Burundi Poised to Settle Differences, Build Peaceful Future Following Vote Favouring New Constitution, Special Envoy Tells Security Council
Resumption of Inclusive Dialogue Key to Prevent Further Violence, Speakers Stress
On the heels of Burundians voting for a new Constitution on 17 May, the country was now poised for a new important phase to settle differences, address pressing concerns, including sporadic violent incidents, and build a solid foundation for peace, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General told the Security Council today.
Leading those actions should be the authorities’ efforts to resume inter-Burundian talks to build confidence among parties, said Michel Kafando, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General. If inclusive dialogue failed, the referendum results could be challenged and the situation would devolve, characterized by human rights violations and a deterioration of socioeconomic and humanitarian conditions.
However, the relatively calm security landscape, spotted by isolated incidents of violence, was conducive for the Government to continue its efforts, he continued. Yet, incidents such as a 11 May attack in Buganda were a stark reminder of a volatile environment. Initiatives to improve the humanitarian situation must also continue. Such conditions highlighted the relevance of continued dialogue led by the East African Community to address challenges Burundi had faced since 2015, he said, adding that the Council could renew its support to such efforts in the region.
Jürg Lauber (Switzerland), Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission configuration on Burundi, offered recommendations for future action and reported on a recent visit, which included witnessing the impressive progress being made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Going forward, the international community should continue to follow developments intently and fully support the East African Community’s mediation efforts. To address socioeconomic challenges, he said he was planning to organize another round of discussions with partners and bilateral donors. Above all, the significant gains achieved through the Arusha Accord must not be undermined, he stressed.
Commending those achievements, Council members largely agreed that the Arusha Accord remained the blueprint for a peaceful future, with Equatorial Guinea’s representative applauding the referendum as a reflection of the population’s determination to move forward towards inclusive dialogue and stability.
The representative of Ethiopia said the most pressing issue now was how to avoid any descent into chaos and further violence. He urged the Government to recommit to the inter-Burundian dialogue, adding that the Security Council should explore new avenues for reengagement with Burundi. On that note, he said, the political impasse, coupled with shrinking international financial assistance, had put huge socioeconomic pressure on Burundi.
Meanwhile, Kuwait’s delegate encouraged the Government to engage with the international aid community, including the United Nations, and Bolivia’s representative suggested lifting sanctions, as such measures caused much suffering among the population.
However, some members expressed concerns, with the representative of the United States explaining her fears about media restrictions, arbitrary arrests and voter intimidation ahead of the referendum. Echoing other speakers’ worries, Peru’s delegate said new amendments to Burundi’s Constitution could undermine important provisions protecting the rights of minorities. In addition, all parties must work to end human rights violations, reject hate speech and protect the country’s delicate political balance, he said.
France’s delegate said those currently in power were playing an increasingly central role in intimidating citizens and silencing voices of opposition. While regional dialogue efforts had so far not yielded results, they must continue, as should full respect for all human rights. The Government must allow opposition leaders, civil society and the media to play a role in Burundi’s inclusive dialogue process. Calling on all parties to return to the spirit of consensus that had prevailed in the Arusha Accord, he said regional leadership should accompany close monitoring by the Council.
Voicing another observation, the Russian Federation’s delegate said there was no reason for scaremongering, as had been heard in the Chamber several weeks ago. Doing so might mean that those in Burundi could receive the wrong message from the Security Council. For its part, the Council must only consider those issues that posed threats to international peace and security and not those that involved domestic affairs, he said, adding that the Council’s authority should not be undermined.
Following that discussion, the representative of Burundi welcomed the Council’s continued respect for the principles of the United Nations Charter in its attention to the situation in his country. However, he expressed concern that “some delegations remain imprisoned in their rhetoric of 2015” and had failed to keep up with developments on the ground, including that 15 public and private radio stations had covered the elections, which had unfolded peacefully, with the new Constitution fully respecting the Arusha Accord. It was time to “turn the page on 2015” and look forward to a peaceful future in which the country lived in harmony with its neighbours and partners around the world.
In that regard, he asked the Council to promptly withdraw Burundi from its agenda. No objective criteria existed for its continued consideration of the country’s situation, he said, emphasizing that it was not only safe and stable, but also contributed to the maintenance of international peace and security by providing its own troops to United Nations peacekeeping operations.
Also delivering statements were representatives of the Netherlands, Kazakhstan, Sweden, Côte d’Ivoire, United Kingdom, China and Poland.
The meeting began at 10:26 a.m. and 12:08 p.m.
