Briefing Security Council on Burundi, Assistant Secretary-General Voices Concern over Human Rights, Humanitarian Situation

SC/13844
14 June 2019
8550th Meeting (PM)

Briefing Security Council on Burundi, Assistant Secretary-General Voices Concern over Human Rights, Humanitarian Situation

Other Speakers Call for Removing Country from Organ’s Agenda

The Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Burundi is planning to return to East Africa for consultations alongside Uganda President Yoweri Museveni that will form the basis of the Secretary-General’s recommendations on the way forward in that country, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support, told the Security Council today.

Burundi is focused on the 2020 elections, with the Independent National Electoral Commission raising public awareness of democratic values in pursuit of peaceful and credible polls, Mr. Fernandez-Taranco said.  However, the human rights situation remains worrying, with many reported violations of fundamental civic and political freedoms.  Rising prices are also having an impact, and while the humanitarian situation remains largely unchanged, recurrent climatic hazards are putting 1.8 million people at risk of food insecurity.

Recalling that the East African Community renewed the mandate of President Museveni as its mediator on Burundi, he reviewed a visit on 10 to 22 May by the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General, Michel Kafando, to African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, countries of the subregion and Bujumbura, where he was unable to meet with the country’s authorities “due to their busy schedules”.

During his talks, the Special Envoy suggested three possible courses of action.  They include a meeting of the guarantors of the Arusha Agreement to reaffirm its centrality to Burundi’s political stability; support to the African Union and the subregion in the context of the 2020 elections; and the continuation of the Joint Technical Working Group (East African Community, African Union and United Nations) in support of region-led efforts on Burundi, he said.

Smaïl Chergui, African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security, expressed regret over a deadlock to implementation of the Arusha Agreement and urged the Accords’ guarantors to set aside differences and achieve reconciliation.  There is no alternative to intra-Burundi dialogue, he stressed.  Turning to presidential elections in 2020, he said the preparation must be accelerated towards the holding of free, transparent polls.  The elections should be a source of unity for the country and its people, rather than a cause for division.

Jürg Lauber (Switzerland), Chair of the Burundi Configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, briefing the Council about his recent visit to the country, said that several opposition figures voiced concern over difficulties faced in assembling freely as well as measures imposed against foreign media outlets.  He said he also heard concerns about alleged violent incidents and human rights violations that have not been properly investigated or prosecuted.  Recalling that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Bujumbura was closed in February at the Government’s request, he nevertheless said the Minister for Human Rights, Social Affairs and Gender expressed Burundi’s readiness to engage with international human rights bodies.

In the debate that followed, some speakers were divided on whether Burundi should remain on the Council’s agenda.  They also commented on human rights, humanitarian assistance, refugees and media freedoms, as well as the role of the East African Community and African Union going forward.

The representative of the United Kingdom expressed regret at the lack of progress in the inter-Burundian dialogue, adding that there is a real risk of violence, human rights violations and an escalation of the humanitarian crisis.  Drawing attention to the Government’s revocation of the British Broadcasting Corporation’s operating license, he said the Council must remain seized of the situation.  Similarly expressing disappointed at the lack of progress, the representative of the United States said reports of human rights violations are casting a shadow over electoral preparations.

Equatorial Guinea’s speaker, however, said a return to normalcy is under way.  Pointing to Burundi’s participation in United Nations peacekeeping operations and its election to the African Union Peace and Security Council, she said the Council should consider removing the country from its agenda.  In no way does the situation represent a threat to international peace and security, she said.  Agreeing that the security situation is calm and stable, the representative of the Russian Federation said keeping the Council’s attention on Burundi is counterproductive.  It only remains on the agenda as an excuse for the unreconciled opposition to complicate internal political processes, he said.

“Allowing for regional processes to unfold is a key factor in Africa owning solutions to its own problems and enduring peace,” said South Africa’s delegate, who emphasized the role of regional organizations in tackling the continent’s issues.  As guarantor of the Arusha Agreement, South Africa always stands ready to support the Government and people of Burundi as they democratize their country, she stated.

