit to Matching Burundi’s Peace-Consolidation
Efforts, Senior United Nations Officials Tell Security Council
‘Daunting’ Challenges Remain, Says Special Representative
While Briefing with Chair of Peacebuilding Commission’s Burundi Configuration
Welcoming Burundi’s “remarkable transition” towards democracy, national dialogue and good governance, senior United Nations officials told the Security Council today that the Burundian Government’s peace-consolidation efforts should be matched by the international community’s commitment to help overcome the country’s “daunting” remaining socio-economic challenges.
“The commendable efforts of the Burundian people in consolidating the gains achieved in peacebuilding, and paving the way for sustainable development, deserve our strong and continued support,” said Karin Landgren, Special representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Office in Burundi (BNUB), as she briefed the Council on that mission’s work. She was accompanied by Paul Seger ( Switzerland), Chairman of the Peacebuilding Commission’s Burundi Configuration.
Ms. Landgren said that, since the Council’s last meeting on Burundi five months ago, several developments had taken place in relation to transitional justice, human rights, and the conduct of political parties. In April, Parliament had adopted legislation on the functioning and organization of parties, a process that had been followed closely by non-parliamentary opposition parties, she said, adding that an amendment to that law had been approved to assuage opposition fears of political restrictions. Nonetheless, some still believed the new law would constrain political discourse and activity, and had made it known that they would not comply with it.
Meanwhile, she said, the Government was drawing up legislation on the status of opposition political parties, including a plan to create a post for the head of such a party or parties, as well as an office to deal with the activities of civil society groups. The international community, including BNUB, continued to support activities that would spur dialogue between the parties, including the non-parliamentary opposition, she said. However, none of those actions had succeeded to date in the desired result of bringing opposition leaders to Burundi so they could once again play their part in the country’s political life.
On security, she said that, although the situation had been “generally calm”, there had been an increase last month in the number of violent incidents occurring in Bujumbura Rural Province. While attributed to bandits, the Ministry of Defence had publicly charged that Agathon Rwasa and Leonard Nyangoma were behind the incidents. The Government had since launched significant initiatives, including socio-economic surveys and the mandatory collection of arms held illegally in the province, she said, noting that President Pierre Nkurunziza had assured the population of a return to security.
Ms. Landgren said the Government was preparing its second Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper, which would incorporate key elements of the Strategic Framework for Peacebuilding and harmonize efforts in both peace consolidation and development planning. The document, anticipated in July, would give focus to governance goals and resource-mobilization efforts, she said, pointing out that Burundi faced severe poverty and high unemployment, including among young people. The cost of fuel had jumped by more than 20 per cent since October, raising in turn the prices of all basic commodities and placing severe strains on many families.
She went on to point out that Burundi was no longer self-sufficient in food as it had traditionally been, as some 90 per cent of all families now lived on an average of half a hectare of eroded land. Agricultural tools and technology remained poor, and market incentives were limited. As for other challenges, she noted that land had been the cause of many conflicts and remained an emotive issue. A revised Land Code adopted by Parliament in April entailed the decentralization of land issues to the communes and the establishment of the National Land Commission, tasked with managing land redistribution and resolving disputes. Those issues were among the “daunting socio-economic challenges which need to be addressed so that peace consolidation can be achieved”, she said.
Ms. Landgren went on to say that graft also remained a problem. In April, the Ministry of Good Governance had presented a broad-based national plan on good governance and the fight against corruption, taking on board substantive comments from the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and bilateral partners. The plan was intended as a framework for all partners and included elements relating to elections; judicial, legal and public-sector reforms; human rights; and the media. It was expected to be adopted on 23 May.
Turning to progress, she reported that the process of establishing the Independent National Human Rights Commission was moving “steadily forward”, with President Nkurunziza having promulgated the law creating that body on 5 January. An ad hoc parliamentary commission had vetted a large number of candidates and some 21 names had been submitted to the National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, which was expected to nominate seven as commissioners. It was understood that the issue would be taken up tomorrow, as part of a three-day extraordinary session of the National Assembly that began today.
“An impartial and independent national human rights commission can strengthen Burundi’s compliance with its international obligations and enhance the protection and promotion of human rights, thus promoting national security,” she said. In a related positive development, the Government had responded favourably to a request for a return visit by Fatsah Ouguergouz, an independent expert on the situation of human rights in Burundi, which had begun yesterday.
