As the United Nations Office in Burundi (BNUB) prepared to withdraw at the end of 2014, the Office’s Head stressed to the Security Council the need for continued international support ahead of critical elections and in face of development challenges.
“Burundi will continue to need strong support from all its partners to overcome outstanding challenges and implement its national poverty alleviation and development strategy,” Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of BNUB, said in a briefing that also heard from Paul Seger (Switzerland), the Chair of the Burundi configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, and Zacharie Gahutu, Director General of International Organizations and Non-Governmental Organization at Burundi’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
Following tensions over the boycott of the 2010 elections by opposition parties, violence by youth affiliated with political parties and continued charges of bias against the opposition on the part of the Government, he said, the entire Burundian political class had pledged to guarantee inclusive 2015 elections that would contribute to building peace.
Problems with the Independent National Electoral Commission at the local level, however, had revived charges of partiality on the part of the Government as had trials of major opposition figures. The Government rejected charges of interference in regard to those cases.
“It is not too late to transform these misunderstandings into an opportunity to reinforce trust in the electoral process,” Mr. Onanga-Anyanga said. Meetings on the electoral roadmap, even without agreement on a code of conduct, had helped foster dialogue. He welcomed the Government’s commitment to further dialogue and the opposition’s pledge to participate.
It was now, he said, important to stress the elements needed for a code of conduct that would allow more open political space and a secure environment and exclude political violence in all its forms.
Overall, he said Burundi had continued to enjoy a mainly stable security environment, with a drop in acts of political violence perpetrated by young political cadres. He welcomed, in that regard, regular calls by the President of the ruling party warning perpetrators against disruption of public meetings and threats against members of opposition parties, civil society organizations and journalists. Human rights defender Pierre Claver Mbonimpa had been released from custody on health grounds, although his case was still pending.
In contrast to those positive trends, however, there had been a sharp increase in criminality since October in a number of provinces, including Bujumbura Mairie and rumours of attacks by unidentified armed groups, sometimes dressed in military uniforms, was creating panic. There had been no significant progress in bringing to justice perpetrators of crimes including extrajudicial killings BNUB had documented since 2011. Justice reform had been slow, although the process to select the Commissioners of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission had been initiated.
President Pierre Nkurunziza had also acknowledged that corruption remained a major challenge and had pledged a zero tolerance policy. Mr. Onanga-Anyanga stressed the importance of the Burundian tax collection authority in that regard.
On the BNUB completion, he said the Joint Transition Plan for transferring responsibilities to the United Nations country team was progressing well for the end of the Office’s activities on 12 December. The country team continued to beef up its capacity in governance and rule of law, bearing in mind the need to avoid gaps.
United Nations continued engagement in human rights had been ensured by the August approval of a stand-alone local Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). He called on the Council and Member States to ensure that sufficient resources were available for the unit.
Mr. Seger urged the Government to approach the elections “with the vigilance of a country that is aware of the ongoing fragility of its peace consolidation process and the responsibility that comes with it.” As well, opposition parties must not repeat their mistakes of 2010 and participate in the electoral process and work jointly with the Government for Burundi’s prosperous future, with a focus on a medium- and long-term vision.
He said BNUB’s drawdown at year-end offered an opportunity for Burundi to prove it was ready to start a new chapter in its peace consolidation process. The departure would leave serious gaps in the areas of political dialogue, facilitation and high-level advocacy.
He welcomed the United Nations electoral mission to be deployed on 1 January 2015, as well as the strengthening of the United Nations country team, underlining the importance of a “seamless” transition. He called on the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to nominate a Resident Coordinator and urged States to support the OHCHR office.
He noted he had informed the Council that a roundtable between the Government and its bilateral and institutional partners would be held on 11 and 12 December in Bujumbura. Participants would evaluate progress and challenges in the implementation of the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper II since 2012; discuss the implications of BNUB’s departure; and evaluate perspectives for a mutually beneficial partnership towards long-term prosperity. His office was working with Burundi on a joint declaration to be adopted at the meeting that would set out mutual commitments towards a common way forward.
“There is no doubt that Burundi is going through a challenging and decisive phase”, he said, and the tasks at hand were critical for consolidating gains. But BNUB’s drawdown and 2015 elections were also opportunities for the country to show it had overcome its hurtful past and embarked on a more prosperous future.
Mr. Gahutu thanked all of Burundi’s international partners, urging them to continue their support in the face of BNUB’s departure by fulfilling all previous commitments. He hoped the upcoming round table would be helpful in that regard, positioning Burundi for a brighter future for its people through sustainable development. He pledged his Government’s full dedication to that goal.
Calling for the transition to the United Nations country team to be implemented as swiftly as possible, he said the Government was also ready to work with all on human rights and make progress on implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He pledged continued cooperation with regional organizations as well.
He called on partners to help ensure peaceful and inclusive polls, noting that cooperation on the electoral observer mission was already underway. The Government, he pledged, would do its part and continue to pursue dialogue with all stakeholders in order to open a political space for all. He called again on all political actors to refrain from any actions that could raise tensions, making it possible to turn the page on the violence that had beset the country.
He affirmed his Government’s commitment to ensure security throughout Burundi, calling for cooperation in reporting trouble-makers engaged in any criminal activity on the country’s territory.
The meeting began at 10 a.m. and ended at 10:40 a.m.