Taking the floor at the end of the meeting, Burundi’s representative said that his country’s presence on the Council’s agenda is clearly due to political reasons and the narrow interests of external players.  In no way does the situation in his country represent a threat to international peace and security.  Burundi’s cooperation with the United Nations should focus on development, he said, demanding that foreign actors stop infantilizing Burundi’s people.  Emphasizing that his country’s attention is focused on the elections and the National Development Plan, he said:  “I hope this is the last time Burundi is discussed by the Security Council.”

Also speaking today were representatives of France, Belgium, Côte d’Ivoire, Dominican Republic, China, Peru, Germany, Indonesia, Poland and Kuwait.

The meeting began at 3 p.m. and 5:09 p.m.

Briefings

OSCAR FERNANDEZ-TARANCO, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support, updating the Security Council on developments in Burundi, said the country is currently focused on the 2020 elections, with the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) sensitizing the population on democratic values in pursuit of peaceful and credible polls.  While an electoral code was adopted in April, the Commission postponed a meeting on 14 June that would have announced an electoral calendar.  Meanwhile, the human rights situation remains worrying, with many reported violations of fundamental civic and political freedoms.  Rising prices are also having an impact on economic and sociocultural rights.  The humanitarian situation remains largely unchanged, and despite a relatively satisfactory agricultural production, nearly 1.8 million people remain at risk of food insecurity due to recurrent climatic hazards, he said.

According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), about 352,000 refugees were being hosted in the subregion at the end of April, he said, encouraging Burundi’s Government to work closely with its partners to ensure that assistance reaches those most in need.  He encouraged international partners to contribute more to the $106.4 million Humanitarian Response Plan, which is only 24 per cent funded, and the $296 million Regional Refugee Response Plan, which is 17 per cent funded.  Recalling that the East African Community renewed the mandate of President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda as its mediator on Burundi on 1 February, he said the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General, Michel Kafando, travelled from 10 to 22 May to African Union headquarters and to countries of the East African subregion for consultations before going on to Bujumbura.  The Special Envoy did not meet with the Burundian authorities “due to their busy schedules”; he did see some ambassadors accredited to Burundi as well as the United Nations country team.

During his discussions, he said, the Special Envoy suggested three possible courses of action for the consideration of stakeholders.  These included a possible meeting of the guarantors of the Arusha Agreement to reaffirm its centrality to Burundi’s political stability; support to the African Union and the subregion in the context of the 2020 elections; and the continuation of the Joint Technical Working Group (East African Community, African Union and United Nations) in support of region-led efforts on Burundi.  He said the Special Envoy’s interlocutors underscored the need to respect the sovereignty of Burundi as well as the importance of ongoing cooperation between the United Nations, the East African Community and the African Union.  He said the Special Envoy will be returning to the region with President Museveni on how best the African Union and the United Nations can support regional efforts.  When those consultations are concluded, the outcomes will form the basis upon which the Secretary-General can recommend to the Security Council the way forward.

SMAЇL CHERGUI, African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security, speaking via video-teleconference from Montreal, said that since the crisis began in 2015, the African Union has supported the inclusive intra-Burundi dialogue to find a durable solution and has stood behind the mediation efforts by the East African Community.  Expressing regret over a deadlock to implementation of the Arusha Agreement, he urged the Accords guarantors to redouble efforts, set aside differences and achieve reconciliation.  There is no alternative to intra-Burundi dialogue, he stressed.

Turning to presidential elections in 2020, he said the preparation must be accelerated towards the holding of free, transparent polls.  The elections should be a source of unity for the country and its people, rather than a cause for division.  African Union leaders, at a summit in 2018, hailed the declaration by the Burundi President not to seek re-election in 2020.  Noting that he led a visiting mission to Burundi, which had begun preparing for the upcoming elections, he welcomed the establishment of an independent national electoral commission.  During his visit, opposition members complained about arbitrary arrests.  Such action would undermine the process.  The political climate should remain calm as it gets closer to the elections.

