Dialogue Only Viable Option for Resolving Burundi Political Crisis, Special Envoy Tells Security Council amid Debate over Keeping It on Agenda
Heed African Union’s Call for Lifting Sanctions, Says Permanent Representative, Cautioning against ‘Cascade’ of Meetings
Dialogue remains the only viable option for resolving the political crisis in Burundi and for holding peaceful elections in 2020, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for that country told the Security Council today, as delegates debated whether to keep the situation there on its agenda.
Briefing on recent developments 16 months before the planned elections, Special Envoy Michel Kafando pointed in particular to President Pierre Nkurunziza’s stated intention not to seek re-election, as well as the Government’s recognition of the opposition National Congress for Freedom. He noted, however, the ongoing humanitarian and human rights concerns as well as the plight of those displaced inside the country and that of Burundian refugees in neighbouring countries.
He recalled his visit to Burundi from 20 to 29 January, during time he was unable to meet the President, as well as his subsequent meeting with President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, mediator of the inter-Burundian dialogue. He added that he also attended the 1 February Summit of the East African Community, which tasked the Presidents of Kenya, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania with pursuing mediation efforts.
Fatma Kyari Mohammed, the African Union’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations, reiterated that regional bloc’s support for all efforts towards a lasting, peaceful and consensual solution in Burundi. It encourages the Government and opposition groups to step up efforts to finalize a consensual and inclusive agreement that is consistent with the spirit and content of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement, she said, adding that it also encourages the Government to continue with preparations for transparent and peaceful elections.
Jürg Lauber (Switzerland), Chair of the Burundi configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, said that, in the course of 2019, that entity will focus on Burundi’s 2020 elections and its persistent socioeconomic challenges. Sharing several recommendations, he suggested that the Government of Burundi, as well as political parties and other stakeholders, work closely together, with support from other Member States of the subregion, to create an enabling environment for inclusive, democratic and peaceful elections.
In the ensuing debate, Council members agreed that in the run-up to the presidential and parliamentary elections, dialogue among all stakeholders must continue on the basis of the Arusha Agreement and with the help of the East African Community and the African Union. Several voiced concern over the Government’s decision to suspend foreign non-governmental organizations and its closure of the local office of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
However, delegates differed over keeping Burundi on its agenda, with Belgium’s representative cautioning that incidents along the country’s border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo could potentially destabilize the region. Given the ramifications of such an eventuality for the region, the Council must keep Burundi on its radar, he emphasized, expressing support for strong leadership by the East African Community and greater involvement by the African Union.
Concurring, United Kingdom’s representative emphasized that elections in 2020 will represent a critical time for Burundi, warning that failure to address human rights concerns will have consequences. Because of such factors, Burundi should remain on the Council’s agenda, he argued.
However, the Russian Federation’s representative stressed that Burundi’s elections are a domestic issue and outside meddling would be unacceptable. Underlining that the situation does not represent a threat to international peace and security, he said that his delegation wonders whether Burundi should remain on the Council’s already overloaded agenda.
Côte d’Ivoire’s representative called upon the international community to boost efforts to support East African Community initiatives with a view to revitalizing the inter-Burundian dialogue.
Burundi’s representative said the political landscape in his country remains positive, with the trajectory of peace, reconciliation and democracy flourishing. Peaceful and transparent elections, financed domestically, are the ultimate goal he said, adding that the situation on the security front remains calm, stable and completely under control. Recalling the African Union’s recent call for the lifting of unilateral sanctions, he called upon the Council to withdraw Burundi from its agenda, stressing that the political and security situation there represents no threat to international peace and security. A cascade of meetings on Burundi could jeopardize the gains already made, he cautioned.
Also speaking today were representatives of France, United States, South Africa, Indonesia, Germany, Peru, China, Poland, Dominican Republic, Kuwait and Equatorial Guinea.
The meeting began at 3:06 p.m. and ended at 5:12 p.m.
