Continuing Support for Burundi Political Process Only Way Forward, Special Envoy Tells Security Council

'Counterproductive' Sanctions Harmful to Vulnerable, Undermine Efforts of East African Community, Says Permanent Representative

Despite slow progress towards inclusive dialogue in Burundi, the United Nations must continue its support for the political process there as the only way forward, the Secretary General's Special Envoy to the East African country told the Security Council today.

The United Nations has the obligation, whatever difficulties persist, to continue its good offices mission, alongside regional actors, to allow Burundi to emerge from crisis, Special Envoy Michel Kafando emphasized, presenting the quarterly briefing required under resolution 2303 (2016). The Council adopted that text due to rising tensions following President Pierre Nkurunziza's announcement in April 2015 that he would run for a third term, outside constitutional limits.

Mr. Kafando said that in supporting regional efforts to advance negotiations on the conduct of an inclusive intra Burundian dialogue, he had been meeting with national authorities, opposition figures both within the country and exiled in Brussels, as well as regional actors, notably the mediator, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni of Uganda. The mediator, as well as the dialogue facilitator and the Government of Burundi, had decided to convene a dialogue session between Government representatives and all other parties, including the opposition in exile, beginning on 27 November. Burundi's ombudsman to the dialogue maintained that proposed amendments to the constitution, including a provision for seven year presidential terms, were all in alignment with the Arusha Accords that ended Burundi's civil war of the 1990s, he pointed out.

He went on to state that the security situation in Burundi remained calm except for demonstrations of outrage against the International Criminal Court's decision to open investigations into crimes against humanity committed in the country since 2015. On the other hand, demonstrators had denounced reports of arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, torture, forced disappearance, degrading treatment, restrictions on freedom of association, intimidation and hate speech.

The Government, meanwhile, was focused on holding the next elections, even though the question of inclusive dialogue had not found a just solution as to the next steps in that process, he said. Relations between the Government and the United Nations were back on track, although issues remained with respect to full cooperation with the Human Rights Council and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), he said, noting that negotiations continued with those agencies and with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

Also briefing the Council was Jurg Lauber (Switzerland), Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission's Burundi configuration, who said that since his last briefing on 26 July, he had held a number of meetings, including with Burundi's Minister for External Relations and International Cooperation. The United Nations Resident Coordinator in Burundi had participated in a meeting of the configuration on 8 November, where he had characterized the situation in Burundi as one of chronic vulnerability.

Representatives from UNHCR and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs had indicated that the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance could reach 6 million people, more than half Burundi's population, while the response plan was only 50 per cent financed, he said, adding that the regional refugee response plan was 19 per cent funded. Some countries had expressed concern about the potential impact of amending the constitution, although some had pointed out Burundi's sovereign right to do so.

He reported that in discussions, national and international actors had highlighted Burundi's food security, health, education and energy challenges, while international partners were increasingly focusing on strengthening the people's resilience and immediate humanitarian needs. The European Union had pledged a support programme for that purpose. The Governments of Burundi, the United Republic of Tanzania as well as UNHCR had agreed to assist the voluntary repatriation of 12,900 people, he continued, underlining that the voluntary character of such repatriations was essential.

There was a strong need to improve the socioeconomic and human rights situation in Burundi in order to ensure the sustainability of returns and reintegration, he continued. National, regional and international actors should continue to provide full support for the East African mediation effort, he said, adding that some kind of road map was required to define the conditions necessary for the conduct of free, fair, peaceful and democratic elections. The socioeconomic conversation must be complemented by discussions about obstacles to cooperation and national reconciliation.

Following the briefings, Sacha Sergio Llorentty Soliz (Bolivia) expressed support for the intra Burundi dialogue, encouraging the parties to support mediation efforts and follow the proposed road map for elections in 2020. Stressing the need to respect Burundi's sovereignty and territorial integrity, he called upon countries that had imposed sanctions on that country to lift them, arguing that such measures hurt vulnerable groups as well as development, and constituted a violation of international law.

Elbio Oscar Rosselli Frieri (Uruguay), expressing concern at the political, humanitarian and human rights situation, urged all actors to refrain from any actions that could jeopardize security and derail the dialogue process. Condemning all violations of human rights, he expressed regret that the Government had suspended cooperation with UNHCR, urging a new agreement. Full respect for human rights was the sine qua non of inclusive dialogue and of peaceful and democratic elections, he stressed.

Albert Shingiro (Burundi) maintained that the dialogue was progressing smoothly, recounting meetings with the mediator and the facilitator, as well as the Special Envoy's meetings with national authorities. Emphasizing that the people of Burundi must lead in determining their country's direction, he said outside interventions should be limited to supporting their efforts. In light of ongoing national reconciliation efforts, the sanctions imposed on Burundi were counterproductive and only exacerbated the situation of vulnerable groups, while undermining the East African Community's efforts.

Free and peaceful elections were crucial for consolidating democracy, he stressed, citing the violent transitions of the past. Democratic culture had been strengthening since 2005, with civil society and all political parties being requested to contribute to peaceful progress through national reconciliation and unity, he said, stressing that the current constitutional amendment process was necessary and consistent with the goals of the Arusha Agreement, particularly in relation to ethnic and political balance.

The overall security situation was good, from the most remote hills to the centre of Bujumbura, he continued, noting that the subregion recognized that and planned to hold major conferences in the capital. With regard to human rights, he said progress in that area must be based on dialogue and on mechanisms recognized by all stakeholders. It could not be politicized to promote certain agendas, and double standards could not be tolerated. National reconciliation mechanisms were working to promote unity and equality, and to end the turmoil that had plagued Burundi, he said. Refugees were being encouraged to return, and more than 175,000 had already done so voluntarily, underlining, however, that refugees who remained abroad must not be militarized.

Pledging his country's commitment to strengthen cooperation with the United Nations, he said negotiations in that regard were progressing. Emphasizing that positive developments should not be ignored, he called for equitable treatment by the Council based on the merit and on the principles of the United Nations Charter. Since Burundi was no longer a threat to international peace and security, the Council should take the country off its agenda, he added.

The meeting began at 11:03 a.m. and ended at 11:54 a.m.

Source: United Nations