It is crucial to achieve rapid progress in all areas, including governance and protection of human rights, including those for refugees and internally displaced persons, he stressed, adding that repatriations, such as from the United Republic of Tanzania and Uganda, should continue.  Returnees now live in all 18 provinces.  The African Union Peace and Security Council, together with the East African Community and other stakeholders, calls for exploring additional support for the quest for a peaceful solution.  One course of action he proposes is to reactivate the group of guarantors of the Arusha Accords.

JÜRG LAUBER (Switzerland), Chair of the Burundi Configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, briefed the Council about his recent visit to the country from 5-10 May during which he focused on the political situation and 2020 election preparations; the socioeconomic situation and development; national reconciliation and conflict resolution; and the immediate needs of the Burundian people.  Outlining meetings with various Government officials, he said they informed him that Burundi plans to finance its upcoming elections with its own resources, a new electoral code has been adopted and President Pierre Nkurunziza will not stand as a candidate.  Recalling that the need for technical support was mentioned in those meetings, he said the Independent National Electoral Commission plans to invite observers from international and regional organizations to witness the elections.

While interlocutors from some opposition parties reiterated their intention to participate in the elections, he noted that several also voiced concern over difficulties faced in assembling freely and over recent measures imposed against foreign media outlets, which allegedly violated national regulations.  Authorities confirmed that Burundi’s security situation remains calm and stable and stressed that it does not pose any threat to international peace and security.  However, several interlocutors expressed concern about alleged violent incidents and human rights violations that have not been properly investigated or prosecuted.  Recalling that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Bujumbura was closed in February at the Government’s request, he nevertheless said the Minister for Human Rights, Social Affairs and Gender expressed Burundi’s readiness to engage with international human rights bodies and highlighted work towards implementing the Human Rights Council’s various recommendations.

In addition, he said, the visit was an opportunity to follow up on Burundi’s socioeconomic dialogue and the ongoing implementation of the National Development Plan.  He also learned about the efforts of women mediators who are working to mitigate tensions and resolve conflicts at the community level.  Citing progress made in meeting the needs of the population as compared to 2018, he said he followed up on the return of refugees to Burundi and stressed that their protection and sustainable reintegration remains a top priority as well as a source of acute funding needs.  Outlining several recommendations, he called for free, fair, peaceful and inclusive elections in 2020 which should not lead to a slowdown in socioeconomic development.  He encouraged Burundi and its partners to work together to create an environment conducive to the full realization of human rights, expressed support for reconciliation and dialogue initiatives, and urged greater support for the orderly and voluntary return of Burundian refugees.

Statements

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said that in the run-up to elections in 2020, Burundi is at a crossroads.  It is crucial that Burundi prepare for elections in the best way possible, he said, welcoming the President’s decision not to stand for another term and the official recognition of the main opposition party.  France calls on Burundi’s authorities to respect their international human rights commitments.  Underscoring the crucial importance of mobilizing regional action, he welcomed the African Union’s efforts and encouraged it to support those of the East African Community.  He also welcomed the engagement of the President of Uganda and his counterparts from Kenya and the United Republic of Tanzania.  The United Nations must remain fully mobilized in support of regional efforts, he added.  The Security Council cannot become disengaged from the situation in Burundi.  The Special Envoy’s mission is more important than ever as he works alongside the East African Community and others to create a climate conducive to political dialogue and reconciliation.

