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Burundi: Briefing and Informal Interactive Dialogue*

On Monday (26 February), the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Michel Kafando, will brief the Council on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation in Burundi (S/2018/89). Other briefers will be the chair of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) Burundi Configuration, Ambassador Jürg Lauber (Switzerland), and the facilitator of the East African Community (EAC) Inter-Burundian dialogue, former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa.

After the briefing, Council members will hold an informal interactive dialogue on Burundi with Kafando and Mkapa. They opted for this format, instead of the usual consultations, in order to allow Mkapa to participate in discussions behind closed doors.

Council members will be interested to hear about security and political developments in Burundi. The situation in the country—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 calm but volatile.

Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term created a crisis in Burundi because of different interpretations of the constitution. Burundi’s 2005 constitution indicates that the president should be elected by “universal suffrage” for a maximum of two five-year terms. His supporters maintained that because he was elected through a parliamentary vote for his first term in 2005, and not by popular vote, he was eligible to run for the presidency again in 2015. The opposition, however, contended that the Arusha Accord—the peace agreement that is the basis of the constitution—provided no exception to the two-term limit, and has thus questioned Nkurunziza’s legitimacy.

Some Council members are increasingly challenging the need for Council involvement, as they view the situation as an internal issue lacking a pressing security dimension. Other Council members stress that the political and human rights situation in Burundi pose a threat to the viability of the 2000 Arusha Accord, which ended ethnic-based violence and a civil war.

The Secretary-General notes in his report that the absence of an overt military confrontation is not an indication of sustainable security and stability in the country. The report also notes that during the reporting period, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) continued to receive allegations of serious human rights violations and abuses, primarily by the State and affiliated actors (e.g., the Imbonerakure, the youth group of Nkrurunziza’s party), including killings; enforced disappearances; torture and ill-treatment; more than 1,000 arbitrary arrests and detentions; and restrictions on the freedoms of association, expression and movement on the opposition and media. OHCHR and Burundi have yet to agree on a Status of Mission Agreement, thus hindering OHCHR’s activities in the country.

Council members will be interested in hearing more about the constitutional developments in Burundi.

On 24 October 2017, the government adopted recommendations to amend the constitution from the Commission nationale de dialogue inter-burundais (CNDI), a body whose members were selected by the government. The amendments 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 extend the presidential term from the current five to seven years and provide that the maximum of two presidential terms are to be counted from their adoption, thus allowing Nkurunziza to run for re-election in 2020. The amendments further provide for a five-year period for a possible review of the ethnic quotas—a key element of the Arusha Accord—of 60 percent Hutu to 40 percent Tutsi in the executive branch, the Parliament and the judicial branch.

Preparations for a referendum on the amendments have commenced and it is expected to be held in May, amidst reports of oppression of those voicing a position against the amendments.

Council members will be eager to hear whether the significant constitutional amendments and their expected adoption will create further political tensions, and how those may impact the security situation. The Secretary-General’s report notes that several of the proposed changes by the government have already been challenged by the opposition as attempts by the ruling party to consolidate its hold on power, which may cause unrest. The report further expresses the view that while it is Burundi’s prerogative to amend its Constitution, this process must be inclusive and requires a secure environment that promotes free participation. Burundi government spokesperson Philippe Nzobonariba has dubbed the Secretary-General’s report “a manipulation and misrepresentation” of the political and security situations on the ground, and “flagrant interference” in the country’s domestic affairs.

Another point of interest for Council members will be the chances of reviving a meaningful dialogue between the government and the opposition. Thus far, the EAC-led Inter-Burundian dialogue has not produced any progress, with most attention being given to who may participate and whether the dialogue should take place in Burundi or outside of the country. The Secretary-General’s latest report notes the absence of progress and that it is crucial that all parties, especially the government, commit to the EAC-led process and reach an agreement before the 2020 elections.

Mkapa met with President John Magufuli of Tanzania and the official mediator of the inter-Burundian dialogue, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda on 10 and 11 February, respectively, to discuss the status of the dialogue. He is further expected to engage on this issue with subregional leaders during the EAC summit being held today (23 February). Council members will be interested to hear of any developments in this respect. Some may also inquire as to how the UN, and the Council in particular, can assist and reinforce the subregional efforts to solve the political situation.

Council members will further be interested to hear from Lauber on the prospects of the PBC playing a positive role in resolving the political crisis. Lauber was scheduled to travel to Burundi this month, but the visit has been postponed to March. A PBC Burundi configuration meeting is expected to take place upon his return to New York.


*Post-script: Mkapa was unable to participate, so the informal interactive dialogue (IID) scheduled to follow the briefing was cancelled. In lieu of the IID, members held consultations after the briefing with Kafando.

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