Secretary-General, Other Speakers in Security Council Voice Deep Concern over Risk of Burundi Relapsing into Civil War

Report
from UN Security Council
Published on 18 Mar 2016 View Original

SC/12291

Security Council
Meetings Coverage

Speakers in the Security Council, including high-level United Nations officials, expressed deep concern today that the situation in Burundi risked relapsing into civil war, and called upon the country’s Government to address the continuing violence and the impunity that fuelled it.

Briefing the Council this afternoon, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the Government of Burundi had assured him that the situation was gradually stabilizing. However, civil society organizations and opposition parties had presented a different picture, he said, citing allegations of continuing violence and human rights violations, including those targeting women and children. He underscored the need for utmost attention to ensure that those responsible were held accountable.

Also concerning were the humanitarian consequences of political unrest, violence and impunity for the population, he continued. Since the beginning of the crisis, more than a quarter of a million people had fled Burundi and sought refuge in neighbouring countries. Despite the assurances provided by Burundian officials, the current number of refugees indicated the distress felt by Burundians over the continuing violence and intimidation. “There is no alternative to a political settlement of the Burundian crisis,” he said, stressing that the international community must shift its approach from a focus on crisis response to a culture of early action and prevention. A political settlement was possible only if regional and international actors jointly focused their attention and resources to support a nationally-owned inclusive political process, he concluded.

Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the provisional release of 47 detainees indicated that some effort was being made to re-establish the rule of law. Despite limited progress, however, serious human rights violations continued, he said, stressing that his Office, which had a presence in several areas of Burundi, had detected no indication of any decline in reports of arbitrary arrests and detention. In fact, since the beginning of January, there had been increased reports of torture and ill-treatment, he noted.

“Continued human rights violations, and impunity for perpetrators, mean that many of Burundi’s people live in terror,” he continued, stressing the urgent need for significant steps towards real reconciliation and inclusive national dialogue. Emphasizing that half-measures would not heal the wounds that Burundi’s people had suffered, he underscored the need to end disappearances, arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings and torture. Such steps were vital to restoring public confidence and placing Burundi back on the path towards development, security and respect for human rights, he said.

Jürg Lauber (Switzerland), Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission’s Burundi Configuration, briefed the Council on the consultations he had held in Bujumbura, Kigali and Addis Ababa, where he had pursued a policy dialogue with the Burundi Government and other national and international stakeholders. He urged maximum coherence among the United Nations, African Union and the East African Community, an enhanced international presence to reduce the violence, and attention to the possible regional implications and socioeconomic dimensions of the crisis.

Alain Aimé Nyamitwe, Burundi’s Minister for External Relations and International Cooperation, declared: “It is dialogue that we want and it must be inclusive.” Decrying contradictions carried in recent reports, he went on to emphasize that contrary to information that had reached the foreign press, Burundi was not guilty. However, those who had attempted to bring down State institutions could not hope to achieve through dialogue what they had failed to achieve by attempting a coup d’état. Reiterating his country’s willingness to solve current political problem through inclusive dialogue, he stressed that excellent work was being done throughout the country, and all Burundians were invited to take part.

He then went on to call attention to acts of aggression on the part of Rwanda, a neighbour that shared common features and languages. Despite the request for permission to investigate recruitments and attacks against Burundi, there had been no response, he noted. Warning the Council to act before it was too late, he called upon members to remind Rwanda of its obligations with regard to refugees and good-neighbourliness.

The representative of the United Republic of Tanzania, speaking on behalf of the East African Community, reiterated the subregional bloc’s readiness to play its part, given that the political situation in Burundi could potentially degenerate further and trigger far-reaching humanitarian consequences. “We expect all stakeholders to be forthcoming and to commit themselves to a speedy, genuine and successful outcome,” he said, calling for unity of purpose and action. However, the subregion would not be hesitant to seek and call for stern measures against those bent on acting as spoilers, he stressed.

The meeting began at 3:15 p.m. and end at 4:18 p.m.