JOHANNA ELIZABETH MARAIS (South Africa) highlighted the role played by regional organizations such as the African Union’s Peace and Security Council when dealing with the continent’s issues.  “Allowing for regional processes to unfold is a key factor in Africa owning solutions to its own problems and enduring peace,” he added.  An inclusive dialogue is essential to addressing the political impasse in Burundi, he said, calling on the Government of Burundi to create a conducive environment which facilitates dialogue with key stakeholders of the East African Community-led process.  As guarantor of the Arusha Agreement, South Africa always stands ready to support the Government and people of Burundi as they democratize their country.  He commended the Government for initiating the preparatory process for the elections, especially for establishing an Independent National Electoral Commission.  Burundi’s electoral code lays the foundation for peaceful elections in 2020, he continued, welcoming the commitment by President Nkurunziza not to stand as a candidate for the presidential election in 2020.  “All parties must be permitted to canvass for support countrywide, without hindrance,” he added, calling on the international community to support Burundi in strengthening its peacekeeping capacity.   He also expressed deep concern over the humanitarian situation facing Burundi and urged the Council to do more to alleviate the socioeconomic challenges facing the people.

MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium) expressed concern over Burundi’s human rights situation and socioeconomic conditions.  To prevent the outcome of the 2020 elections from being disputed, the electoral process must be adequate.  Credible elections require three conditions.  Space for media and freedom of expression must not be closed off.  There should be no boycott of the vote and the elections must be observed by independent experts.  In this regard, his delegation welcomed the new electoral code, and an announcement by the Electoral Commission to invite international and regional experts to observe the elections.  Underscoring the role of regional mediators, including Uganda, Kenya and the United Republic of Tanzania, he also highlighted the contributions made by the United Nations and its special envoys to support regional efforts.  His delegation is waiting for the Secretary-General’s proposal for the Organization’s role in Burundi.

KACOU HOUADJA LÉON ADOM (Côte d’Ivoire) welcomed the good offices of the United Nations special envoy and the efforts by the East African Community.  He stressed the need for a return to inclusive intra-Burundi dialogue in line with the spirit of the Arusha Accords, with a view to holding a free, credible elections in 2020.  Alongside the security and political situations, humanitarian affairs remain a central issue.  It is vital to facilitate the return of internally displaced persons and refugees.  He also called for dialogue between the United Nations human rights office and Burundi’s authorities to address the closing of the Organization’s human rights office in that country.

JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) said that the situation remained relatively stable, but his delegation is concerned about the absence of intra-Burundi dialogue, which is the most important tool towards the smooth holding of elections in 2020.  His delegation regrets that the United Nations human rights office was closed, he said, calling for the protection of journalists and human rights workers.  Women and girls continue to suffer from sexual violence and become victims of hate speech.  In that regard, he welcomed the Peacebuilding Commission’s support for projects by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).  The Chair of the Burundi configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission met with a network of women mediators.  This network needs financial support.  He urged Burundi authorities to cooperate with the International Criminal Court in cases of serious crimes, such as murder and torture.

AMPARO MELE COLIFA (Equatorial Guinea), emphasizing respect for constitutional order, urged the Government and all other stakeholders to continue to promote inter-Burundian dialogue.  A return to normalcy is under way in Burundi, with democratically elected institutions to be renewed through the 2020 polls.  The political will of the Government can be seen in its decision to shoulder the entire cost of the 2020 elections.  Pointing to the release of prisoners, the return of refugees, Burundi’s participation in United Nations peacekeeping operations and its election to the African Union Peace and Security Council, she said the Council should consider removing Burundi from its agenda.  In no way does the situation in Burundi represent a threat to international peace and security, she said, appealing to the international community to support the Government and other stakeholders to build trust, ensure peaceful elections and transfer of power, and support the reintegration of refugees.

STEPHEN HICKEY (United Kingdom) expressed regret at the lack of progress in the inter-Burundian dialogue, adding that there is a real risk of violence, human rights violations and an escalation of the humanitarian crisis.  The United Kingdom calls on the East African Community, the African Union and Burundi to show leadership, with support from the Special Envoy.  Any solution must be in line with the spirit of the Arusha Accords, he said, adding that his country is ready to review its stance if tangible steps are taken to improve the situation.  Drawing attention to the Government’s revocation of the British Broadcasting Corporation’s operating license and emphasizing the importance of maintaining international support for humanitarian efforts, he said the Council must remain seized of the situation.

