Peaceful, Transparent Elections Crucial for Creating Stable Future in Burundi, Speakers Tell Security Council, Ahead of 2020 Presidential, Legislative Polls

Report
from UN Security Council
Published on 30 Oct 2019 View Original

SC/14004

SECURITY COUNCIL
8652ND MEETING (PM)

Disagreement Voiced over Whether Country Still Merits Place on Council’s Agenda

Free, peaceful and transparent elections in 2020 are key to a stable future in Burundi, the Security Council heard today, as members diverged on whether the country — now emerging from its 2015 political crisis — still merits a place on the organ’s agenda.

Briefing on that topic were the senior United Nations official for Burundi, as well as the head of the Peacebuilding Commission’s configuration for the country. They joined Council members in examining progress by the Government in preparing for presidential, legislative and local elections — all planned for 2020 — as well as steps to stem the recent increase in reported human rights violations and infrastructure damage targeted at certain political parties. However, both reported a generally calm security situation on the ground.

Michel Kafando, Special Envoy of the Secretary‑General, cited a rise in political intolerance and infringements on civil and political rights. Welcoming the Government’s response, he nevertheless noted that the inter‑Burundian dialogue long sought by the international community has still not been implemented. Announcing his plan to step down as Special Envoy, he pledged the United Nations continued support, adding: “While we may not have won the battle for the dialogue in Burundi […] we have undoubtedly contributed to ensuring that those in power in the region have a greater awareness that stability in [the country] is a categorical imperative.”

Jürg Lauber (Switzerland), Chair of the Burundi configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, provided an overview of its engagement with that country, including a recent meeting with Minister for Foreign Affairs Ezéchiel Nibigira. Noting that preparations for the 2020 elections continue, he recalled that Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza has stated on several occasions that he will not stand as a candidate. Reports indicate that several opposition party politicians have returned to Burundi for discussions on their repatriation, and progress continues in line with the newly adopted electoral plan, known as the Kayanza Road Map. Among other things, he emphasized that the safe, voluntary and dignified return of thousands of Burundian refugees from neighbouring States will be crucial.

As Council members took the floor, many called on all stakeholders in Burundi to ensure a conducive climate for the conduct of successful elections and to work to prevent human rights violations. Some also urged the Government to give international observers unfettered access and to allow all parties to campaign without threats of reprisals or violence, while others welcomed the increasing tolerance being shown by Burundian authorities, as evidenced by the return of political exiles and refugees and the release of detainees.

France’s delegate declared: “The 2020 elections will be a critical milestone.” Only their free and fair convening will help Burundi move forward, he stressed, voicing concern over attacks on opposition political leaders and journalists, as well as acts of vandalism targeting opposition party headquarters. Calling on the Government to address those issues, along with other reported rights violations, he said the United Nations should remain seized of the matter and that the Council’s commitment to Burundi remains more crucial than ever.

Naledi Pandor, Minister for International Relations and Cooperation of South Africa and Council President for October, speaking in her national capacity, congratulated the Burundi Government on initiating preparatory processes for the upcoming elections and welcomed the current Head of State’s commitment not to stand as a candidate. She commended the country for its continued stable security situation and the Government’s decision to finance upcoming elections with the national budget. However, she joined other speakers in expressing grave concern about the country’s dire humanitarian situation, with nearly 1.8 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, and urged the Council to do more to alleviate socioeconomic challenges.

Among those delegates voicing scepticism over the Council’s continued involvement in Burundi — especially its electoral process — was the representative of the Russian Federation, who stressed that Burundi is advancing towards stabilization. The authorities continue to prepare for the 2020 elections, having adopted and now abiding by the electoral timetable. Urging the Government to press forward with such measures, he called on all parties to uphold Burundi’s sovereignty and rejected foreign interference in that country’s affairs — especially its elections. The Council’s close attention to Burundi is counterproductive, he said, calling for the country’s removal from the organ’s already busy agenda.

Echoing those points, Burundi’s delegate said that in his country, as elsewhere in the world, elections are an internal affair. Noting that Burundi has not had to rely on any outside financing, he said the Government is increasing its ownership over the election process and promises that it will be free, fair and transparent. With the exception of a handful of crimes that occur in many countries, the situation in Burundi remains peaceful and secure. Emphasizing that his country — whose situation poses no threat to international peace and security — does not warrant a place on the Council’s agenda, he warned that its arbitrary retention is setting a bad precedent for the organ’s future work.

Also speaking were the representatives of the United States, Equatorial Guinea, Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Peru, China, Belgium, Poland, Côte d’Ivoire, Kuwait, United Kingdom and Germany.

The meeting began at 3:42 p.m. and ended at 5:44 p.m.