Continuing reports of extrajudicial executions had been a persistent concern, she said, adding that BNUB had investigated and documented nine such cases between January and March 2011 alone. Several other cases occurring in April were under investigation. Between August and November 2010, the Office had documented 11 extrajudicial executions, she said, noting that the Government had set up a commission of inquiry last October to investigate specific allegations made against security forces. The commission had remained dormant until the end of April 2011, when the Government had announced that it had resumed its work, she said. “We encourage the Government and the commission to establish the facts and make actionable recommendations where violations were established.”
She went on to report significant developments in the realm of transitional justice, where the Government was taking steps to set up relevant mechanisms following national consultations concluded in 2010. On 3 May, a delegation led by the Minister for External Affairs had outlined the Government’s transitional justice strategy during a meeting with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay. The Government intended to create a truth and reconciliation commission, to be operational by 2012, and to establish a judicial mechanism to address impunity after the commission had completed its work. “These are important commitments,” she emphasized. “The Government has underlined to BNUB that the truth and reconciliation commission process must be grounded in reconciliation and not in score-settling, and for this, broad public awareness and orientation will be crucial.”
For its part, she continued, the Government would set up a seven-member preparatory committee to develop appropriate legislation and a budget, in addition to reviewing the experiences of other countries with such commissions. The United Nations was looking forward to more detailed discussions with the Government, and remained ready to help establish transitional justice mechanisms consistent with international standards, she said, adding that international financial support would be needed in that area.
Emphasizing that the full reintegration of demobilized ex-combatants was crucial for sustained peace, she said that, while former fighters had all received reintegration assistance by the end of April, much still remained to be done in helping them become productive members of society. To that end, the Government and BNUB had developed a proposal to support the continued socio-economic reintegration of people affected by Burundi’s long conflict, including ex-combatants. The $24 million programme would support labour-intensive projects targeting the demobilized, young people and other vulnerable groups, she said, adding that it was in line with the 2010-2014 United Nations strategic development framework for Burundi, and that BNUB was working with the Peacebuilding Support Office to mobilize initial funding for the programme’s launch.
Reporting on BNUB, she recalled that, in line with Security Council resolution 1959 (2010), the United Nations Integrated Office in Burundi (BINUB) had given way to the scaled down United Nations Office in Burundi. The transition was going well and the Office was expected to reach its authorized staff level of 134 by 1 July, which represented a 70 per cent reduction from BINUB, she noted. Throughout the process, BNUB had continued to carry out its core tasks and was, among other things, helping the Government strengthen key institutions while supporting efforts to professionalize and enhance the capacity of the national security and defence forces.
“In accordance with its mandate, BNUB is currently developing benchmarks for its exit and evolution into a regular UN country team presence,” she continued, adding that discussions within the Organization had begun and would be followed by consultations with national and international partners. She noted that the Secretary-General had appointed Rosine Sori-Coulibaly as Deputy Special Representative and UN Resident Coordinator in Burundi.
Mr. Seger said the most important recent development in Burundi was the completion of the outcome document from the review of the Strategic Peacebuilding Framework, which should be now merged with the Poverty Reduction Strategic Paper, since there could be no peace without development. The Peacebuilding Commission could not do everything, he stressed, pointing out that it was a political body providing support to the other actors. Consolidating a culture of dialogue and democracy while fostering good governance and the rule of law was the primary challenge in that area, he said. “I think we’re on the right track, but work still needs to be done.”
He went on to cite corruption, human rights and transitional justice as other priorities, in addition to ensuring that anti-poverty efforts targeted the most vulnerable members of society in order to provide them with a viable alternative to violence. He said he also strongly supported investing in Burundi’s integration into the East African Community. He encouraged the Government and its partners to ensure a single peacebuilding framework in the country, adding that the April outcome document should help in that effort, as it referred to the specific commitments of all stakeholders. He said a donor’s conference was envisioned and appealed to the international community to continue to support Burundi’s socio-economic development, without which political efforts could not succeed.
Zacharie Gahutu ( Burundi) said that, after the successful elections of 2010, his country had set up institutions to take the political process forward. Its success had largely been due to the Strategic Peacebuilding Framework drawn up by the Government, political parties, partners and civil society actors.
He said the Ministry of Good Governance had continued to ensure open space for dialogue among all parties and stakeholders, and ministry officials had just visited High Commissioner Pillay to discuss the establishment of institutions for transitional justice.
Turning to security, he said relevant reform programmes had been followed by initiatives to promote ethics among military and police forces. A programme to remove arms from the civilian population was under way and had thus far led to the destruction of some 300,000 weapons. However, not all such weapons had been rooted out, and there had been sporadic incidents of violence and banditry, he added.
The meeting began at 10:12 a.m. and ended at 10:45 a.m.
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