Expected Council Action
In August, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Michel Kafando, is expected to brief the Council on the situation in Burundi in accordance with resolution 2303 of 29 July 2016, which requested the Secretary-General to report to the Council on Burundi every three months. Several Council members have maintained that these reports should be in writing, but this has been done inconsistently. Ambassador Jürg Lauber (Switzerland), the chair of the Burundi configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, may also brief.
Key Recent Developments
The security and political situation in Burundi—which deteriorated sharply after April 2015 when Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza announced that he would run for a controversial third term later that year—remains unsettled.
While the number of casualties has declined and the Burundian government maintains that the security situation is good throughout the country, serious human rights abuses continue to be committed daily with impunity, mainly by the government and the Imbonerakure, the youth group of Nkurunziza’s party. Nkurunziza appointed a former head of the Imbonerakure, Ezechiel Nibigira, as foreign minister in a government reshuffle on 20 April.
The overall level of oppression and state control over Burundian society has increased, manifested by arbitrary deprivations of life, enforced disappearances, cases of torture and arbitrary detention on a massive scale. Furthermore, these actions are taking place in an environment where freedoms of expression, association and assembly are virtually non-existent. As of 30 June, there were 394,778 Burundian refugees in neighbouring countries, more than half of them children.
Against this backdrop, a 73 percent majority approved amendments to the constitution in a controversial referendum on 17 May. Leading up to the vote, several media outlets reported that Burundi’s security forces and the Imbonerakure had been killing, beating and intimidating suspected opponents of Nkurunziza to secure a favourable result. In addition, a presidential decree criminalised calls to abstain from voting.
The amendments to the constitution remove references to the Arusha Accord, which in 2000 put an end to civil war and ethnic violence and established the basis for the current constitution. They provide for a possible future review of the ethnic quotas—a key element of the Arusha Accord—of 60 percent Hutu and 40 percent Tutsi in the executive branch, the parliament and the judicial branch. The amendments also extend the presidential term to seven years from the current five, and specify that the two-term limit is to be counted from the adoption of the amendments, thus allowing Nkurunziza to run for re-election in 2020.
Nkurunziza announced on 7 June that he would not seek re-election. “Our term will end in 2020”, he said. “I swear and am really ready, with all my heart, with all my mind and with all my strength, to support the new president we will elect in 2020”. Nibigira conveyed the same message in a visit to Kenya on 5 July. Still, some have expressed concern that this was said to appease the opposition and the international community and does not necessarily reflect Nkurunziza’s true intentions.
The inter-Burundian dialogue between the government and opposition parties that has been held outside of Burundi, led by the East African Community (EAC), remains stagnant as the government of Burundi suspended its participation before the referendum. While reports in mid-July indicated it might resume soon, at press time it was unclear when this would happen. The Chairperson of the AU Commission, Moussa Faki, sent an open letter to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, the official mediator of the talks on behalf of the EAC, on 9 May, copied to the guarantors of the Arusha Accord—the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, the UN Secretary-General and the EU Commission. The letter calls on Museveni to take action, saying that the gains of the Arusha Accord have been undermined since 2015 and that the constitutional amendments “will likely have far-reaching negative consequences for Burundi and the region”.
On 10 May, Kafando briefed Council members on Burundi via video teleconference under “any other business”. On 24 May, Kafando and Lauber briefed the Security Council on Burundi during a public meeting. The briefing was followed by consultations, during which a representative of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was present to answer questions.
Human Rights-Related Developments
During its 38th session, the Human Rights Council (HRC) held an interactive dialogue on 27 June with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, which noted that it had documented human rights violations since the beginning of the year. These include extrajudicial executions; enforced disappearances; acts of torture; and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. In particular, the commission said it received reports of numerous arrests of people who had called for a “no” vote in the referendum or had refused to join the ruling party. The human rights violations identified by the commission during the referendum campaign were “mainly perpetrated by the Imbonerakure acting with the complicity and/or approval of state officials, or on their own initiative, undisturbed”. The commission will submit a final report at the HRC’s 39th session in September.
Key Issues and Options
The post-referendum political situation and the lack of progress in the EAC-led mediation remain serious concerns that the Council will need to monitor closely. An option would be to adopt a presidential or press statement, noting Nkurunziza’s intention to step down in 2020 and calling for the resumption of the inter-Burundian dialogue and an inclusive political process with a view towards the conduct of the 2020 elections.
Another major issue is the continued lack of accountability for human rights violations, including possible crimes against humanity, over the last few years in Burundi. One possible way to address some of these issues would be to impose targeted sanctions against those obstructing a genuine political dialogue and those responsible for human rights violations.
Burundi remains entrenched in its opposition to the international community’s involvement in its political affairs. The Council, for its part, may be challenged to find a fresh avenue to re-engage with Burundi over the political situation in light of the fact that some countries still officially question the legitimacy of Nkurunziza’s third term and of his government, and the validity of the recent constitutional amendments, considering the political environment in which they were adopted. That may change in light of Nkurunziza’s stated intention not to run for another presidential term; however, several western Council members think it is too early to ascertain the intent behind his announcement. Other members, such as Russia, question the need for the Council’s engagement, pointing to Burundi’s lack of interest in Council involvement and viewing the situation as an internal issue that lacks a pressing international peace and security dimension. Though all Council members agree that the continued viability of the Arusha Accord is important, and consider the constitutional amendments as a worrying development, only a few members continue to see the situation in Burundi as volatile. The Council’s difficulty in finding common ground leaves it at an impasse with respect to its engagement with the country, with some members hoping that the AU and EAC will become more active on this issue.
France is the penholder on Burundi.
UN DOCUMENTS ON BURUNDI
|Security Council Resolutions|
|29 July 2016 S/RES/2303||The Council established a UN police component in Burundi of 228 officers for an initial period of one year.|
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|5 April 2018 S/PRST/2018/7||This was a presidential statement condemning all violations and abuses of human rights in Burundi.|
|25 January 2018 S/2018/89||This was the Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation in Burundi.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|24 May 2018 S/PV.8268||This was a briefing on Burundi by the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Burundi, Michel Kafando and the chair of the Burundi configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, Ambassador Jürg Lauber (Switzerland).|