Permanent Representative Urges His Country’s Removal from Agenda, Stressing It Presents No Threat to Global Peace, Security
Describing the situation in Burundi as calm but fragile, the senior United Nations official there told the Security Council today that after supporting a regionally-led inter-Burundian Dialogue process for more than three years, the time has now come for partners to re-evaluate how best to help the country out of its long-standing political impasse.
Briefing the 15-member Council on recent political, security and humanitarian developments, Michel Kafando, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Burundi, noted that the Government of Burundi and the main political parties have opted not to attend the fifth session of the inter-Burundian Dialogue ‑ led by the East African Community (EAC) and facilitated by former President Benjamin Mkapa of the United Republic of Tanzania. He said those discussions have not yet led to a political agreement among the parties, especially in relation to the critical elections planned for 2020.
While the security situation remained calm during the reporting period, he expressed concern that the Government has still not resumed its cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and that reports of human rights violations and hate-speech incidents against opposition figures continue. Meanwhile, food insecurity threatens approximately 1.7 million people and some 380,000 Burundians remain displaced outside the country. Overall, he said, the situation remains fragile and it is now time for the United Nations, the African Union and other partners to re-evaluate the best way to help Burundi out of the crisis.
Jürg Lauber (Switzerland), Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission’s Burundi configuration, described his visit there in early November, agreeing that the overall situation remains calm. Leaders of the ruling party confirmed the intention of President Pierre Nkurunziza not to seek re-election in 2020, which many said eased tensions. He said that the Foreign Minister informed him that preparations for the 2020 elections have already begun and that a roadmap for their conduct has been agreed. However, not all parties subscribe to the plan and have expressed concern that the elections will not be inclusive, he cautioned. Many interlocutors also voiced regret over the Government’s absence from the final round of EAC-led talks.
Council members echoed those concerns, some urging the Government to reconsider its view that the inter-Burundian Dialogue has become obsolete. Several speakers expressed hope that those issues will be addressed at the upcoming EAC summit and urged regional partners to help accelerate reconciliation. Others sounded the alarm about continuing reports of human rights violations as well as Burundi’s recent suspension of international non-governmental organizations, which they described as crucial to supporting the most vulnerable people. Moreover, delegates voiced a range of opinions as to whether the situation in Burundi still merits a place on the Council’s agenda.
The representative of the Netherlands, describing the latest round of the inter-Burundian Dialogue as disappointing, said there is still no clear roadmap for the 2020 elections. While the overall security situation has improved, a climate of repression prevails, characterized by reports of torture and arbitrary arrest, many allegedly committed by Government forces or those associated with them. While pointing to some encouraging political trends, she nevertheless stressed that sufficient progress has not yet been made on many critical issues, adding: “The Council must not stop its consideration of this matter.”
Côte d’Ivoire’s delegate, praising the EAC-led talks, emphasized that dialogue must continue in order to ensure the restoration of lasting stability. In that vein, he encouraged the elaboration of a consensus document on the way forward, while urging the Government to shed light on allegations of human rights violations. The Council should maintain its support for the EAC’s efforts to engender dialogue towards peaceful elections in 2020, he added.
China’s representative was among the speakers who spotlighted the important progress made in strengthening Burundi’s social cohesion, supporting the return of refugees and preparing for the upcoming elections. Indeed, the Burundian people have demonstrated their full capacity to handle their own affairs, and the international community must fully respect their choices, in accordance with the Charter principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, he emphasized. “The Security Council should heed the voice of Burundi” and make appropriate adjustments to its work, he added.
Burundi’s representative said it is unfortunate that some delegations still do not acknowledge the progress his country has made, adding that there is a gaping divide between the Secretary-General’s latest report and the actual situation on the ground. Since the beginning of 2018, the Government has made efforts to restore peace, social cohesion and tolerance, including by announcing that the Head of Government will not run again in 2020, and by releasing more than 2,000 prisoners, including insurgents associated with of the 2015 coup attempt. “The 2015 crisis is over,” he declared, adding: “Some partners are hesitant to accept it, but it is a reality.” Calling upon the Council to have the courage to remove Burundi from its agenda, he stressed that it is clear the country does not present a threat to international peace and security.