MICHEL KAFANDO, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Burundi, providing updates on recent developments, said that on the heels of Burundians voting for a new Constitution on 17 May, the country was poised for a new important phase during which authorities should work towards resuming inter-Burundian talks to settle outstanding differences and build confidence among parties. He worried that if inclusive dialogue failed the referendum results would be challenged and the situation would devolve, characterized by human rights violations and a deterioration of socioeconomic and humanitarian conditions. Calling attention to concerns about the expulsion of human rights experts deployed by the Human Rights Council, he called on authorities to facilitate their return.
Turning to the country’s security and humanitarian conditions, he said a general calm landscape was spotted with isolated incidents of violence. The Government must continue its efforts to restore security, he said, commending measures that had been taken during the election campaign. However, incidents such as the 11 May attack by armed men on Buganda were a stark reminder of a volatile environment. Important developments in improving humanitarian conditions must continue, as many still lived in refugee camps outside Burundi.
Such conditions highlighted the relevance of continued dialogue led by the East African Community, he said. Noting that the Government had indicated that it would not participate in any dialogue prior to the referendum on the Constitution, he said consultations should be held in the coming days to restart the dialogue, which was the only way to resolve the challenges Burundi had faced since 2015. The Council could renew its support to efforts in the region, he concluded.
JÜRG LAUBER (Switzerland), Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission configuration on Burundi, offered recommendations for future action and reported on a recent visit. During the visit in March, he had advocated for a renewed dialogue, met with stakeholders and gauged the situation on the ground, which was calm. Discussions centred on the referendum, 2020 elections and socioeconomic challenges. Leaders of three political parties had indicated they were outlining a joint road map leading to the 2020 elections. For its part, the Government was taking a number of steps, including drafting a national development plan, he said, adding that he had informed President Pierre Nkurunziza that the Peacebuilding Commission remained committed to facilitating dialogue with international partners to overcome such challenges as the lack of foreign currency and difficulties to obtain bank loans.
On the humanitarian situation, he highlighted a newly signed tripartite agreement with Burundi, the United Republic of Tanzania and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (OHCHR) that was addressing the return of 19,000 refugees. However, the Government had said the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) response plan for 2018 contained exaggerated numbers and had not sufficiently consulted with national authorities. The plan, which had garnered $141.8 million, was currently only 2.9 per cent funded, he said, noting that he had told the Government and its humanitarian partners that a swift agreement on the plan would allow for mobilizing additional resources. Impressive progress on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission included the collection of more than 45,000 testimonies and efforts in 16 of Burundi’s 18 provinces, he said, adding that he had informed the President that the Commission would extend its mandate for one year to help, including mobilizing technical and financial assistance for reconciliation efforts.
Offering several suggestions, he said the international community should continue to follow developments intently, including coherence among stakeholders to build a better sense of partnership. The East African Community’s mediation efforts also deserved the Council’s full support. To address socioeconomic challenges, he said he was planning to organize another round of discussions with partners and bilateral donors, which could foster confidence. Above all, the significant gains achieved through the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement must not be undermined, he stressed.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) expressed regret that the recent referendum had taken place against the backdrop of some violent incidents. He also noted with concern that proposed constitutional reforms ran counter to the provisions of the Arusha Accord and could risk reversing gains already made. In particular, he said, protections of the country’s Tutsi minority could be weakened. Also expressing concern about the political impasse, he said those currently in power were playing an increasingly central role in intimidating citizens and silencing voices of opposition. While regional dialogue efforts had so far not yielded results, they must continue, as should full respect for all human rights. The Government must allow opposition leaders, civil society and the media to play a role in Burundi’s inclusive dialogue process. Calling on all parties to return to the spirit of consensus that had prevailed in the Arusha Accord, he said regional leadership should go hand-in-hand with close monitoring by the Council.
JOB OBIANG ESONO MBENGONO (Equatorial Guinea) said Burundi’s recent referendum reflected the population’s determination to move forward towards inclusive dialogue and stability. Calling on all parties to refrain from any actions that could risk escalating tensions, he emphasized that most votes had been cast in support of a new Constitution, setting the stage for elections in 2020. Indeed, those results reflected the will of the sovereign Burundian people, and should be respected. Meanwhile, he said, every precaution should be taken to improve future electoral processes, and the Council should continue to support the ongoing inter-Burundian dialogue. Expressing Equatorial Guinea’s support for regional and subregional mediation efforts, he called on all parties to fully respect human rights and fundamental freedoms and to work towards the goals of national cohesion, reconciliation and unity.
LISE GREGOIRE VAN HAAREN (Netherlands), drawing attention to evidence of blockades preventing access to voting stations and the intimidation of citizens in and around voting sites, said the Government should work to formalize constitutional amendments with the broad consensus of all parties. Despite the current impasse, her delegation supported the continued inclusive dialogue process as the most sustainable way out of the current crisis. Voicing concern over the persistent risk of violence in Burundi, she condemned a recent attack in which more than 20 people — including 11 children — had been killed. Any dialogue or political reform undertaken in Burundi must be conducted in line with constitutional provisions, she stressed, also voicing concern that proposed amendments could undermine the gains made through the Arusha Accord.
SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia), emphasizing that the Arusha Agreement was the only way out of the crisis, said the current stable conditions lent to an atmosphere ripe for the implementation of the road map towards peaceful elections in 2020. Remaining differences should be settled constructively. For its part, the international community should support Burundi to strengthen its capacity, he said, welcoming the tripartite agreement on the return of refugees. Suggesting the lifting of sanctions, he said such measures caused much suffering among the population. He also encouraged the United Nations country team to work in collaboration with partners to foster more progress.
KANAT TUMYSH (Kazakhstan) expressed concern about the limited progress in the development of the inter-Burundian dialogue and called on all political actors to engage in meaningful discussions, including negotiating the road map aimed at peaceful, free, fair, transparent and inclusive elections in 2020. Emphasizing the importance of the continued efforts of the African Union and the East African Community in the mediation process, he noted the importance of implementing the Arusha Accord by all political sides. He also noted the Government’s efforts to stabilize the economic situation in the country, including the elaboration of the national development plan, which would be a significant step forward.
ELAINE MARIE FRENCH (United States) said her delegation remained concerned about recent media restrictions, arbitrary arrests, voter intimidation and the absence of independent observers during the referendum, the stalled progress in the East African Community dialogue and the 11 May attack. The constitutional amendments would have far-reaching consequences, she said, emphasizing that the Arusha Accord must guide all future actions. When whole generations of people were denied democracy and rights, instability inevitably resulted, she said, expressing fear that the conditions in Burundi would lay the foundation for further instability. It was in the interest of Burundi and the wider region to respect the Arusha Accord, she said, adding that ways forward would depend on, among other things, holding an inclusive dialogue with political stakeholders and putting an end to human rights abuses.
OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) noted that the Government had allowed some campaigning ahead of the 17 May referendum, yet the overall climate of repression, including the closure of certain media outlets, demonstrated that conditions for lasting peace and stability were still largely absent. In that connection, the spirit and key provisions of the Arusha Accord remained of great importance and an inclusive political resolution of the current conflict must be found through dialogue. Stressing that the continued reports of grave human rights violations and abuses in Burundi remained deeply worrisome, he emphasized that accountability was essential. “Just as human rights violations and abuses erode confidence and undermine efforts for reconciliation and justice, upholding and respecting human rights similarly nurtures trust, strengthens dialogue and reconciliation and, ultimately, durable peace,” he said.
Mr. DJEDJE (Côte d’Ivoire) said Burundian voters had spoken in favour of amendments to the country’s Constitution. Regretting the lack of consultation between elements of society, which could widen the gap between them and render the country’s reconciliation process even more fragile, he said the Arusha Accord must remain the bedrock of its political process. More than six months after the last meeting of the inter-Burundian dialogue process, little progress had been made. The parties must forego any preconditions or unilateral actions and adhere to a credible, inclusive process leading to the holding of credible elections in 2020. In that context, he encouraged the mediators and other regional actors to relaunch the dialogue process and called on international partners to lend their support.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru), deploring that the referendum had been organized without the presence of international observers and amid restrictions on press freedom, echoed other speakers’ concerns that new amendments to Burundi’s Constitution could undermine important provisions protecting the rights of minorities. All parties must work to end human rights violations, reject hate speech and protect the country’s delicate political balance. For their part, the Council, along with regional organizations and neighbouring countries, should continue to follow the situation closely and support inclusive dialogue efforts.
STEPHEN HICKEY (United Kingdom), expressing support for the Peacebuilding Commission Chair’s clear recommendations, nevertheless voiced concern over violence seen in the run-up to Burundi’s election. The organization Human Rights Watch had documented cases of murder, rape, intimidation and oppression, as well as restrictions on the media. There were also reports of irregularities in the voting process itself. Noting that those conditions brought the referendum’s results into question, he stressed that the spirit of the Arusha Accord must be fully respected, especially in the conduct of elections. He hoped that recent amendments would not reverse gains made in protecting the country’s minorities and the rights of women. Also noting with concern evidence of human rights violations and the expulsion of human rights observers, he called on the Government to implement relevant resolutions of the Human Rights Council and to adhere to the conditions required for the provision of the European Union’s financial support. Underlining the importance of prevention, he emphasized that “the risks in Burundi are huge”. The international community should continue to pay close attention to events on the ground and support the inclusive dialogue process.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation), supporting the Peacebuilding Commission’s work, said such efforts were providing helpful assistance. Noting that the referendum was a national concern, he commended the unprecedented voter turnout and the calm environment, despite some issues. However, there was no reason for scaremongering, as had been heard in the Chamber several weeks ago, he said, warning that those in Burundi could receive the wrong message from the Security Council. The Council must only consider those issues that posed threats to international peace and security and not those that involved domestic affairs, he said, adding that the Council’s authority should not be undermined.
