With Burundi “back on the brink”, all political stakeholders in that country needed to put national well-being above narrow ambitions in order to preserve the hard-won gains towards building democratic institutions and a common community, the Security Council heard today from two top United Nations officials.
The grave danger Burundi was in should not be underestimated, Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, told the 15-member body, providing an overview of the political and security situation in the country surrounding the 29 June legislative and local election.
While preparations for the elections were largely sufficient and Burundians went to the polls in large numbers, voting was preceded and accompanied by violence amid an opposition boycott, he said. The United Nations Electoral Observer Mission in Burundi (MENUB) concluded that the environment was not conducive for free, credible and inclusive elections. The African Union, East African Community (EAC) and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region shared similar concerns.
The Council had closely followed the situation in Burundi as the United Nations had undergone “different incarnations” to help implement the 2000 Arusha Agreement, he noted. All Burundian parties must recognize that dialogue provided the only solution. The Government must protect all citizens and the opposition must disavow violence and enter political dialogue. “Time is running out,” he stressed.
Speaking via video teleconference from Geneva, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, High Commissioner for Human Rights, said an escalating pattern of politically motivated violence coupled with Burundi’s history of bloodshed should alert the international community to the potential for serious crisis. The situation arising from the President’s decision to run for a third term had undermined a decade of progress in building democratic institutions and a common national community. In the last six months, members of opposition parties, civil society and the media who had called for the President to respect the Arusha Agreement and the Constitution by standing down had been targeted for intimidation and arbitrary detention. Peaceful protests had been met with an “unwarranted” use of force.
In his April visit, he had noted the alarming violence attributed to the Imbonerakure militia, which had been linked to the President’s political party. “Immediate action must be taken to curtail these assaults” he said, urging the Government to disarm that militia. For its part, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had documented dozens of killings in the past two months — mostly shootings of demonstrators and human rights defenders by the Imbonerakure militia and security forces, he said, drawing particular attention to the 26 May assassination of opposition leader Zedi Feruzi.
His Office also had documented more than 300 cases of arbitrary arrest, numerous cases of torture, a crackdown on independent media, and the fleeing of members of the President’s political party from the country. Hard-won gains in inclusive services, institutions and freedoms for the public were also breaking down. Accountability for all gross human rights violations must be ensured, he said. The Agreement sought to rebuild a society in which differences could be accommodated. That was the path of development and hope — and it was Burundi’s future. To close it off would be a monumental error.
Albert Shingiro, Permanent Representative of Burundi, said his Government had to choose between postponing elections and strengthening democracy and had chosen the latter. The people gave their verdict in a free and peaceful manner and only one of the several observer missions gave a negative report. The high voter turnout sent a message that the silent majority that did not participate in violent protests believed in the democratic process. A statement by the heads of African diplomatic missions in Burundi congratulated the Government for its successful conduct of the election, he said. It was hard to understand the disconnect between the observations made inside and outside Africa.
Mr. Shingiro said that during the recent East African Community summit, regional leaders provided constructive solutions, including the appointment of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to facilitate dialogue between the Burundian political parties. The experience in Burundi underscored the importance of greater consistency between regional and subregional work in resolving problems. People who understood the culture and country could provide better advice.
Stressing that the Constitution did not allow postponement of the presidential election until 30 July, as demanded by some partners, he said the Government was flexible on dates as long as they met electoral and legal requirements. While the focus was excessively on the political crisis, it should not be forgotten that the new Government would have to tackle a broader agenda of restoring national confidence, disarmament and youth employment.
The meeting began at 10:08 a.m. and ended at 10:58 a.m.