Also speaking were representatives of France, Russian Federation, Poland, Bolivia, Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, Kazakhstan, Peru, Kuwait, United Kingdom, United States and Sweden.
The meeting began at 3:02 p.m. and ended at 5:05 p.m.
MICHEL KAFANDO, Special Envoy for Burundi, introduced the latest report of the Secretary-General (document S/2018/1028), covering developments from 10 August to 30 October, saying the document outlines tensions rocking that country’s political class as well as the continued lack of trust and dialogue between its authorities and opposition parties. Since the report’s release, the political situation has been dominated by the Interior Minister’s rejection of an application submitted by the political party known as the Front National pour la Liberté Amizero y’Abarundi, while the main opposition party ‑ known as the Conseil national pour le Respect de l’Accord d’Arusha por la paix et la Réconciliation au Burundi (CNARED-Giritieka) ‑ appealed to the African Union to take control of the inter-Burundian Dialogue process. Also during the reporting period, he said, the European Union renewed restrictive measures previously imposed against some Burundian officials for grave violations of human rights and obstruction of the peace process, and the National Assembly renewed the mandate of Burundi’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission charged with investigating acts of violence committed during the country’s civil conflict.
He went on to report that while the fifth session of the dialogue dominated the political situation in recent weeks, it was nevertheless held without the participation of various critical parties. Participants adopted a roadmap ‑ separate from the one endorsed by Government authorities ‑ for the steps required to move forward, he said, adding that the facilitator of the process, former President Benjamin Mkapa of the United Republic of Tanzania, submitted his final report. While the discussions have not yet led to agreement among the parties, the security situation remained relatively calm during the reporting period, he said. At the beginning of November, however, media outlets reported deadly clashes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo pitting Burundian troops against members of a group known as the Red Tabara. Meanwhile, the Government of Burundi has still not resumed its cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), he said, noting that human rights violations and incidents of hate speech against opposition figures continue. The democratic space remains restrictive for some opposition parties, he added.
Turning to the humanitarian situation, he said food insecurity threatens some 1.7 million people, calling upon the Government to demonstrate the flexibility to help improve the well-being of the most vulnerable Burundians. From January to October, some 52,000 refugees returned home, most notably from the United Republic of Tanzania. However, about 380,000 Burundians remain displaced. Calling upon the Government to create the conditions necessary for their safe, voluntary and dignified return, he described the overall situation as fragile. After three years of lending their support to the inter-Burundian Dialogue, it is now time for the United Nations, the African Union and their partners in the subregion to re-evaluate the best way to help Burundi out of its crisis, he stressed. Welcoming the upcoming summit of the East African Community (EAC) in that regard, he urged partners to pay special attention to preparations for Burundi’s elections, planned for 2020.
JÜRG LAUBER (Switzerland), Chair of the Burundi configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, briefed on his visit to the country in early November, recalling that during discussions in the capital, Bujumbura, he was told that the security situation remains calm. Leaders of the ruling party confirmed the intention of President Pierre Nkurunziza not to seek re-election in 2020, which many said eased tensions. He said that he learned from the Foreign Minister that preparations for the 2020 elections have already started, adding that the latter suggested that the international community encourage any exiled opposition not involved in the May 2015 coup attempt to return home and participate. While leaders of political parties have agreed on a roadmap for conducting the elections, representatives of some opposition parties and civil society actors reminded him that not all parties subscribed to the plan, expressing concern that the elections will not be inclusive. They underlined the need for the National Independent Electoral Commission to be truly impartial, he said, adding that many interlocutors expressed regret over the Government’s absence from the last round of EAC-led talks on outstanding issues.
