I am pleased to have this opportunity to brief the Council on my visit to Burundi late last month, which came on the heels of the Council’s own travel to the country.
After a devastating civil war that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, the signing of the Arusha Agreement in August 2000 put Burundi on the path of peace and reconciliation. The effort that ended the civil war hinged on the willingness of former battlefield enemies to sit at the same table and become partners in Burundi’s common future.
During my recent visit to the country, I urged all Burundian stakeholders to remember this lesson of their past and show genuine commitment to an inclusive political dialogue as the only means to peacefully resolve the crisis.
To advance confidence-building, the Government announced prior to my visit the annulment of arrest warrants against 15 opposition figures. The Government also decided to re-open two media outlets, which were previously banned.
Following my meeting with him in Bujumbura, President Nkurunziza agreed to release up to 2,000 detainees.
We now look forward to the full implementation of these measures and expect further steps in the same direction, including the release of all political prisoners and an end to restrictions on civil society and media organizations.
At my invitation, key political actors, from the Government, ruling party and opposition parties, sat together with me to discuss the future of the country. Nothing prevents Burundian political actors from continuing on this essential course.
Burundi’s political leaders must summon the necessary courage and confidence to launch a credible political process and build a future where the people of Burundi can once again live in peace and enjoy their fundamental rights.
As I reiterated to President Nkurunziza, the international community stands ready to support Burundi in advancing a credible and inclusive dialogue process.
The East African Community, the African Union and the United Nations must work together to provide the dedicated and professional mediation support that Burundi needs and deserves during this challenging time. The appointment of former President of Tanzania Benjamin Mkapa as EAC Facilitator is an encouraging development.
During my visit, I underlined my deep concern over the volatile situation in the country.
I expressed my profound worry that the potential spiralling of violence risks relapse into civil war. I urged the Government to take measures to address the continued violence and the impunity that fuels it. The Government sought to assure me that the situation is gradually stabilising.
However, in my meetings with civil society organisations and opposition parties, I was presented with a very different picture. I heard deeply disturbing allegations of continuing violence and human rights violations, including those targeting women and children.
Clearly, this is an unacceptable situation, which requires utmost attention to ensure that those responsible are held accountable for their acts. The High Commissioner for human rights will provide a more detailed briefing on the human rights situation.
I cannot stress enough the profound humanitarian consequences that political unrest, violence and impunity carry for the population. Recent humanitarian assessments suggest that harvests in crisis-affected areas have fallen short and nearly 700,000 people are severely food insecure in Burundi.
Since the beginning of the crisis, more than a quarter of a million people have fled Burundi and sought refuge in neighbouring countries, which have shown commendable hospitality and solidarity.
Despite the assurances provided by Burundian officials that refugees are eager to return, and that some have already started doing so, the current number of refugees is indicative of the distress felt by Burundians over the continuation of violence and intimidation.
During my meeting, President Nkurunziza asked for United Nations assistance in securing the safe and unhindered return of these refugees.
Pursuant to resolution 2248, my Special Adviser Mr Jamal Benomar has deployed a team to Burundi. I would like to thank the Burundian authorities for the co-operation and access extended to my Special Adviser and his team.
I also welcome the letter of President Nkurunziza to the Security Council of 24 January, expressing the willingness of the Government to work closer with my Special Adviser and his team on issues of dialogue, security, disarmament, human rights and development.
This is a complex set of issues and challenges on which we stand ready to fully support Burundi and for which we will require adequate capacities.
The United Nations will continue to work with the Government to ensure that more concrete steps are taken to improve the human rights situation and that all stakeholders are willing to engage in good-faith in a genuine and inclusive political dialogue.
There is no alternative to a political settlement of the Burundian crisis.
The international community must shift its approach from a focus on crisis response to a culture of early action and prevention.
This can only be achieved if regional and international actors jointly focus their energy, attention and resources and work together without delay to support a nationally-owned inclusive political process in Burundi.
I thank you for your attention.