RODNEY M. HUNTER (United States) said his country is disappointed by the lack of progress in Burundi and called on the East African Community to reinvigorate talks with all parties.  Reports of human rights violations are casting a shadow over electoral preparations, he said, urging the Government to respect freedom of expression and allow journalists to work free of violence or threats of shutdowns.  The Great Lakes region has a chance to turn into a hub of peace and prosperity with Burundi playing a central role.  Recalling resolution 2303 (2016), he expressed disappointment with the Secretariat’s failure to submit timely reports on Burundi as requested by the Council.

WU HAITAO (China) stressed the importance of assisting Burundi in its effort, especially its 10-year plan for socioeconomic development.  Noting that a significant number of refugees have returned to Burundi voluntarily, he said such a trend demonstrates the country’s recovery from the crisis.  The international community must respect the independence of the country and its honest leadership.  By laying out a road map for the 2020 elections, the authorities have shown their ability to take care of their own problems.  The situation in Burundi does not pose a threat to international peace and security, and it should not remain on the Council’s agenda.  China continues to support the country’s development through aid for agriculture, education and infrastructure.

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) described the decision by the current President not to run in the 2020 elections as “a game changer” in the country’s political landscape.  All efforts undertaken should culminate in the strengthening of the rule of law and institutional reform.  The success, however, also depends on the support by the international community and the East African Community.  It is vital to revitalize the intra-Burundi dialogue towards national reconciliation in line with the Arusha Accords. It is also vital to avoid a fresh escalation of border violence.  He urged Burundi’s authorities to amend ties with the United Nations human rights mechanism and civil society.

ALEXANDER V. REPKIN (Russian Federation) questioned the motives of some Council members who insisted on holding today’s meeting.  The international community has not received worrying news from the country that calls for today’s meeting.  The security situation is calm and stable, with a notable reduction in violence.  Refugees are voluntarily returning to their homeland.  A constitutional reform is under way, with a referendum that took place showing support by a 73 per cent majority.  Preparations are under way for presidential and parliamentary elections.  His delegation calls for respect for Burundi’s sovereignty.  The Government needs support for its development plan, he said, urging the lifting of economic sanctions against the country.  Overall, the situation in Burundi does not pose any threat to international peace and security, he said, calling for the country’s removal from the Council’s agenda.  Keeping the Council’s attention on Burundi is counterproductive.  It is basically there as a convenient excuse for the unreconciled opposition to complicate the country’s internal political processes.

CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany) called on the national authorities to show their clear commitment to ensure free, transparent and fair elections in 2020.  “All parties and all citizens must be able to participate in the electoral process and no opposition party or member of a party is to be threatened or intimidated,” he continued.  Upholding the important provisions of the Arusha Accords is crucial as is the role played by regional organizations in finding African solutions to African challenges.  Expressing deep concern for the persistently deteriorating human rights situation in Burundi, he said it is regrettable that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) office in Burundi closed in February.  “Closure signals lack of interest in cooperation with internationally agreed mechanisms,” he added, noting that difficulty in verifying the Burundian narrative of a calm, peaceful and stable situation in the country.  Germany calls on the Government of Burundi to fully cooperate with the ongoing investigations conducted by the International Criminal Court.  He also expressed concern over the potential dangers that could stem from a failed dialogue process, upcoming elections, postponed decision to nominate a presidential candidate and first signs of internal infighting in the ruling party.

DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia), welcoming Burundi’s initiative to assume national ownership over its 2020 elections, said the international community should continue to support the country’s ongoing dialogue process, which has been led by the African Union and the East African Community.  Underlining the principle of “neighbours know best”, he called for increased humanitarian assistance to support the growing number of refugees returning to Burundi.  While innovative cross-border projects — supported by the Peacebuilding Fund — have improved coexistence among refugees, returnees and host communities, he said it remains heart-breaking that the Burundi Regional Refugee Response Plan is one of the least-funded appeals in the world.  “We must ensure Burundi will not fall into relapse, even beyond 2020,” he stressed, welcoming the Peacebuilding Commission’s recommendations and urging the Council to support its work from a distance.

