Marking the drawdown of the United Nations Office in Burundi (BNUB) at the end of 2014, the Head of the Organization’s political affairs department, in a detailed summary to the Security Council today, underscored the progress made in that country’s peacebuilding over the past decade, as well as the remaining challenges regarding upcoming elections, democracy and development.
“Burundi today is much safer and secure than a decade ago,” said Jeffrey Feltman, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, in a briefing that also heard from Paul Seger (Switzerland), the Chair of the Burundi configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, and Albert Shingiro, Permanent Representative of Burundi to the United Nations.
Introducing the final report of the Secretary-General on BNUB (document S/2015/36), Mr. Feltman said that Burundi had made substantial progress, overcoming formidable challenges since the end of the civil war. The country had adopted power-sharing as a system of governance, established ethnically-balanced institutions, held regular elections and remained committed to national reconciliation.
However, he said, the spirit of the 2000 Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement had eroded since the 2010 elections as political polarization continuously hampered efforts to consolidate peace, democracy and development. Organizing peaceful and credible elections was a pressing challenge this year. It was critical for the Independent National Electoral Commission to manage the process in an inclusive manner, with integrity, impartiality and independence.
Further, Burundians, regardless of party affiliation, must be free to exercise their civil and political rights, including their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, he said. It was the responsibility of the Government to ensure full participation of opposition parties in the electoral process while opposition leaders must play their part by remaining engaged. The Government should also prevent violence, and individuals committing unlawful acts of political violence must be prosecuted without delay.
The United Nations Electoral Observation Mission in Burundi (MENUB) started operations on 1 January, Mr. Feltman said. Regrettably, Government officials, the President of the Independent National Electoral Commission and representatives of the ruling party, Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie-Forces pour la défense de la démocratie (CNDD-FDD), did not attend the inaugural ceremony on account that the Status of Mission Agreement had not been signed. The United Nations signed the agreement 20 January and expected the Government to do so soon, he added.
Clashes at the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo between the Burundian army and armed groups had reduced sharply since July last year, Mr. Feltman noted. However, on 30 December, the Burundian army reported clashing with an unidentified armed group of about 100 to 200 members entering from the neighboring country into Cibitoke Province. On 4 January, five unidentified gunmen killed three members of the ruling party in a bar in Ruyigi Province. If not managed carefully, incidents like those could heighten political tensions at a time of elections.
Beyond the elections, Burundi faced challenges no less critical, such as the need for improvements in health, education, employment, and infrastructure, he continued. The Government would need to broaden political space and allow democratic institutions to provide the checks and balances essential for a functioning democracy. Security- and justice-sector institutions would require professionalization and capacity-building. To that end, he called for the efforts of all Burundians and sustained support from the country’s development partners, noting that the joint communique of the Burundi Partners Conference on 12 December reemphasized the mutual commitments of the Government and its partners adopted at the 2012 Geneva Partners Conference.
The United Nations would continue to provide support through the Peacebuilding Fund to enhance political dialogue and social cohesion; youth participation in political and socioeconomic life; human rights; and resolution of land disputes, he said.
“The stakes, especially in the context of the electoral process, are too high to slack off,” Mr. Seger stressed, stating that despite the departure of BNUB, the time to look back had not quite arrived yet. Having participated in the December roundtable meetings as Chair of the Burundi configuration, he said he was heartened by discussions between Burundi and its partners and welcomed President Pierre Nkurunziza’s personal commitment for free and inclusive polls. He appealed to the Government and partners to fully implement the resulting joint communique.
Sharing concerns over recent violent incidents, he urged that competent investigations be pursued in a quick and impartial manner so that rumours did not fuel pre-electoral tensions. In order to counter those and other challenges, he said that the United Nations country team, the new electoral commission, MENUB and the bureau of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights must work hand in hand and the Government must work with the entire United Nations family constructively and in good faith.
Outlining progress in the deployment of MENUB and the recruitment of a new Resident Coordinator, he said that Helen Clark of the United Nations Development Fund (UNDP) had promised to accelerate the process of turning the latest grant of the Peacebuilding Fund, totalling $11.65 million, into support for Burundi’s peaceful transition. He urged all parties to redouble their efforts for the establishment of a network of human right defenders throughout the country, one of the first projects being developed under that funding. He also urged Member States to provide resources to close United Nations staffing gaps.
The future of the Burundi configuration had to be first and foremost determined by the Government, he said, while recommending continued engagement beyond the elections to smooth the transition and to help ensure a greater focus on socioeconomic development. He said he was currently preparing an options paper that could guide thinking on the issue. In the meantime, he pledged to carry out his mandate throughout the electoral process, to visit the country twice more through July and to keep communicating with the Council.
Mr. Shingiro said his country saw the transition from BNUB to the United Nations country team as an accomplishment that opened up great opportunities. “The United Nations could be proud to be part of this shared success,” he stated, underscoring the importance of the upcoming elections, while conveying the Government’s pledge to ensure they were free, inclusive and peaceful.
He said that charges of plans to manipulate the elections were unfounded, and he described mechanisms to deal with all such problems and maintain a frank and open dialogue. Thanking those who were providing financial support to the election process, he invited others who wished to do so to act promptly. He also welcomed the deployment of international observers, pledging the support of his Government to them in the hope of avoiding the boycott of the last go round. “The ‘empty chair policy’ doesn’t benefit anyone,” he said.
He reported that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was being set up to bridge divisions in the country. Funding for that and other initiatives to foster development was needed. Noting that the December roundtable was held for that reason, he called on the country’s partners to ensure that the resulting agreements became reality.
Reviewing the Secretary-General’s report, he said that it acknowledged that peace and security prevailed in the country. His Government pledged to maintain it. He condemned recent violent incidents, noting that authorities had responded. “Recourse of violence was unacceptable and must give way to the war of ideas,” he said. He pointed out that Burundi was now contributing to United Nations peacekeeping missions and called for more support to its contingents.
On the sections of the report related to corruption, he pledged Government efforts to tackle the problem and thanked donors who supported good governance programmes as well as local partners in civil society. As for rule of law, he acknowledged that while it would be idealistic to seek perfection in that area, Burundi was striving to get as close to the ideal as possible. He pledged further efforts to end impunity. Progress had been made in education and health, but international support must be reviewed in the interest of further progress. He hoped that would be done in the context of the formulation of the post-2015 development agenda.
The meeting began at 11:05 a.m. and ended at 11:50 a.m.
* The 7363rd Meeting was closed.