Permanent Representative Disputes Secretary-General’s ‘Partial’ Report, Says President Allowed to Revise Constitution
Against a backdrop of political tensions and a calm but volatile security situation in Burundi, heightened attention was needed to prevent the country from reversing hard-won gains, the Secretary‑General’s Special Envoy told the Security Council today.
During his briefing, Michel Kafando said that despite remarkable progress across the country and welcomed efforts to continue inter‑Burundian dialogue, human rights violations were still being reported, raising concerns about the humanitarian situation. Presenting the Secretary‑General’s latest report (document S/2018/89), he emphasized that the political situation, with the Government’s decision to revise the Constitution, had hampered economic gains and was not suitable for the conduct of credible elections, planned for 2020.
Describing efforts by the Burundi Configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, its Chair, Jürg Lauber (Switzerland), said one quarter of Burundians were food insecure, while those in need of humanitarian assistance had tripled in the last three years. Further, the economic landscape was deteriorating at a time when thousands of refugees were returning home. Noting an upcoming visit to Burundi, he said the Configuration would align its work with subregional, regional and international efforts, focusing on the East African Community’s mediation initiative, a path to peaceful elections, socioeconomic dialogue with the Government and partners, as well as humanitarian and national reconciliation initiatives.
Burundi’s representative meanwhile asked the Council to remove his country from its agenda, emphasizing the partiality of the Secretary‑General’s report in stepping beyond United Nations Charter principles with regard to respecting Burundi’s sovereignty. Contrary to the report, the ongoing dialogue was not “deadlocked”, but had recently achieved more convergence than divergence among stakeholders. The Government had also taken many irreversible steps on the path to peace. The situation on the ground was calm and Burundi posed no security threat to the region.
Council members commended Burundi’s gains, calling for further steps to be taken towards ensuring a durable peace. Ethiopia’s delegate said the Council’s support of the East African Community‑led dialogue remained important for creating the conditions for peaceful and democratic elections in 2020. Other steps for the international community included helping to boost economic growth, ensuring a political environment that was conducive to resolving differences and bolstering Burundi’s already strong institutions, he said.
Also delivering statements were representatives of Equatorial Guinea, Kazakhstan, Côte d’Ivoire, Bolivia and Peru.
The meeting began at 10:19 a.m. and ended at 11:33 a.m.
MICHEL KAFANDO, Special Envoy of the Secretary‑General for Burundi, briefing the Council on the latest report of the Secretary‑General (document S/2018/89), said the political situation remained tense against a calm but volatile security situation. Political developments had prevented economic gains and were not suitable for the organization of credible elections. While remarkable progress across the country had been made, human rights violations were still being reported and concerns had been raised about the humanitarian situation.
Elaborating on those trends, he said the Government’s decision to amend the Constitution would be decided upon in a referendum in May. The Secretary‑General’s recommendation had made explicit the significance of article 299 of the Constitution, which stated that such revisions should not be considered if they jeopardized national unity. The essence of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement, the basis of Burundi’s Constitution in 2005, had addressed a range of issues, including good governance and the protection of minority rights.
Welcoming efforts made during the inter‑Burundian dialogue, he said the region had decided to continue those talks, with strong commitments from the African Union and other regional partners. Dialogue remained indispensable, as the process sought to bring Burundians closer together with a view to building a strong nation. Yet, Burundi continued to be a concern to the international community. The constructive cooperation between the country and the United Nations already existed. The Secretary‑General’s report was guided by impartiality and aimed at ensuring that efforts were being made to improve conditions for all Burundians.
JÜRG LAUBER (Switzerland), Chair of the Burundi Configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, said the Configuration had convened on two occasions since his last briefing to the Council, focusing on humanitarian, socioeconomic and political questions. It had heard from numerous officials, including Garry Conille, the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Burundi, and Ursula Mueller, Assistant Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs. The latter, in her January briefing, had reported that in the last three years the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance in Burundi had tripled from 1 million to 3.6 million, and that 25 per cent of the population was food insecure. On 19 February, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs had presented its report on the Humanitarian Response Plan for 2018; on 21 February, Burundi had issued a press communiqué rejecting that report “en bloc” for lack of cooperation, calling the Office’s numbers exaggerated and referring to positive developments regarding food security. The Government had invited the Office to discuss those issues in order to produce a consensual plan for both parties.