MICHEL KAFANDO, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Burundi, reviewed the situation in that country and in the wider region just 16 months before general elections. On the political front, he recalled President Pierre Nkurunziza’s stated intention not to seek re-election and the Government’s recognition of the opposition National Congress for Freedom on 14 February. He encouraged the Government to continue in that direction and to strive for greater inclusivity, particularly in talks on a new electoral code. He also noted that opposition parties appealed for the African Union and the United Nations to take charge of the inter-Burundian dialogue. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) believes the situation remains concerning on the basis of reports it has been receiving from Burundi, he noted.
While the humanitarian situation has improved since 2017, except in the eastern and north-eastern border provinces, about 1.5 million people still face food insecurity, he said, adding that 140,000 people remain displaced and 347,000 Burundians are refugees in neighbouring countries. The cooperation agreement signed on 25 January by the Government of Burundi and the United Nations country team manifests the Organization’s support for the country’s national development priorities, he said. Meanwhile, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is appealing for $296 million to help refugees living in camps within the United Republic of Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he added.
Recalling his visit to Burundi from 20 to 29 January, he said that he hoped to speak with the President and other officials to discuss the Security Council’s position and reaffirm the support of the United Nations for the inter-Burundian dialogue. Unfortunately, the talks did not take place, he said, adding that he then proceeded to Kampala, Uganda, on 31 January for a working visit with President Yoweri Museveni, mediator of the inter-Burundian dialogue. He later travelled to Arusha for the summit of the East African Community on 1 February, which tasked the Presidents of Kenya, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania to pursue the mediation. He concluded by suggesting that if the Council intends to issue a press statement, it should encourage mediation and relay the Secretary‑General’s support for such a process. All proposals must bear in mind a single objective: that the inter-Burundian dialogue remains the only viable option for resolving the political crisis and the holding of peaceful elections in 2020, in the spirit of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreements.
FATMA KYARI MOHAMMED, Permanent Observer for the African Union to the United Nations, said the bloc continues support to East African Community efforts to unblock the stalemate in the inter-Burundian dialogue. It urges all Burundian actors to demonstrate a spirit of compromise, she said, noting that the country’s security situation remains relatively stable overall. The humanitarian and socioeconomic situation is facing challenges and many refugees have doubts about returning, she said, adding that, the African Union’s human rights observers and military experts are now the only foreign observers permitted to operate inside Burundi.
She went on to reiterate the African Union’s commitment to support all efforts towards a lasting, peaceful and consensual solution in Burundi. The bloc encourages the Government and opposition groups to step up efforts to finalize a consensual and inclusive agreement that is consistent with the spirit and content of the Arusha Agreement, she said, adding that the it also encourages the Government to continue with preparations for transparent and peaceful elections by putting relevant mechanisms and instruments in place, in accordance with Burundi’s electoral code.
JÜRG LAUBER (Switzerland), Chair of the Burundi configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, summarized the activities and developments involving that entity since his last briefing to the Council in November 2018. Members heard from experts on current developments, with the Peacebuilding Support Office briefing on the support it provides in the socioeconomic realm. Meanwhile, the UNHCR Regional Refugee Coordinator shared examples of innovative cross-border projects, noting that the number of refugee returns will be likely to peak at more than 100,000 in 2019 and that the Burundi regional refugee response plan is among the least funded appeals in the world.
He said the Burundi configuration’s members remain committed to drawing the attention of bilateral, regional and international partners to the need for support in helping to reduce vulnerabilities while strengthening resilience and improving disaster preparedness. Members agreed to continue supporting ongoing national reconciliation efforts and helping to preserve the gains of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement. They also underlined the East African Community’s role in the run up to the 2020 elections, he said.
Citing recent developments and forthcoming activities, he said the recent East African Community Summit in Arusha considered a report on the inter-Burundi dialogue process, adding that the Government signed the 2019-2023 United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) with the United Nations Resident Coordinator. In December, however, the authorities requested that OHCHR terminate its activities in Burundi and withdraw its staff, he said. The configuration’s activities in 2019 will focus on the 2020 elections and the persistent socioeconomic challenges facing the country.