MARIUSZ LEWICKI (Poland) said that concerted regional support for resolving the crisis in Burundi is crucial.  He called on the country’s authorities to engage in genuine dialogue with international partners, including with the United Nations, to break the political stalemate and work towards improving the socioeconomic situation for the people of Burundi.  The risk of further escalation of violence and ethnic tensions persists, although security and stability levels in several areas of the country have been raised.  Burundi’s authorities should be reminded of their obligation to guarantee, protect and promote fundamental rights, including freedom of expression and assembly as outlined in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.  He urged Burundi’s authorities to improve good governance, ensure media freedom and open democratic space ahead of the 2020 elections.  The political impasse continues to hamper the humanitarian situation and development of the country, he emphasized, commending efforts made by the Burundi Configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission to improve lives.

MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait), Council President for June, speaking in his national capacity, said that the political situation in Burundi has been calm and his delegation hopes that it will prevail through the 2020 elections.  He welcomed the adoption of a road map towards the elections and a decision to fully fund them from the national budget, as well as a decision by the incumbent President not to run in the 2020 polls.  Taking positive note of efforts by the African Union and the East African Community, he expressed hope for a peaceful settlement based on the Arusha Accords, urging Burundi to take advantage of the opportunity to step up the political process.  Socioeconomic reform is key for any Government to ensure a bright future.  Burundi’s 10-year development plan is a path in the right direction.

ALBERT SHINGIRO (Burundi), affirming that the briefing by the African Union’s Commissioner for Peace and Security did not accurately reflect the outcome of the organization’s most recent summit, voiced regret that some countries, after four years, seem unable to objectively assess the situation in his nation, where the general situation has been calm and normal since 2017.  Hopefully, this will be the last time that Burundi has to make the point that it should be withdrawn from the Council’s agenda.  There is no unrest and preparations for elections in 2020 are well under way, he said, listing several developments including the adoption of a revised electoral code in April, the decision to self-finance the polls, the authorization of the Congrès national pour la liberté opposition party led by Agathon Rwasa, the President’s decision to renounce his constitutional right to seek a new term, and the release so far in 2019 of more than 2,000 prisoners, including insurgents and spoilers of 2015.  At its summit in Addis Ababa in February, the African Union congratulated the Government for its electoral preparations and called on the European Union to lift sanctions.

Dialogue between political parties on the 2020 elections is proceeding in a spirit of openness and tolerance, he said.  Those foreign actors who wish to take that dialogue outside Burundi want to destabilize the country on the eve of the polls, extend support to the insurgents of 2015 and turn the attention of his country’s people away from electoral preparations and implementation of the National Development Plan.  Those foreign actors should be prepared to take responsibility for the aftermath of their meddling.  Describing the security situation as generally positive, he welcomed the mass and voluntary return of refugees, saying they testified to the restoration of peace, calm and stability in the country.

Returning to the issue of Burundi’s presence on the Council’s agenda, he said it is clearly due to political reasons and the narrow interests of external players.  In no way does the situation in Burundi represent a threat to international peace and security.  Burundi’s cooperation with the United Nations should take place at the level of agencies and programmes, focused on development.  The policy of “might is right” must give way to mutual cooperation, he said, rejecting double-standards and an unjustified focus on his country 57 years after the end of colonial rule.  Foreign actors must stop infantilizing Burundi’s people, who are mature enough to look after their own affairs.  Those behind the plot of 2015 are still active, but Burundi’s attention is focused on the elections and the 10-year National Development Plan.  “I hope this is the last time Burundi is discussed by the Security Council,” he said.

For information media. Not an official record.