At a 29 January meeting of the Configuration, he said Ninette Kelley, Director of the New York Office of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), had outlined challenges related to the return of refugees from the United Republic of Tanzania to Burundi. Some 13,000 refugees had returned in 2017, while the repatriation of another 60,000 people was planned for 2018. Noting that those returns would increase pressure on receiving communities, he said UNHCR also had reported an influx of more than 8,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo into Burundi since the start of 2018.
Recalling that a Regional Refugee Response Plan was in place to support returnees, he said the United Republic of Tanzania had nevertheless recently announced its intention to withdraw from the related comprehensive refugee response framework. Also describing the Resident Coordinator’s briefing — which had pointed to a challenging economic situation in Burundi — he underlined his intention to align the Configuration’s work with efforts being made at the subregional, regional and international levels to advance Burundi’s political reconciliation, especially the East African Community‑led dialogue process facilitated by Benjamin Mkapa, former President of the United Republic of Tanzania.
Noting that he would visit Burundi in the coming weeks, he pledged to focus on five key issues: mediation efforts of the East African Community; the path leading to the conduct of free, fair and democratic elections in 2020; socioeconomic dialogue with the Government and its international partners; the humanitarian situation; and efforts towards national reconciliation. Recalling that the Peacebuilding Fund had approved three new projects for Burundi worth $6.5 million, he outlined several conclusions based on the Configuration’s recent work, which underscored the importance of the East African Community‑led dialogue, the 2020 elections, humanitarian efforts, improving socioeconomic development, the swift signing of Memoranda of Understanding — both between the Government and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and between the Government and the African Union — and the deployment of observers to provide a more accurate picture of human rights and civil society developments in Burundi.
ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea) said the situation in Burundi was an internal affair that should be solved by Burundians to maintain stability and promote reconciliation through dialogue and negotiation. Regional efforts and the role the United Nations could play were tools to help with normalizing the situation, including the East African Community‑supported inter‑Burundian dialogue. With the improved security situation, progress on the voluntary return of refugees was another sign of a return to normalcy, with the United Nations and its partners playing their part to assist in that initiative. As a sovereign country, Burundi had a right to conduct any type of political process, including revisions to the Constitution. Sovereignty and territorial integrity should be fully respected and all partners must work towards supporting further gains.
KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) urged all sides to engage in a dialogue to end the crisis, calling on leaders in the subregion to help revitalize the East African Community’s efforts to continue negotiations. The worsening socioeconomic conditions deserved the international community’s full attention, including in areas of health and energy, while other efforts should focus on ensuring adequate humanitarian funding. Raising other concerns, he said the return of refugees must be undertaken within international law guidelines. Reiterating the importance of the regional approach to identify the causes of tensions, he said full implementation of the Arusha Agreement would be vital to preventing violence.
BERNARD TANOH-BOUTCHOUE (Côte d’Ivoire) voiced concern about the state of political progress, as well as the human rights and humanitarian situations in Burundi. Expressing regret that the inter‑Burundian dialogue held under the auspices of the East African Community had not made significant progress, he hoped that any agreement reached would not undermine the principles enshrined in the historic Arusha Agreement. Urging Burundi to hold an inclusive political dialogue and create a peaceful political and social climate, he also voiced concern over ongoing allegations of human rights violations. If those were proven, all measures must be taken to end them, identify perpetrators and bring them to justice. Also expressing concern over the massive displacement of Burundians in neighbouring countries, he urged the Government of Burundi and OHCHR to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on all relevant legal and practical elements. Regarding the deteriorating humanitarian situation, he said the number of Burundians who had fled to neighbouring countries remained high, as socioeconomic conditions in Burundi were not yet conducive to a large‑scale return.