Turning to the socioeconomic situation, he reported that he followed up on discussions that he initiated two years ago involving the Government, the then United Nations Resident Coordinator and international partners. In August, the Government launched a new National Development Plan for the period 2018-2027 intended to achieve “strong, sustainable, resilient and inclusive growth”, he noted, encouraging the Government and donors to use the Plan as an entry point for a substantive discussion on development cooperation. While expressing readiness to support the Plan, donors underlined the need to enter into a deeper dialogue with the Government at the strategic and technical levels, he said, noting that the Government reported that it is currently preparing a roadmap for that purpose. Concerning the recent suspension of the work of international non-governmental organizations, he said Government representatives informed him that about 25 of them have adapted to new regulations and will be able to resume their work soon, while the requests of another 60 are currently under consideration.
He went on to note that funding of the Humanitarian Response Plan is currently 58 per cent covered, compared to 2 per cent during his last visit. Government representatives as well as officials of the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) called attention to the return of refugees after an agreement signed by UNHCR, Burundi and the United Republic of Tanzania. UNHCR and its partners have helped more than 52,000 refugees to repatriate voluntarily since August 2017, the vast majority from the latter country, but also from Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he said, adding that the Government welcomed the assistance of international partners in reintegrating them. Despite assistance from UNHCR, its partner organizations and the Peacebuilding Fund, however, the programme remains severely underfunded, he emphasized.
Regarding the concerns of UNHCR and others over human rights abuses, he encouraged Government officials to conclude rapidly the outstanding memorandum of understanding with OHCHR and to engage with United Nations officials on the full range of human, civil, political, economic and cultural rights. He said that his recommendations stress the importance of free, fair and inclusive 2020 elections, underlining that the results must be seen as legitimate, not only domestically but also internationally. He encouraged the Government and its partners to engage in an open and substantive strategic dialogue on the National Development Plan, followed by sector-specific discussions on concrete projects. He also encouraged continued dialogue on creating conditions for the resumption of suspended assistance, he added. Emphasizing the need for additional resources to assist the return of refugees, he urged the Government and its partners to work constructively on human rights issues on the basis of mutual trust and respect. The Peacebuilding Commission’s Burundi Configuration remains committed to facilitating all dialogue, while maintaining its focus on socioeconomic factors, he pledged.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France), while welcoming the announcement that the current President of Burundi will not run again, expressed concern that the Government did not participate in the last dialogue in Arusha and that serious violations of human rights have been reported, as have continued restrictions on civil society. Attacks on members of the opposition and Committee of Inquiry were of particular concern. All refugee returns must be dignified and voluntary and the upcoming elections must be free, fair and transparent. Pointing to the current period as an opportunity for Burundi to change for the better, he called on the Government to return to the Arusha dialogue and hold elections that respect the Arusha Accords, with the participation of women in the entire process. In addition, freedom of opinion must be fully respected. He also urged full cooperation by the Government with OHCHR and called for accountability for crimes no matter by whom they have been committed. The Council must continue to be seized of the situation in Burundi due to continuing concerns over human rights and the importance of the coming election.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation), praising the balanced stance of the Burundi Configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, noted a trend toward stabilization in the country, with a recent constitutional referendum having been held calmly and with a stunning turnout, preceded by a democratic campaign. The holding of 2020 elections is an internal matter and the Burundian stakeholders should engage in dialogue to resolve outstanding issues. Blaming one side for problems is counter-productive. Reiterating the need for African solutions to African problems, he also underlined the value of regional assistance in encouraging dialogue in Burundi. Noting the gap in funding for humanitarian appeals, he called on donors to refrain from placing double standards on the country. Ambiguities in reports on massive human rights violations in the country made it impossible to make conclusions with certainty, he added, commenting that the radical opposition can hardly be considered an impartial source of data. Rights issues should be further discussed in forums that are appropriate, such as the Human Rights Council. Further, the contents of today’s meeting did not merit Burundi staying on the Council’s agenda and certainly not on a quarterly basis. The current focus could become an excuse for elements of the opposition to further harden their positions, making compromise more difficult.