Briefings

MICHEL KAFANDO, Special Envoy of the Secretary‑General, introduced the latter’s report, “The situation in Burundi” (document S/2019/837), noting that the situation in that country remains tense. The report cites a recent rise in political intolerance and infringements on civil and political rights. Welcoming the Government’s response — which included the establishment of a framework for political dialogue — he also welcomed the life sentence handed down to the perpetrators who murdered members of the Congrès national pour la liberté [National Congress for Freedom] political party on 18 August. Expressing hope that the process leading up to the 2020 elections will be a peaceful and transparent one, he said the security situation across Burundi has generally improved despite occasional reports of human rights violations. On the humanitarian situation, which remains worrisome, he welcomed the return of thousands of refugees to the country with the assurance that their reintegration will occur in a dignified way.

Noting that the inter-Burundian dialogue has still not been fully implemented — due in part to a lack of political will by the parties and an absence of firm commitment from regional States — he recalled that President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda was appointed mediator for that process in August 2019. “Sadly, nothing has changed,” he said. Against that backdrop, he decided to meet with the stakeholders — including the mediator — himself. The latter specifically requested the continued and decisive support of the United Nations. Noting his plans to step down as Special Envoy, he declared: “While we may not have won the battle for the dialogue in Burundi […] we have undoubtedly contributed to ensuring that those in power in the region have a greater awareness that stability in [the country] is a categorical imperative.” Pledging the United Nations continued support, he outlined a range of activities carried out by his office, including recent meetings with representatives of local and regional stakeholders, political actors and international organizations. It also contributed to the convening of a variety of consultative meetings, he said.

JÜRG LAUBER (Switzerland), Chair of the Burundi configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, provided an overview of its engagement with that country during an informal interactive dialogue on 28 August. Discussions in the configuration have reflected a shared commitment to accompany Burundi leading up to its 2020 elections and beyond, he said, noting that the goal is to consolidate peace and promote inclusive socioeconomic development. On 27 September, he met with Ezéchiel Nibigira, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Burundi, during a discussion that focused on next steps for the country’s peacebuilding activities. Noting that the configuration will continue to serve as a dialogue platform for cooperation between Burundi and international partners in support of the country’s national development plan, he underlined the importance of preventing a slowdown in socioeconomic progress and preparing for free, fair and inclusive elections.

Also drawing attention to the complementarity and coherence between the Peacebuilding Commission and other actors — including the Security Council — he described other meetings with Burundian and regional stakeholders. Noting that preparations for the 2020 general elections continue, he recalled that Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza has stated on several occasions that he will not stand as a candidate. The ruling party, Conseil National Pour la Défense de la Démocratie–Forces pour la Défense de la Démocratie [National Council for the Defence of Democracy‑Forces for the Defence of Democracy], is expected to select its presidential candidate in early 2020. Meanwhile, reports indicate that several opposition party politicians have returned to Burundi for discussions on their repatriation and the current electoral process. At the same time, reports of alleged human rights violations and incidents of damage to infrastructure belonging to political parties have raised concerns over the country’s democratic space.

Outlining the country’s preparations for the elections, as laid out in the newly adopted “Kayanza Road Map”, he went on to call for the voluntary return of Burundian refugees from neighbouring States. Outlining the Commission’s support for efforts to reduce socioeconomic vulnerabilities, strengthen resilience and improve disaster response in Burundi, he cited recent cooperation among the country’s partners to implement the Ebola response plan as a positive example. Emphasizing the need to support the meaningful inclusion of women and youth in public life and accelerate initiatives aimed at promoting dialogue and reconciliation, he recommended that the United Nations remain engaged in Burundi with an integrated approach; that the Government and its partners work together to hold peaceful, free, fair and inclusive elections; that Member States increase support to programmes aimed at reducing violence and mitigating tensions; and that they fund the country’s 2019 Joint Refugee Return and Reintegration Plan.

Statements

NALEDI PANDOR, Minister for International Relations and Cooperation of South Africa and Council President for October, speaking in her national capacity, congratulated the Burundi Government on initiating preparatory processes for the upcoming elections and welcomed the current Head of State’s commitment not to stand as a candidate. She commended the country for its continued stable security situation and the Government’s decision to finance upcoming elections with the national budget, as its sovereign responsibility. However, she expressed grave concern at the dire humanitarian situation in the country, where almost 1.8 million people need humanitarian assistance, a large proportion of them suffering from malnutrition. Urging the Security Council and international community to do more to alleviate socioeconomic challenges and the humanitarian situation facing Burundi, she called on its partners to support implementation of the national development plan.

NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) expressed hope that the rule of law and human rights will be upheld in Burundi, and that the country will reap the benefits of economic growth. “The 2020 elections will be a critical milestone,” he said, stressing that only their free and fair convening will help the country move forward. Expressing concern over attacks on opposition political leaders and journalists, as well as acts of vandalism targeting opposition party headquarters, he called for the provision of security for candidates and for citizen observation of the upcoming elections along with transparency in counting ballots. Also voicing concern about recurrent reports of human rights violations, ongoing instances of sexual violence and the closure of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Burundi, he called on the Government to address such matters and implement a national dialogue which, among other things, will help ease tensions during the upcoming elections. The United Nations should remain seized of the matter, he said, adding that the Council’s commitment to Burundi remains more crucial than ever.