Briefings

BAN KI-MOON, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that after a devastating civil war, the signing of the Arusha Agreement in August 2000 had put Burundi on the path of peace and reconciliation. The effort that had ended the civil war had hinged on the willingness of former battlefield enemies to sit at the same table and become partners in Burundi’s common future. He recalled that during his recent visit, he had urged all Burundian stakeholders to remember that lesson of their past and to show genuine commitment to an inclusive political dialogue as the only means to a peaceful resolution of the crisis. Following their meeting, to advance confidence-building, President Pierre Nkurunziza had agreed to release up to 2,000 detainees, he said.

Expressing the international community’s readiness to support Burundi in advancing a credible and inclusive dialogue process, he emphasized that Burundi’s political leaders must summon the necessary courage and confidence to launch a credible political process. While the Government had sought to give assurances that the situation was gradually stabilizing, civil society organizations and opposition parties had presented a different picture. Describing allegations of continuing violence and human rights violations, including those targeting women and children as unacceptable, he said the utmost attention was required to ensure that those responsible were held accountable for their actions.

Turning to the humanitarian consequences of political unrest, violence and impunity for the population, he pointed out that harvests in crisis-affected areas had fallen short, and nearly 700,000 people were severely food-insecure. Furthermore, since the beginning of the crisis, more than a quarter of a million Burundians had fled and sought refuge in neighbouring countries. Despite the assurances provided by Burundian officials, the current number of refugees was indicative of the distress felt by Burundians over the continuing violence and intimidation, he noted.

He went on to state that, pursuant to resolution 2248 (2015), his Special Adviser, Jamal Benomar, had deployed a team to Burundi. In addition, the United Nations would continue to work with the Government of Burundi to ensure that more concrete steps were taken to improve the human rights situation. Pointing out that all stakeholders were willing to engage in a genuine and inclusive political dialogue, he declared: “There is no alternative to a political settlement of the Burundian crisis.” The international community must shift its approach from a focus on crisis response to a culture of early action and prevention. In fact, a settlement would only be possible if regional and international actors jointly focused their energy, attention and resources and worked together without delay to support a nationally-owned, inclusive political process, he concluded.

ZEID RA’AD AL HUSSEIN, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that despite some positive signals by the Government in recent weeks, there had not yet been any strong and consequential follow-up action to engage real reconciliation. However, following a court hearing of their case, 47 detainees had recently been provisionally freed, an indication that some effort was being made to re-establish the rule of law. Furthermore, the Government had cooperated with the team of independent experts mandated by the Human Rights Council during its first visit to Burundi in early March. The experts had met with military, police and intelligence officials, in addition to victims and some civil society representatives, he said. The secretariat of the independent expert team was due to arrive in April for a four-month deployment, but the Government's approval was still pending.

He went on to note that despite indications of limited progress in some areas, serious human rights violations continued, adding that his Office — with a presence in Bujumbura, Gitega, Makamba and Ngozi — had detected no indication of any decline in reports of arbitrary arrests and detentions. Furthermore, since the beginning of January, there had been increased reports of torture and ill-treatment. Despite recent initial steps to allow the operation of a few independent media outlets, critical or independent voices remained severely restricted, he said. In addition, both political opponents and civil society organizations continued to be subjected to intimidation and arrests. While taking note of the recently released report of the Commission of Inquiry to investigate allegations, he called for further and more credible investigations. “Continued human rights violations and impunity for perpetrators mean that many of Burundi's people live in terror,” he continued. There was an urgent need for significant steps towards real reconciliation and inclusive national dialogue. Underlining that half-measures would not heal the wounds that Burundi’s people had suffered, he called for an end to disappearances, arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings and torture. Such steps were vital to restoring public confidence and placing Burundi back on the path towards development, security and respect for human rights, he said.

JÜRG LAUBER (Switzerland), Chair of the Burundi Configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, recalled that he had held consultations in Bujumbura, Kigali and Addis Ababa from 15 to 20 February, pursuing policy dialogue with the Government of Burundi and other national and international stakeholders to complement ongoing peacebuilding efforts by the United Nations, African Union and the East African Community. He said that after his visit, Burundi had announced a series of decisions, including the release of prisoners, the reopening of two radio stations and the revocation of arrest warrants against 15 opposition members. Diverging views on the specifics of an inclusive dialogue persisted, and there was considerable risk that the economic downturn would become another driver of the crisis. He urged maximum coherence among the United Nations, African Union and the East African Community, an enhanced international presence to reduce the violence, and attention to the possible regional implications and socioeconomic dimensions of the crisis.