VERÓNICA CORDOVA SORIA (Bolivia) expressed hope that the roadmap emanating from the fifth session of the inter-Burundian Dialogue and the report submitted on that process by the facilitator will help Burundi’s partners provide better support moving forward. Citing several positive developments, including Burundi’s adoption of a National Development Plan, she called on all parties to help create a peaceful and tolerant environment for the upcoming 2020 elections. The international community should support Burundi in strengthening its capacity and facing its ongoing humanitarian challenges, she stressed, spotlighting the return of refugees as one crucial area in need of more support. In addition, all parties should lift unilateral sanctions imposed against Burundians. Such measures have a negative impact on the population ‑ especially the most vulnerable ‑ and inhibits Burundi’s efforts to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. As well, all parties must fully respect Burundi’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, she stressed.
LISE GREGOIRE VAN HAAREN (Netherlands) described the most recent round of the inter-Burundian Dialogue as disappointing, especially given the fact that the main authorities and other major parties refused to participate. As a result, there is still no clear roadmap for the country’s 2020 elections. While the overall security situation has improved, a climate of repression prevails, with reported cases of torture and arbitrary arrest ‑ many committed by Government forces or their subordinates. Some 1.7 million residents face food insecurity and more than 300,000 refugees remain outside the country. Underlining her country’s commitment to remain a close partner, she said the door remains open to addressing misunderstandings and building trust. While there are some encouraging political trends, sufficient progress has not yet been made on many issues critical to the Council. “The clock is ticking” and 2020 elections are looming, she stated. Emphasizing that the current impasse must be broken before that time, she called on the East African Community to show leadership and guidance on how to move forward and on the African Union, the United Nations and other partners to provide support. “This Council must not stop its consideration of this matter,” she concluded.
MARIUSZ LEWICKI (Poland) commended efforts made by the EAC and the Dialogue facilitator to enable the inter-Burundian Dialogue. However, it was regrettable that the Burundian Government not only did not take the chance to make progress towards national reconciliation, but also chose not to attend the fifth round of negotiations. Only an inclusive political process can ensure a sustainable and widely acceptable solution, she said, adding that he remained seriously concerned over reports of political violence and persistent human rights violations. he urged the Burundi authorities to improve good governance, open up the public and democratic space and ensure media freedom ahead of the scheduled elections in 2020. he also underscored that the Arusha Peace Agreement remains the main instrument for peace and stability in Burundi and the whole Great Lakes region.
MAHLET HAILU GUADEY (Ethiopia), expressing concern about the lack of progress on the inter-Burundian Dialogue ‑ which was expected to be launched in October 2018 ‑ said the political impasse in the country can only be addressed through peaceful, inclusive and consensual dialogue. Noting the fast-approaching national elections of 2020, she emphasized the need for a realistic strategy that supports strong institutions. All parties need to demonstrate a spirit of compromise to ensure lasting peace and stability beyond 2020, she said, calling on the Government to explain its plan for creating an environment conducive for the conduct of free elections.
TIEMOKO MORIKO (Côte d’Ivoire) praised the efforts made to encourage dialogue in Burundi, while expressing concern that the Government and other stakeholders had not attended the last meeting. Dialogue between all parties must continue to ensure lasting restoration of stability in the country. In that light, he encouraged the production of a consensus document on the way forward. While noting the improvement of the security situation, he urged the Government to shed light on allegations of human rights violations and encouraged engagement with OHCHR on those matters. Welcoming the approval of authorizations for some non-governmental organizations, he also called for acceleration of further approvals to assist with refugee returns. The Council should maintain its support for the EAC in its efforts to engender dialogue toward peaceful elections in 2020, he said, reiterating his support for the Special Envoy.
VICTOR MANUEL ELÉ ELA (Equatorial Guinea), also paying tribute to the work of the Arusha facilitators, encouraged the Government and other stakeholders to continue to strengthen dialogue to ensure peaceful conduct of the political process leading to elections. Noting continuing improvement of the security situation, he welcomed the agreement on refugee returns reached with UNHCR and the United Republic of Tanzania. At the same time, he emphasized the necessity of ensuring accountability for crimes, affirming that the rule of law is a fundamental part of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. He also encouraged all political parties to take measures to strengthen trust. Welcoming the announcement of the current President that he would not run in 2020 and that the country would finance its own elections that year, he called for international support for such actions as well as for the holding of peaceful elections. Closer links with development partners are also needed in order to accelerate socioeconomic efforts that can overcome the root causes of conflict.
