Regional actors and international partners must press for confidence-building measures that would be conducive for holding an inclusive and credible political dialogue in Burundi, Assistant Secretary-General Tayé-Brook Zerihoun told the Security Council this afternoon as it considered the situation in that country.
Noting the appointment on 5 May of Michel Kafando as the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Burundi, he said the situation there remained volatile, with East African Union facilitator Benjamin Mkapa expressing concern over the slow progress of dialogue in a report approved at a 20 May summit of the regional group’s leaders.
The security situation, meanwhile, remained fragile, with grenade attacks in the capital and intimidation by security forces and associated groups, he said. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had continued to report targeted arrests, arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment of real or perceived opposition members and supporters, extra-judicial killings and forced disappearances. Reports of incitement to hatred and violence had increased since April, he said, adding that the Government was cooperating with neither OHCHR nor a Human Rights Council commission of inquiry that would submit a final report in September.
Given the current climate, implementation of proposals contained in a 12 May report of the National Commission for the Inter-Burundian Dialogue would likely lead to an escalation of the crisis, he said. That report — which affirmed that a majority in Burundi supported a revision of the Constitution, a lifting of presidential term limits and changes to other provisions of the Arusha Agreement — had been denounced by opposition parties, as had the subsequent creation of a constitutional review commission.
He went on to discuss a deterioration in the socioeconomic and humanitarian situation, with 3 million people requiring humanitarian assistance and 2.6 million facing acute food security. About 209,000 people were internally displaced while the number of Burundian refugees in neighbouring countries exceeded 400,000. A $73.7 million appeal for humanitarian assistance was only 35‑per‑cent funded. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) meanwhile projected 0‑per‑cent growth in Burundi in 2017 and 12.4‑per‑cent inflation, he said. Severe fuel and electricity shortages were disrupting business and driving up prices, while blackouts lasting several days reportedly caused an uptick in crime.
Jürg Lauber (Switzerland), Chair of the Burundi Configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, speaking via video link from Geneva, said the East African Community summit in Dar es Salaam was a key event that had demonstrated the importance of regional engagement, with Yoweri Museveni, President of Uganda and Chair of the Community, reiterating his personal commitment to the Community-led mediation and calling for resumed socioeconomic cooperation with Burundi. The summit provided clarity on the direction of the mediation process. Mr. Mkapa, former President of the United Republic of Tanzania, had presented a proposal outlining a series of steps to overcome the current situation and create the preconditions for democratic elections in 2020, which was welcomed by member Heads of State and Government.
On the political front, he said the plan offered a path for progress, while the inter-Burundian dialogue, led by the National Commission for the Inter-Burundian Dialogue, and recent initiatives by the Ombudsman, should evolve in harmony with the Community-led process. Greater international presence could “considerably” improve the human rights and security situation. While the Government had signalled readiness to accept continuation of an OHCHR presence in Burundi, the modalities remained to be agreed. He expressed hope that the 200 approved African Union military and human rights observers could be deployed soon, to complement those already in the country.
For its part, the Configuration had focused on socioeconomic development, he said, a key aspect of the consultations he had held in Burundi and the United Republic of Tanzania, from 27 to 31 March, after which, a report had been submitted to the Configuration and the Council in April. On 30 March, he had co-hosted a meeting in Bujumbura with Burundi’s Minister for External Relations and International Cooperation, and the then United Nations resident coordinator, which allowed for an open exchange on the socioeconomic and humanitarian challenges, and ongoing national and international responses in the priority sectors of food security, health and education.
The parties had agreed to continue the socioeconomic dialogue in the format of a joint retreat, tentatively scheduled for 11 July, during which the Government and its international partners could share data, update on humanitarian assistance and the modalities of cooperation. “We hope that the participants will agree on concrete steps to make cooperation more efficient,” he said, noting that the meeting would complement the political dialogue in Arusha.
Albert Shingiro (Burundi) said that the inter-Burundian dialogue facilitated by the National Commission and the East African Community had made significant progress. A final report had been submitted on 12 May, following 600 hours of meetings with 26,000 citizens in 18 provinces and 119 communes. The Commission had also met with women’s groups, young people, trade unions, accredited political parties, religious groups, journalists, police and economic actors, as well as representatives of the Community’s Legislative Assembly and diplomats from various international organizations and countries.
