Tomorrow (24 May), Special Envoy Michel Kafando and Ambassador Jürg Lauber (Switzerland), the chair of the Burundi Configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC), will brief the Security Council on Burundi. The briefing will be followed by consultations, where an OHCHR representative will be present to answer questions.
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. While several Council members have maintained that these reports should be in writing, this has been done inconsistently.
Kafando is expected to focus on the 17 May referendum on constitutional amendments. According to the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI), 96 percent of registered voters went to the polls, and the amendments were approved by a large majority, with 73 percent voting yes and 18 percent voting no.
The amendments remove references in the constitution to the Arusha Accord. They extend the presidential term from the current five years to seven years and provide that the maximum of two presidential terms is to be counted from the adoption of the amendments, thus allowing President Pierre Nkurunziza to run for re-election in 2020. The amendments further provide for a possible future review and elimination of a key element of the Arusha Accord, the ethnic quotas of 60 percent Hutu and 40 percent Tutsi in the executive, legislative and judicial branches. The amendments replace the current two-thirds majority necessary to pass basic bills in parliament with a simple majority. They also restructure the government by creating the post of prime minister and by eliminating the current system of two equal vice-presidents, one of whom is from the opposition.
Council members will expect to hear from Kafando about the political atmosphere surrounding the conduct of the referendum and the credibility of the results. Serious human rights abuses continue to be committed daily in Burundi with impunity, and oppression and state control over Burundian society—including the opposition and the media—remain high, exerted mainly by the government and the Imbonerakure, the youth group of Nkurunziza’s party. There have been reports that Burundi’s security forces and the Imbonerakure killed, beat, and intimidated suspected opponents of Nkurunziza in the run-up to the referendum.
The main opposition leader, Agathon Rwasa, rejected the results of the referendum, stating that the electoral process had not been free, transparent, or independent. He also said that the amendments place Nkurunziza “beyond any other institution”.
Council members will also be interested in the current status of the East African Community (EAC)-led inter-Burundian dialogue, and the regional and sub-regional dynamics with regard to this dialogue. Talks have taken place in Tanzania but have yet to make concrete progress. On 17 April, Burundi’s Assistant Interior Minister, Térence Ntahiraja, said that the government would suspend its participation in the dialogue session in the lead-up to the referendum, and a meeting scheduled for the end of April was cancelled.
In a 9 May open letter from AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, the mediator of the inter-Burundian dialogue, Faki noted that no agreement had been reached on how to solve the political crisis. Against this backdrop, he lamented that the decision to proceed with the referendum had the potential of undermining the gains of the Arusha Accord and deepening the political divide. He further called on Museveni to take “whatever initiative you deem appropriate to effectively address the situation”.
Lauber is expected to update the Council on his 27-30 March visit to Burundi. During his visit, he met with Nkurunziza and government ministers; the president of the CENI, Pierre Claver Ndayiragije; the leaders of several political parties; and Kafando, among others. On 16 April, Lauber briefed the Burundi configuration of the PBC. He stressed that there is a need for coherence among UN actors and the broader international community with regard to engagement with Burundi. He also noted the importance of finding common ground with the government in order to build trust and a better sense of partnership.
At the request of Equatorial Guinea, France, the Netherlands, the UK and the US, Kafando briefed Council members on 10 May, ahead of the polls, under “any other business” via video-teleconference. It seems that little new information was provided, with Kafando noting that he would have more to share with the Council after the referendum.