Permanent Representative Rejects Reference to President’s Purported Quest for Fourth Term, Citing ‘Double Standards’
The political crisis in Burundi continued to deepen amid serious human rights violations, mass displacements of people and economic degradation, senior officials told the Security Council today, warning that any attempt by President Pierre Nkurunziza to seek a fourth term risked undermining collective efforts to find a sustainable solution.
Presenting the Secretary-General’s report on that country (document S/2017/165), Jamal Benomar, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General for Conflict Prevention, expressed concern over the worsening human rights situation there. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had documented allegations of extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and forced disappearances, as well as cases of torture and ill-treatment, he said, adding that there had been more than 210 cases of enforced disappearance between October 2016 and January 2017. Many lived in fear of the Imbonerakure, the ruling party’s youth militia, he added.
On the humanitarian front, he said, the number of people needing assistance in 2016 had reached 3 million — or 26 per cent of the population — and there had been a four-fold increase in the number of those who were food insecure. Some 8.2 million people — or 75 per cent of the population — were affected by malaria, he said, adding that almost 390,000 Burundians had fled the country since the start of the crisis.
Furthermore, there had been no significant progress in the dialogue led by the East African Community, he continued, recalling that the Government had boycotted the last round of talks in Arusha, and that the two sides had yet to sit at the same table. While the United Nations would continue to support the Facilitator, no progress would be made unless all Burundian stakeholders committed to an inclusive dialogue without preconditions, he emphasized. “The full political weight of the region and the international community is needed to achieve progress,” he added.
On that point, he said the internal dialogue led by the Government-established National Commission for Inter-Burundian Dialogue was close to completion. However, its interim report had reached a number of conclusions that could undermine the Arusha Agreement — notably, that the majority of citizens demanded an end to presidential term limits and favoured amendment of the Constitution. Opposition leaders and civil society groups had expressed concern that the process was not inclusive, but rather, controlled by the Government and intended to produce a predetermined outcome.
While Burundians had the sovereign right to amend their Constitution, the President’s decision to seek a disputed third term had triggered the most severe crisis since Burundi’s emergence from civil war more than a decade ago, he said. No progress had been made in implementation of resolution 2303 (2016), and the Government’s relations with the international community had deteriorated since its adoption, he said, citing Burundi’s refusal to allow deployment of the United Nations police component, enhanced human rights monitoring, strengthening of the Office of the Special Adviser, or cooperation with African Union observers.
He noted that Burundi had also withdrawn from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, suspended cooperation with Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and refused cooperation with the Commission of Inquiry mandated by the Human Rights Council. “We have tried our utmost to constructively engage with the Government,” he said. Yet, authorities had largely shut the doors to cooperation. He called on the leadership to fulfil its moral obligation and political responsibility to restore Burundi to the path of peace, convinced that most Burundians, including many in the Government, did not wish to continue on the track of isolationism, violence and repression.
Benjamin William Mkapa, East African Community Facilitator of the Inter-Burundi Dialogue and former President of the United Republic of Tanzania, spoke by video link from Entebbe, Uganda, saying he had worked to bring the parties together to resume “the spirit and dictates” of the Arusha Agreement and the Constitution. While both sides agreed that those instruments must form the basis for progress, he said political opposition members — both internal and external — believed the Government had narrowed the political space. Each side claimed to be the custodian of the Arusha Agreement and the Constitution, with each viewing the other as criminals who should suffer the wrath of the State.
“These two parties are almost irreconcilable in their tasks,” he said, emphasizing that he had tried to foster dialogue in four different sessions. After the initial meeting, he had subsequently met with parties, civil society organizations, youth and women’s organizations, as well as religious leaders, in order to understand their concerns. Some had declined to travel to Arusha, believing the location would prejudice the meeting, he said.
He went on to state that he had met the parties in Bujumbura on a third occasion to determine whether any positions had changed. Participants in the fourth and final Arusha meeting in February had included “leaders of consequence and of influence”, he said, notably three former presidents of the Assembly and Senate. It had focused on political, constitutional, economic, humanitarian and security differences, security having been most important to external opposition members who feared they would not be able to operate safely. He said he had asked participants their maximum and minimum demands, and had also requested that Burundi suspend arrest warrants against various political actors so they could attend the meetings, a request that the Government “did not take well”.