Sharing several recommendations, he suggested that the Government, political parties and other stakeholders work closely, with support from Member States of the subregion, to create an enabling environment for inclusive, democratic and peaceful elections. He also recommended that Burundi and international partners focus on mid- and long-term economic development, reiterating his invitation to the Government of Burundi and partners to enter into a strategic conversation as to how implementation of the national development plan implementation can foster mutually beneficial forms of engagement. The international community must remain responsive in providing adequate assistance and helping to address the urgent needs of Burundians and reduce their vulnerabilities.
ANTOINE IGNACE MICHON (France) said Burundi can find a way back to stability through fair elections in 2020. The recent positive trend should lead to further gains, he said, encouraging national authorities to continue the dialogue with the opposition. On the human rights situation, he noted the end of OHCHR’s activities in the country and emphasized his delegation’s respect for Burundi’s sovereignty. Calling upon the authorities to combat impunity and ensure cooperation with United Nations agencies, he said that his delegation also counts on the authorities to ensure the safe return of refugees and supports such efforts. While emphasizing the important role that the United Nations has to play in the coming elections, he expressed worry that tensions in the Great Lakes region could derail progress in other areas.
TIEMOKO MORIKO (Côte d’Ivoire) said that, although his delegations is pleased with improvements on the humanitarian front, there is a persistent political impasse, welcoming efforts to overcome existing obstacles. Expressing concern about returnees, he commended the efforts of Burundian authorities and their partners in this regard and urged donors to pledge their support for the national response plan. In addition, he called upon the international community to boost efforts to support East African Community initiatives with a view to revitalizing the inter-Burundian dialogue on national reconciliation.
JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States) expressed deep concern over the stalled inter-Burundian dialogue and the manner in which the talks broke down. However, the consensus on the electoral road map for 2020 is welcome, he said, urging the Government to engage with other stakeholders. The upcoming elections are an opportunity that cannot be missed, he emphasized, welcoming President Nkurunziza’s announcement that he will not seek another term. He expressed deep concern, however, over the Government’s decision to close the local office of OHCHR, while also urging the authorities to address persistent and reliable reports of activity by armed groups in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as tensions between Burundi and Rwanda. “No one wins from a proxy war in the Great Lakes,” he warned, while stressing that it would be irresponsible for the Council to disengage from the situation in Burundi before the 2020 elections.
MARTHINUS VAN SCHALKWYK (South Africa), noting that any political impasse in Burundi can only be addressed through inclusive dialogue, supported for the East African Community-led facilitation process and called upon the international community to do the same. Deploring any efforts that seek to undermine or exclude the Arusha Agreement by any party, he voiced concern about the current trajectory, which has overturned the 2000 Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement. The mediation process should revert to the principles of that Agreement, he stressed, adding that the Global Ceasefire Agreement flows from the Accords and that the two should be read together. Meanwhile, he urged Burundi to work closely with the East African Community and the African Union towards the voluntary repatriation and dignified return of refugees, and to create an environment conducive to elections, while welcoming Burundi’s decision to finance those elections through the national budget.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation), citing reports from his country’s diplomats in Burundi, described the situation there as calm and trending towards normalization. A significant decrease in attacks by radical groups and the return of refugees reflect an improved security situation, he said, recalling that the constitutional referendum held in May 2018 took place in a calm atmosphere. Emphasizing the domestic nature of the 2020 elections, he said outside meddling would be unacceptable. As for the inter-Burundian dialogue, he cautioned that it would be dangerous to place responsibility on just one side, stressing that corresponding efforts would be welcome so long as they had Bujumbura’s consent. He went on to underline that the situation in Burundi does not represent a threat to international peace and security, adding that it leads his delegation to wonder whether it should remain on the Council’s already overloaded agenda.
DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia), pointing out that progress on the political front should be noticed, urged Burundi to work with the United Nations mechanism on the ground. Recognizing efforts undertaken by the African Union and the East African Community, he encouraged close cooperation between regional organizations and the United Nations. A priority should be to increase humanitarian assistance, he said, regretting to note that the Burundi regional refugee response plan is among the least-funded appeals in the world at a time when more than 100,000 returnees represents a peak. Turning to Burundi’s contributions to regional peace and security, he said that the more than 6,000 Burundian peacekeepers in United Nations and African Union missions will help renew confidence in the country, while its own stability and development will, in turn, contribute to regional peace and stability.