At the regional level, he said consultations were under way and Burundi was strongly wedded to that dialogue process. Permanent representatives from the region had met in New York with the delegate of South Africa on 31 May, following which consensus had been reached in three areas. First, it was agreed that the people concerned and the region must continue to lead in managing the situation, with the international contribution limited solely to support. Second, partners must continue to focus on the socioeconomic aspects of the crisis and he expressed hope that the call for the lifting of sanctions against Burundi would be heeded.
They also agreed that the internal and external dialogue processes were complementary. “They do not compete with each other,” he said, and must benefit from equal attention by partners, as they would provide the cornerstone of the road map to peaceful elections in 2020. The culture of dialogue also included meetings between all stakeholders and the Ombudsman in the form of retreats — or café politiques — the next of which would be held from 21 to 23 June. That dialogue was supported by the Heads of State and deserved support from partners.
More broadly, he described a shared observation that the security situation was “quite good” except in a few areas. “The entire country is calm,” he said, stressing there was no longer a political crisis. Such a crisis would imply the absence or paralysis of institutions or wide-spread instability. Yet, democratically elected institutions operated normally and security was a reality. Burundi was managing the political and economic repercussions of the 2015 crisis through dialogue, the mobilization of domestic resources and the restoration of trust with its partners. Further, the restored security situation had been confirmed by the Community, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, the African Bar Association and the African Union.
He said Burundi continued to promote and protect human rights and he cautioned against “pointing accusatory fingers”. A cooperative approach should be adopted in place of politicization, selectivity, partiality and subjectivity. Only through international cooperation and mutually beneficial partnership, based on respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence, could progress be made. It was no secret that the events of 2015 stemmed from a plan by external elements to destabilize national institutions. Since 2014, many strategies had been used to create regime change, starting with the sowing of confusion over the interpretation of the Constitution, efforts that flew in the face of judgements by the Constitutional Court and the Community Court of Justice.
He said the second stage involved pursuit of regime change in West Africa “through the streets”, which had succeeded in Burkina Faso and countries of the Maghreb, yet failed in Burundi. The “plan B” involved financing the failed 2015 coup d’état. Other stages involved the creation of death squads and a slander campaign against Burundi’s elected leaders, all of which hinged on the politicization of the human rights situation. Biased reports were adopted in Geneva, at the encouragement of the same external actors. Yet, any report based solely on the testimony of refugees undermined credibility. Such politically motivated reports had stoked the flames since 2015. It was high time for the diplomatic harassment to give way to cooperation, as the so-called crisis was more artificial than genuine. “The sovereignty, unity and dignity of Burundi have no price,” he said, and would never yield to unjust pressure by those seeking to strip away its values. “We are a great nation jealously guarding our sovereignty.”
He said Burundi was working to resume cooperation with its partners and the United Nations. It had agreed to the appointment of the Special Envoy and confirmed his first visit. It was ready to cooperate with him and had also agreed to the appointment of a new United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) country representative and resident coordinator. Negotiations for a new headquarters agreement were under way and had enabled cooperation with OHCHR. He expected them to conclude shortly. The OHCHR office would be maintained in Bujumbura and should no longer be a concern.
He said the greatest challenge was the economy, as poverty fuelled instability. An awareness-raising campaign had been carried out to encourage the voluntary return of refugees. Noting that 150,000 people — including political party leaders — had come home, he said it was well known that those who had fled had been trained by and entered the ranks of rebel movements against Burundi, in a breach of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. It was important for national reconciliation to succeed through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which required support in its efforts work to seek the truth and mend broken hearts.
Elbio Rosselli (Uruguay) said it was essential to restore trust between the Government and the United Nations system, including a resumption of OHCHR activities. Noting the adoption of resolution 2303 (2016), he called on the Government to allow the deployment of African Union observers, and looked forward to hearing from the Special Envoy after his visit to Burundi later in the month.
The meeting began at 3:04 p.m. and ended at 3:53 p.m.