KANAT TUMYSH (Kazakhstan), stressing the importance of the African Union and the East African Community in facilitating the political process, encouraged regional and sub-regional organizations to redouble their efforts in that regard. While the security situation is generally calm in Burundi, the issues of internally displaced persons, refugees and people in need of assistance must be addressed. Commending regional host countries for their assistance with the repatriation of refugees, he said that those endeavours must be in accordance with the principles of international and human rights law. Meanwhile, the close coordination between the United Nations, African Union and other sub-regional structures can have a significant impact on political and humanitarian dimensions. He recognized the efforts of the Government of Burundi in stabilizing the economic situation in the country, as well as the role of the Peacebuilding Commission’s Burundi Configuration in addressing existing challenges.
BADER ABDULLAH N.M. ALMUNAYEKH (Kuwait), spotlighting Burundi’s exceptional recent political developments, expressed hope that the relative calm on the ground holds, allowing for free, fair and secure elections to be held in 2020. Underlining the Arusha Accords and the country’s Constitution as the crucial basis for political progress, he also voiced support for the continued inter-Burundian Dialogue. On the security situation, which is improving despite some violence by armed groups, he called for intensified national dialogue and a recommitment to holding Burundi’s 2020 elections in a safe, free and credible manner. The humanitarian situation ‑ as well as continued reports of human rights violations ‑ nevertheless remains alarming. Reiterating the need for the Government to intensify its efforts to pursue the social and economic reintegration of returning refugees, he also hailed the adoption of the National Development Plan which has the potential to improve the lives of Burundians across the country.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) expressed his hope that the Government will reconsider its position that the inter-Burundian Dialogue has become obsolete. Indeed, that Dialogue is indispensable to building a sustainable peace and successfully holding democratic elections in 2020. Spotlighting the need to renew the country’s interaction with OHCHR, he called on all parties ‑ as well as international partners ‑ to support suitable development initiatives in an effort to address Burundi’s deep-seated causes of conflict. For its part, the Council must continue to closely follow the situation in order to ensure an appropriate environment for the holding of inclusive, fair and transparent elections in 2020.
STEPHEN HICKEY (United Kingdom), underscoring that the East African-supported Dialogue is the only route to reconciliation and fair elections in Burundi, shared the disappointment of other speakers that the Government did not attend the latest round. He called on the Commission to continue pursuing a harmonized roadmap for the elections. He also urged the international community to send clear signals in support of the Dialogue. Expressing concern over reports of rights violations and the suspension of non-governmental groups, he said it was important that the Council remain seized of those issues. In addition, he encouraged the country to engage with the Human Rights Council. The Council must keep such issues on its agenda; human rights abuses can be the early warning and root causes of conflict.
JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States), also expressing disappointment over the Government’s absence from the last round of the inter-Burundian Dialogue, welcomed the efforts of the facilitator to seek consensus on a roadmap for holding peaceful, free and fair elections. In that regard, he expressed concern over reported human rights abuses, including the discovery of numerous bodies around the country and the allegations against the youth group of the governing party. He also voiced concern over reported volatility in some parts of the country. While calling for full respect for the rights of the opposition, he also underlined the need for opposition members to commit themselves to peaceful activities. In addition, he urged the Government to end the remaining suspensions of approval for the operation of non-governmental organizations. The upcoming elections represent an opportunity for Burundians to heal old wounds and build a bright future through an inclusive political process, he stressed.