JUERGEN SCHULZ (Germany) expressed concern about Burundi’s political crisis, volatile security situation and subsequent regional tensions, which might endanger regional peace and security. He encouraged regional actors to take a more active role in creating a new impulse for continued negotiations and dialogue, emphasizing that free and fair elections in 2020 are necessary for long-term stabilization and building trust among the population. Also expressing deep concern about the deteriorating human rights situation, including closure of United Nations human rights office in Bujumbura and suspension of some international non-governmental organizations, he said Germany’s strategic focus is on crisis prevention. In that regard, the Council should use the Peacebuilding Commission effectively, he said.
JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom), commending the East African Community’s efforts involving national dialogue in Burundi, he encouraged the bloc and the Government of Burundi to take these actions forward. More broadly, the risks at play should neither be overstated nor understated, given intercommunal tensions. On the elections, he welcomed the registration of political parties and saluted the President’s decision not to run as a candidate. However, continued reports of human rights violations remain deeply concerning, with the Secretary-General’s latest report containing examples of killings and restrictions on freedom of speech. He regretted the closure of OHCHR offices, noting that respect for human rights represents a key part of peacekeeping. The elections represent a critical time for Burundi, but failing to address human rights concerns will have consequences, he said, emphasizing that, because of these factors, Burundi should remain on the Council’s agenda.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru), commending Burundi for its efforts towards free and fair elections, emphasized the equal importance of inclusive dialogue in advancing national reconciliation. Electoral activities must be complemented by measures to boost confidence among all actors in a manner that respects the democratic process and the human rights of all Burundians. Inclusive dialogue is the only viable path towards genuine peace and reconciliation. Highlighting positive developments, including the new national development plan and steps to promote a sustainable economy, he raised concerns about the Government’s decision to cancel OHCHR activities, which did not contribute to fully guaranteeing Burundians’ human rights. The humanitarian situation is another concern, with refugees in surrounding countries awaiting return, he said, pressing the Council to continue to monitor developments in Burundi.
WU HAITAO (China) said the Government of Burundi has taken many steps, including drawing up a road map towards the 2020 elections and working on the return of refugees. Being an important country in the Great Lakes region, Burundi’s efforts to maintain stability should be widely supported. Underscoring Burundi’s right to sovereignty and territorial integrity alongside its leading role in shaping its own future, he said the international community must lend its support to the Government. He also expressed hope that regional organizations will continue to work with the Government to provide assistance in areas of need. Given these and other positive elements, he said Burundi should not remain on the Council’s agenda. Meanwhile, support must be bolstered to help the Government accommodate returnees, he said, calling on international organizations and others to resume cooperation with Burundi as early as possible. As a long-standing supporter of Burundi’s peace process, China stands ready to assist the country in addressing current challenges.
MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium), welcoming the President’s intention not to seek another term, emphasized the need for credible, fair, inclusive and free elections in 2020 based on a road map, agreed by consensus, that would respect the Arusha Agreement. He deplored the closure of the OHCHR local office and voiced concern over the suspension of foreign non-governmental organizations. Incidents along the border between Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have the potential to destabilize the region, he said, adding that the situation of Burundian refugees needs a regional solution. He expressed Belgium’s support for strong leadership from the East African Community and greater involvement by the African Union, and called on the Burundian authorities to demonstrate openness and continue dialogue. The Council must remain seized of the situation in Burundi, given the ramifications for the region.
KAMIL KRZYSZTOF MIELUS (Poland) expressed regret that Burundian authorities are still not ready for political compromise. They demonstrate no will for genuine dialogue, restoring the rule of law and ensuring political freedoms. He called on the Government to restore cooperation with OHCHR and the Human Rights Council. The Arusha Agreement remains the key to peace and stability in Burundi and the wider Great Lakes region, he said, adding that, in the face of deadlock, challenges must be addressed on a sustainable basis to enable satisfactory elections in 2020. Given that context, the situation in Burundi still requires special attention from the Council and the international community.
JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) focused his remarks on the humanitarian situation, emphasizing that millions of Burundians, including children, are suffering from food insecurity. A cholera outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo meanwhile creates a high risk of an epidemic in Burundi. Underscoring the plight of Burundian refugees, he said the human rights situation remains a concern amid reports of intimidation and harassment of opposition members and restrictions on the freedoms of expression, association and movement. The suspension of international non-governmental organizations is also particularly disconcerting. Underscoring the need for significant participation by women and young people, he urged Burundi to create the conditions for free and fair elections that respect the Arusha Agreement through renewed internal dialogue.
BADER ABDULLAH N. M. ALMUNAYEKH (Kuwait) said political tensions that began in 2015 have seen developments move the country towards stability, enhanced by the Government’s announcement of elections and its intention of financing them, and the launch of an inclusive national dialogue. Expressing hope that these plans will be put into action, he anticipated that the 2020 elections will be free, transparent and credible. Commending the African Union and the East African Community’s efforts in this regard, he said these partners are playing an essential role in the national dialogue process. In addition, cooperation among the Government and international and regional organizations plays an important role in maintaining stability. The inter-Burundi dialogue is among the elements required for the return of economic stability, he said, welcoming Burundi’s efforts to ensure fair elections by, among other things, establishing related national mechanisms. Raising concerns about human rights violations, he expressed hope that recent reports will be addressed.
ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea), Council President for February, speaking in his national capacity, commended efforts to support national dialogue ahead of the 2020 elections. Respect for order and the Constitution of each country defines what constitutes a modern State. Calling on all stakeholders to continue to strengthen inter-Burundian dialogue, he emphasized that there is a return to normalcy in Burundi today, after tensions following the 2015 elections. There are now democratic institutions, with current electoral activities occurring in a calm environment, and with Burundi having said it will finance the forthcoming polls, thus demonstrating its commitment to the process. Burundi has taken other positive steps, including preparing for the return of refugees and addressing human rights concerns. As such, the Council should consider removing Burundi from its agenda, he said.
ALBERT SHINGIRO (Burundi), providing an update on developments since November 2018, said there are several Council members that continue to support maintaining his country’s presence on its agenda despite positive trends on the ground. Indeed, the political landscape has remained positive since 2017, with the trajectory of peace, reconciliation and democracy flourishing. National mechanisms have been established ahead of the 2020 elections, with inclusive inter-party dialogue and reform efforts ongoing. The ultimate goal is holding peaceful and transparent elections, which the Burundian people having decided to finance them with domestic funds. Achievements in other areas include the release of more than 2,000 prisoners and robust efforts to conduct constructive, inclusive inter-Burundian dialogue.
On the security front, he said the situation remains calm, stable and completely under control. Moreover, regional conferences have commended Burundi for its stability, election preparations and other achievements, with a recent African Union summit reiterating a call to lift unilateral sanctions, which violate the United Nations Charter. Such measures should end with a view to giving Burundi the opportunity for growth. Burundi has also contributed more than 6,000 troops to peacekeeping missions and has just been elected to the African Union Peace and Security Council. This renewed confidence in Burundi by African Union member States demonstrates his country’s role in maintaining regional and international peace and security.
Raising other issues, he reiterated a call for international organizations and other actors to refrain from obstructing refugees wishing to return to home to Burundi. Meanwhile, the process for national reconciliation continues, with efforts to establish the truth about human rights violations, which is crucial in moving towards a Burundi that is reconciled with its past. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is also addressing victims’ needs. On promoting and protecting human rights, Burundi works towards these noble ends inside and outside its border. However, there is a dangerous trend of some States attempting to transform the Human Rights Council into a political tool.
Reiterating his frequently voiced “slogan”, he called on the Council to withdraw Burundi from its agenda. The political and security situation represents no threat to international peace and security, he said, adding that the cascade of meetings on Burundi could indeed jeopardize gains achieved.