While both sides affirmed the importance of the Arusha Agreement and the Constitution, each claimed to be the exclusive implementer of those instruments, he said. “They are so far apart it is difficult to bring them together.” He said that while the East African Community leadership had declined his request for an emergency summit, he would encourage both sides to sit at the same table when they next met in three weeks’ time. In the meantime, he added, he would distil the demands of the parties into a common position which hopefully would break the impasse. “I still believe it can be done,” he said, emphasizing: “We have no option except to continue to be engaged.”
Jürg Lauber (Switzerland), Chair of the Burundi configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, said that from 7 to 8 November 2016, he and then-United Nations Resident Coordinator Paolo Lembo had met in Geneva with Burundi’s multilateral partners — the World Bank, African Development Bank, International Monetary Fund, the United Nations country team and the European Union — to discuss the socioeconomic situation. They had all agreed that Burundi was experiencing severe macroeconomic difficulties, reflected in negative gross domestic product growth in 2015 and 2016, food insecurity, rising consumer prices and falling fiscal revenues, all of which had put pressure on the national budget.
Concerns had also been expressed, he said, about signals of disengagement sent by Burundi to its regional and international partners, notably the suspension of cooperation with the OHCHR. While welcoming Burundi’s transmission of a draft agreement on the establishment of an OHCHR office in the country, he cautioned that international partners might nonetheless decide to disengage with the Government in light of the current situation. “Peacebuilding in Burundi requires a long-term vision and sustained efforts,” he emphasized, urging regional and international partners to maintain support for peace and security, human rights, political reconciliation and institution-building, as well as for humanitarian and development aid, and credible democratic elections in 2020.
Luis Bermúdez (Uruguay) expressed concern that Burundi had still not recovered from the 2015 electoral crisis, calling on all interested parties to commit themselves to genuine dialogue based on respect for the Arusha Agreement. He also voiced concern about Burundi’s suspension of cooperation with OHCHR and its difficulties with the Office of the Special Adviser, calling for a renewed commitment between Burundi and the United Nations that would lead to agreement on the status of the United Nations mission and the resumption of OHCHR activities. The suffering would only worsen without immediate inclusive dialogue, he stressed.
Albert Shingiro (Burundi) said he did not agree with some aspects of the Secretary-General’s report, notably that President Nkurunziza would seek a so-called fourth mandate. Emphasizing that constitutional affairs fell under State sovereignty, he said the President was currently exercising his second mandate, in conformity with the 4 May 2015 judgement of the Constitutional Court and the 19 July 2016 judgement by the East African Community Court. The latter confirmed the legality of the President’s candidacy, he said, stressing that mention of a fourth mandate was typical of the double standards used against Burundi since 2015.
Moreover, paragraph 20 made “unwise” use of the term “militia” to describe young people affiliated with the ruling party, which was not in line with the language of resolutions 2248 (2015) and 2303 (2016), he continued. The Council had never used that loaded word, having previously used the more balanced term “youth affiliated with political parties”. Describing the report’s mention of 200 enforced disappearances as “unfounded”, he said it ignored young people who had gone to seek paramilitary training outside the country but had later been declared “missing”. He advocated prudence in “bandying about” such allegations.
Welcoming the Facilitator’s leadership of the Inter-Burundian dialogue, the most recent session of which had been held from 16 to 19 February, he underlined Burundi’s commitment to an inclusive process, except in relation to the 13 May 2015 “putschists” who were either on the run or enjoying protection in other States. Describing the security situation in Burundi as “good overall”, he said that on the human rights front, the Government had freed several hundred prisoners and pardoned 2,500 others, including 2,246 who had already returned to their families.
Concerning freedom of expression, he said Burundi had more than 20 local public and private radio and television stations, two local press agencies, 24 newspapers, 17 Internet sites and 12 professional press bodies. The Government had approved 6,500 non-profit organizations, 100 of them since January 2016. Going forward, Burundi would seek to bolster relations with the United Nations, he said, adding that a draft cooperation agreement was under discussion. The Government looked forward to the appointment of another United Nations official responsible for the signing of a new cooperation agreement.
The meeting began at 11:14 a.m. and ended at 11:52 a.m.