CARL ORRENIUS SKAU (Sweden) said that although the situation in Burundi has improved since the crisis in 2015, reports of human rights violations, acts of violence and a lack of democratic space continue. It is deeply concerning to learn that the Government did not participate in the fifth session of the inter-Burundian Dialogue in Arusha, but instead chose confrontation with the United Nations human rights mechanisms, did not sign a memorandum of understanding for the African Union observers and temporarily suspended the activities of international non-governmental organizations. “This trajectory must change if we are to avoid a repetition of 2015,” he said, noting that restoring confidence and trust is critical in the preparations for peaceful and credible elections in 2020. The Government should engage in constructive partnership with the region and with the broader international community to build trust and overcome divisions. The doors for such partnership are open, he emphasized.
WU HAITAO (China), Council President for November, spoke in his national capacity, recognizing the important progress that Burundi has made, including the strengthening of social cohesion, supporting the return of refugees and preparing for the 2020 elections. Indeed, the Burundian people have demonstrated their full capacity to handle their own affairs, and the international community must fully respect their choices, in accordance with the Charter principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, he emphasized. Calling upon regional actors to continue to enhance their cooperation with their neighbour, he said, “the Security Council should heed the voice of Burundi” and make appropriate adjustments to its work. Since peace, stability and economic progress cannot be achieved without accelerated socioeconomic development, international organizations should urgently reinstate their support for the development priorities identified in the new National Development Plan, he stressed. Meanwhile, the Special Envoy and the Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission’s Burundi Configuration must remain important partners who should continue to engage. China, for its part, will maintain its long-standing support to the country, in accordance with recent commitments made at the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, he said.
ALBERT SHINGIRO (Burundi), while thanking all Council members who have not ceased to uphold the principles of the United Nations Charter, said it is unfortunate that some delegations still do not acknowledge the progress in his country. In addition, there is a gaping divide between the Secretary-General’s latest report and the actual situation on the ground, he added, noting that preparations for the 2020 elections have been proceeding normally in a calm environment. The roadmap for elections and the National Independent Electoral Commission are already in place, he said, adding that Burundi is mobilizing funds on its own for these major polls, as a reaffirmation of the Burundian people’s ownership. Everything is being put in place to guarantee the democratic, credible and inclusive character of the elections as proof of the country’s political and economic stability.
Since the beginning of 2018, the Government has made efforts to restore peace, social cohesion and tolerance, including by announcing that the Head of Government will not run again in 2020, and the release of more than 2,000 prisoners, including insurgents associated with of the 2015 coup attempt. “The 2015 crisis is over,” he declared, adding: “Some partners are hesitant to accept it, but it is a reality.” The facilitator concluded the inter-Burundian Dialogue last month, he noted, saying that 2019 will be dominated by the electoral process and the National Development Plan. The election preparations will continue in an open spirit, and those in exile but who were not involved in the 2015 disturbances will be invited to participate. A wide variety of media ensures freedom of expression, he pointed out. In addition, more than 100 civil society organizations have been approved since 2016 and the registration of non-governmental organizations continues at a rapid rate.
Emphasizing Burundi’s zero tolerance of human rights abuses, he said the Government adheres to non-politicization of rights and has established a commission to shed light on allegations. However, the promotion of human rights is a long process, particularly for a young country. He also noted that more than 1,000 voluntary refugee returns take place each week, and that some host countries are keeping Burundians in place. It is important to ensure that refugee camps are not transformed into paramilitary camps, he emphasized. The National Development Plan provides an overall structure for the pursuit of sustainable development, he said, urging donors to assist in a spirit of mutually respectful cooperation.
Noting that tense relations between Burundi and OHCHR have not been helpful, he urged the agency to engage in dialogue with the Government on all issues, instead using the United Nations Charter as a basis for exerting pressure, emphasizing that although Burundi continues to work with the United Nations development team, outside political pressure is not welcome. He noted that more than 6,000 Burundians are employed in United Nations peacekeeping operations. Calling upon the Council to have the courage to withdraw Burundi from its agenda, he stressed that it is clear the country does not present a threat to international peace and security. Keeping it on the agenda because of the elections means doing the same to dozens of other countries that also planned elections for the next two years, he said, underlining that the disproportionate hounding of Burundi results from a desire to satisfy foreign interests.