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Briefing on Developments in Burundi

On Wednesday (21 November), Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Burundi Michel Kafando will brief the Council on the situation in Burundi. Ambassador Jürg Lauber (Switzerland), the chair of the Burundi configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, will brief on his recent visit to Burundi. The facilitator of the East African Community (EAC)-led inter-Burundi dialogue, Benjamin Mkapa, had been invited to brief but he informed the Council in a letter to the president that he would be in a better position to brief it after the EAC heads of state summit on 30 November.

Kafando is briefing in accordance with resolution 2303 of 29 July 2016, which requested the Secretary-General to report to the Council on Burundi every three months. Ahead of the briefing, several Council members, including the Netherlands and the US, requested the Secretariat to produce a written report rather than just an oral briefing, which they believe is required by the resolution. Other Council members, such as Russia, do not think resolution 2303 requires written reporting, and have asked the Secretariat to refrain from producing such reports. Written reports on Burundi have been submitted to the Council inconsistently, the last being on 25 January (S/2018/89).

This disagreement reflects a wider dynamic in the Council over whether Burundi should remain on the Council’s agenda. Those in favour of a written report believe that the Council should remain engaged on Burundi as they view the current political climate as untenable and volatile, with great potential for a rapid deterioration into violence. In their view, written reports assist in focusing attention on developments in Burundi. Members who are not keen on a written report question the need for the Council’s continued 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. For this meeting, the Secretary-General has produced a written report, which notes that Burundi continues to require the attention of the Security Council as the political divide and human rights violations in the country remain a serious concern.

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. As noted in the Secretary-General’s report, 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 wing of Nkurunziza’s party. The overall oppression and state control over Burundian society remains, 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 freedom of expression, association and assembly have been severely restricted.

Council members will look to Kafando for an update on political developments following the controversial referendum on 17 May where 73 percent of voters approved amendments to the constitution, including removing 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. The amendments 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, though Nkurunziza announced on 7 June that he would not seek re-election. The Secretary-General’s report notes that preparations are underway for the 2020 elections. During the period covered by the report, the ruling party and political parties allied to it signed a road map, and new members of the electoral commission were appointed. Both actions have been contested by the opposition.

Although Mkapa will be briefing them, Council members will still be interested in any information Kafando may have about the the current status of the EAC-led inter-Burundian dialogue and the prospects for advancement on this front. The fifth session of the dialogue was held in Arusha between 25 and 29 October after months of delays, without the participation of the Burundi government. At the end of the session, Mkapa conveyed his intention to present a roadmap, including what he believes are the consensual minimum standards for credible elections in 2020, at the EAC summit where he will also be presenting his final report on the process. The Secretary-General’s report urges the EAC to redouble its efforts in order to make headway on moving towards credible elections.

Lauber is expected to update the Council on his November visit to Burundi, when he met with Speaker of the Burundi National Assembly Pascal Nyabenda and with the 2nd Vice President Joseph Butore, among others. Among the points discussed were the preparations for the 2020 elections and social and economic development. Lauber did not meet with Nkurunziza, unlike on previous visits.

Kafando last briefed the Council on Burundi on 9 August (S/PV.8325). On 22 August, Council members issued a press statement “reiterating their concern over the political situation, the slow progress of the inter-Burundi dialogue led by the East African Community, and the lack of engagement by the government in that regard.” They also welcomed the announcement by President Pierre Nkurunziza that he will not seek another term in 2020 (SC/13461).

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