Statements

TUVAKO NATHANIEL MANONGI (United Republic of Tanzania), speaking on behalf of the East African Community (EAC), commended the Secretary-General’s efforts and asked that they be accompanied by support for Burundi’s socioeconomic needs, strengthening of its governance institutions and efforts to sustain a credible and inclusive dialogue. Left unchecked, the political situation could potentially degenerate further and trigger far-reaching humanitarian implications, he warned, adding that the East African Community was ready to play its part.

Regarding the appointment of Benjamin Mkapa as a facilitator to support the East African Community’s mediator for the Burundi Peace Process, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni of Uganda, he said the former President of the United Republic of Tanzania was currently on a preliminary visit in the subregion to ensure a common understanding of his new mandate. “We expect all stakeholders to be forthcoming and to commit themselves to a speedy, genuine and successful outcome.”

He continued: “The subregion will not be hesitant to seek and call for the imposition of stern measures on those bent on acting as spoilers to this undertaking.” Calling for unity of purpose and action as the mediation process moved forward, he said the journey was one of great hope and expectations for the legitimate aspirations of the people of Burundi, the East African Community, the African Union and the United Nations.

ALAIN AIMÉ NYAMITWE, Minister for External Relations and International Cooperation of Burundi, described the current situation in his country, saying recent reports carried many contradictions. The political situation could only be solved through inclusive dialogue, and Burundi’s President had already pledged his willingness to do so. “It is dialogue that we want and it must be inclusive,” he said, emphasizing that those who had attempted to bring down State institutions could not hope to achieve through dialogue what they had failed to achieve in the attempted coup d’état. Excellent work was being done throughout the country, and all Burundians were invited to take part in the dialogue, he added.

With regard to the truth and reconciliation commission, he said 11 officers had been appointed and all groups would be included, as noted in the Arusha Agreement, to ensure that what had happened in the past must not be repeated in the future. Currently, discussions were being held on how to implement the most recent Security Council resolution. While overall security was good, there were some challenges, he said, noting that segments of the opposition had been using grenades against citizens. Contrary to information that had reached the foreign press, Burundi was not guilty of those reported crimes, he stressed. “The image being put out by the media is not true at all.”

He went on to state that several young people recruited by criminal groups had already surrendered to police and the movement to renounce violence continued. Their cases had been passed on to the national Human Rights Commission, including reports of groups that had killed and buried Burundian citizens in common graves. Throwing grenades into crowds was terrorism and should be condemned as such, he said, adding that due to the population’s cooperation with the police and the Administration, weapons had been seized from citizens and further disarmament efforts were needed.

More broadly, he said there was an existential threat to Burundi, characterized by acts of aggression by Rwanda, a neighbour that shared common features and languages. Reports showing that those actions were indeed persisting included testimonials by children recruited by that country, he said, adding that a verification mission had requested permission to investigate, but had unfortunately not yet received a response. “The time to act is now, as tomorrow would be too late,” he stressed, appealing for the Council to remind Rwanda of its obligations with regard to refugees and good-neighbourliness. Recruitment and attacks against Burundi must stop.

Turning back to the situation on the ground, he said press freedoms was respected, and that radio and television stations shut down in the past would be opening soon, as would a new State-approved station. As for the socioeconomic situation, Burundi required assistance, and partners should consider the country’s needs and continue funding. Concerning cooperation with the United Nations, he said the country was offering its full cooperation to the Organization’s country team and to the Peacebuilding Commission’s Burundi Configuration.

He went on to underscore that his country “unequivocally” preferred intra-Burundian political dialogue over an armed presence within its borders. Reports depicting Burundi as being “on the edge of a cliff” had led some organizations to act, including a decision to deploy 5,000 African Union troops, he said, emphasizing that such decisions were not based on the situation on the ground. “Burundi is not on the brink of genocide,” he stressed, inviting visits from representatives of Council members and Member States from the subregion wishing to know the truth. “In Burundi, Hutus and Tutsis, together, aspire to peace,” he said.

For information media. Not an official record.