ZHANG DIANBIN (China) commended gains, including the new national development plan and efforts for the return of refugees. Burundi’s stability was vital to the region and the international community should lend its support. Also, continuous support must address the political processes, including the East African Community’s mediation work, and humanitarian concerns, he said, calling on all actors to do their part in tackling challenges to improve living conditions. For its part, China stood ready to play a constructive role in efforts to support peace in Burundi.
TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia) expressed encouragement that the security situation in Burundi continued to be stable, and as the country prepared to embrace the outcome of the 17 May referendum, the most pressing issue was how to avoid any descent into chaos and further violence. The political impasse in the country could only be addressed through peaceful, inclusive and consensual dialogue. Underlining that strong coordination and coherence among the East African Community, the African Union and the United Nations was key to making progress on the peace process, he urged the Government to recommit to the inter-Burundian dialogue. The Security Council should explore new avenues for reengagement with Burundi, he said, noting that the political impasse, coupled with the continued reduction of international financial assistance, had put huge socioeconomic pressure on Burundi.
BADER ABDULLAH N. M. ALMUNAYEKH (Kuwait), commending the referendum results, urged the Government to move towards more progress, including the resumption of constructive dialogue that would benefit all Burundians. Reaffirming the need for Burundi to engage with international organizations, including the United Nations, to trigger further achievements in development-related areas, he said tangible progress in the political process could only be achieved through inclusive dialogue with all stakeholders. Commending plans for the voluntary return of refugees based on the new tripartite agreement, he said efforts must be redoubled to ensure their safe return.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) said that the situation in Burundi must be viewed in a wider regional context, particularly as it threatened to deepen the existing humanitarian crisis being experienced in the Great Lakes region. She emphasized the role of the leaders of neighbouring countries and the Arusha Accord guarantors in helping to overcome the continued instability. Expressing serious concerns over the pre-referendum period and the tense situation that followed the voting, she said Poland was worried about the deteriorating human rights situation in Burundi, as well as the limitations on political space that had been placed on members of the opposition, independent media and civil society.
ALBERT SHINGIRO (Burundi), welcoming the Council’s continued respect for the principles of the United Nations Charter in its attention to the situation in his country, nevertheless expressed concern that “some delegations remain imprisoned in their rhetoric of 2015” and had failed to keep up with developments on the ground. Recently, more than 73 per cent of voters — representing a record 96 per cent of the population — had voted in favour of a new Constitution, demonstrating Burundi’s political maturity. All campaigning had taken place without major incidents, he said, describing it as pluralistic, vibrant and inclusive. Recalling that 25 political parties and coalitions had taken part in the referendum — demonstrating a high level of political tolerance — he emphasized that through their peaceful participation the voters had also exercised their sovereignty and political freedom.
Noting that Burundi was now emerging from its transition period, he said the country’s new Constitution fully respected the Arusha Accord. All substantive articles guaranteeing democratic principles, cohesion, social justice, the protection of minorities, the rights of women, limitation of mandate and human rights had been reinforced. Those who claimed non-respect for the Arusha Accord only sought to destabilize Burundi, he stressed. Of all the parties taking part in the recent vote, only one had contested its results, and that politician was well known for having contested every election in which he had ever taken part. The election had been conducted fairly, calmly and transparently, he said, adding that it was now a “victim of its success” as a result of alarmist scenarios promoted by some delegations before the vote was even held.
Recalling that 15 public and private radio stations had covered the elections — documenting the freedom of all voters as well as the proper counting of votes — he said Burundi had been unfairly condemned after it had suspended the BBC World Service and Voice of America. The former, by its own admission, had violated its own professional ethics standards, and had issued a public apology. Noting that Voice of America had also published biased information, he urged that outlet to issue a similar apology. He went on to describe Burundi’s overall security situation as peaceful and stable and reaffirm its full compliance with international human rights law, declaring that it was time to “turn the page on 2015” and look forward to a peaceful future in which the country lived in harmony with its neighbours and partners around the world. In that regard, he requested the Council to promptly withdraw Burundi from its agenda. No objective criteria existed for its continued consideration of the country’s situation, he said, emphasizing that it was not only safe and stable but also contributed to the maintenance of international peace and security by providing its own troops to United Nations peacekeeping operations.