PEDRO LUIS INCHAUSTE JORDÁN (Bolivia), encouraging all parties to support the East African Community‑led dialogue in line with the Arusha Agreement and to implement the road map proposed by Benjamin Mkapa, said all parties must work to address their differences in order to reach a consensus agreement and make real progress towards national reconciliation. Noting that the security situation remained stable, and welcoming the voluntary return of refugees, he called on neighbouring countries to continue to support that programme with the aim of returning 60,000 persons in 2018. In that regard, the Government must ensure the conditions necessary for the decent, safe and voluntary return of displaced persons, while the conditions perpetuating isolation must be avoided. He also called on the international community to continue to provide humanitarian support, and on countries that had imposed unilateral sanctions on Burundi in breach of international law to lift them, as they had negative effects on civilians as well as on Burundi’s implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia), noting improved security conditions, recognized the need to sustain the existing stability and transform it into durable peace, with consensus created among Burundians through dialogue on that broad goal. Constitutional reform must also be conducted with wide support from all stakeholders. Reiterating support for the East African Community‑led efforts, he underlined the need to reinvigorate talks and supported the East Africa Community’s effort to do so. The Council’s support to that process remained important for creating the necessary conditions for peaceful and democratic elections in 2020. Amid enormous economic challenges, exacerbated by limited international aid, Burundi needed international support in providing assistance to returning refugees and boosting economic growth. Efforts must also be made to ensure a political environment conducive to constructively resolving differences. Burundi had strong institutions, as could be seen in its contributions to fighting Al‑Shabaab in Somalia, and they should be further strengthened.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) expressed support for the reinvigorated dialogue among stakeholders. He encouraged the Government to achieve progress in its relations with OHCHR. Taking the Arusha Agreement into account as guidance for further steps, he supported roles played by the Special Envoy and other actors in promoting preventive diplomacy.
ALBERT SHINGIRO (Burundi), raising several concerns about the Secretary‑General’s latest report, provided updates on the current situation. A referendum in May and elections in 2020 were among the steps the Government had taken with a view to creating a democratic, free, transparent and safe environment for voters, with 5 million Burundians already registered on the electoral rolls. Contrary to the report, the ongoing dialogue was not “deadlocked”, with the November‑December 2017 talks having continued normally and resulting in more convergence than divergence on some issues. The Kampala summit of 19 Heads of State in February had produced further gains. The gap between how the region viewed the situation and the report’s pessimism was an anomaly that the Council must consider.
The current Constitutional reform process was the sole preserve of Burundi, which sought to move beyond a transitional period, he said. The latest report had flagrantly disregarded the equal sovereignty of States, as outlined by the Charter of the United Nations. Highlighting paragraphs 4 and 8 of the report, which were “bold steps” that interfered with Burundi’s internal affairs, he said other sections also ran counter to principles of sovereignty. Article 298 of the Constitution permitted the President to consider revisions, he said, noting that proposed changes had incorporated all of the Arusha Agreement’s elements.
Moreover, Burundi had taken an irreversible step forward on the path to peace, he said. The return of refugees and Burundi’s hosting of a regional economic conference were proof of a return to normalcy. Appealing to investors in the region and globally to help boost the economy, he objected to paragraphs 19 and 40 of the report, which should have appealed to all young people to play their constructive role, not just part of the younger generation. Those and other elements demonstrated that the report was partial.
On human rights, he said legal texts had been promulgated for the establishment of a special court on land, and for clamping down on trafficking and protecting victims of violence. National mechanisms included independent commissions on human rights and on reconciliation. A legal arsenal had, among other things, abolished the death penalty, and Burundi had signed relevant human rights international instruments. Under the auspices of national reconciliation, the President had issued a pardon and released about 2,000 prisoners. In addition, two radio stations had been reopened and arrest warrants had been revoked, he said, emphasizing that the Council must acknowledge and support all such actions.
A return to normalcy in Burundi had hastened the return of more than 200,000 refugees, he said, with another 60,000 expected to be repatriated in 2018. Underscoring that cooperation between OCHA and Burundian ministries had been inadequate, he said the Government was prepared to work with the Office to create a realistic report of the situation on the ground. The Government was also working with other United Nations agencies and was awaiting a response about a draft cooperation agreement with OHCHR. In closing, he asked the Council to withdraw Burundi from its agenda, as the situation was calm and was not jeopardizing peace in the region.