KELLY CRAFT (United States) said Burundi’s planned 2020 elections are the key to its future. They must be free and fair, and fully include civil society members, refugees and opposition party members. Encouraging the Government to take tangible steps to those ends, she called on it to allow international observers unfettered access and to allow all parties to campaign without threats of reprisals or violence. Stressing that extrajudicial arrests, beatings and kidnappings are unacceptable, she called on all parties to refrain from violence and urged the Government to respect its international obligations vis‑á‑vis the rights to freedom of expression and assembly. Meanwhile, the Governments of Burundi and the United Republic of Tanzania should work closely with Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to repatriate Burundian refugees in a safe, voluntary and dignified manner. For its part, the United States contributes some $50 million in bilateral aid to Burundi each year in areas such as health and economic growth, she said.

DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) expressed surprise about the hasty drafting of the Secretary‑General’s report, urging the Secretariat to strictly abide by the Council’s resolutions. Since late August, the security situation in Burundi has not fundamentally worsened, remaining mostly calm as the country advances towards stabilization. Meanwhile, the return of refugees is progressing and Burundi’s authorities continue to prepare for the 2020 elections, having adopted and now abiding by the electoral timetable. Urging the Government to press forward with such measures, he said it would be more appropriate for the Secretary‑General’s report to refrain from describing individual instances of alleged rights violations, and rather to describe statistics and trends. Reiterating his call for the upholding of Burundi’s sovereignty, he rejected foreign interference in the country’s affairs – especially its elections — and instead welcomed efforts by the configuration in support of national development priorities. Describing the Council’s ongoing close attention to Burundi as counterproductive, he declared that the country should be removed from the organ’s already busy agenda.

JOB OBIANG ESONO MBENGONO (Equatorial Guinea), expressing appreciation for the work of the facilitator for Burundi, welcomed the tolerance shown in the country by the return of political exiles and refugees and the release of detainees. In that regard, he highlighted what he saw as an increase of political will and a return to political normalcy in the neighbouring country. He also welcomed the recommendations for strengthening relations with the United Nations and building peace through preventive diplomacy. Welcoming also the Government’s support for the planned elections, he encouraged it to foster an inclusive dialogue towards adequate mechanisms for the conducting of the polls. He called on the international community to continue to support the country in its efforts, leading to removal of Burundi from the agenda of the Council. The sovereignty of the country must be respected, he stressed.

JOSÉ MANUEL TRULLOLS YABRA (Dominican Republic) called on all stakeholders in Burundi to ensure a conducive climate for the conduct of successful elections and to work to prevent human rights violations. He called on the Government, in addition, to ensure freedom of expression for all citizens, as well as a framework of cooperation with the human rights mechanisms of the United Nations. Noting the continued poor state of the economy, he called for attention on the part of all stakeholders to achieving the national development plan. He applauded the country for its preparations for mitigating Ebola and other health threats. At the same time, he stressed that all returns must be voluntary and urged members of the tripartite commission to promote initiatives that protect the rights of refugees and displaced persons. All assistance activities must respect the principles of transparent cooperation and uphold the Arusha Agreement. Inclusive dialogue, he reiterated, is key.

DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia) said that long‑lasting peace in Burundi can only be attained through mutual respect between the parties, inclusive dialogue and compromise. He supported the Secretary‑General’s recommendations on consultation between the parties for that purpose and joined in the call for the creation of conditions conducive for elections. In addition, he called for the increase of humanitarian aid to the country. Affirming the importance of the Peacebuilding Commission’s role on Burundi, he welcomed its efforts to encourage the country’s people to work together with the United Nations and other partners in preparing for elections, as well as its call for increased aid for projects and initiatives that aim at reducing tensions.

PAUL DUCLOS (Peru), welcoming the progress made in preparing for elections in Burundi, expressed hope that they lead to polls that consolidate democracy under the Arusha Agreement, conducted in a climate of tolerance and freedom of expression. He welcomed the role of the African Union and other partners in that regard. He also called on the country to engage with human rights mechanisms, and called for a regional approach to mitigating malaria, cholera and the threat of an Ebola outbreak. As development progress is important for peace, he called on donors and financial institutions to increase their assistance to the country. He finally underlined the important role of the Peacebuilding Commission for the country, particularly in ensuring the participation of women and youth in political processes.

WU HAITAO (China) said the overall situation in Burundi remains stable and progress has been made in preparing for the 2020 election as well as repatriating refugees. Welcoming such developments, he said the country’s peace, stability and development cannot be separated from the international community’s support. Calling for full respect for the leadership of Burundi’s Government and people, especially with regard to the upcoming elections, he said they have shown the ability to handle those affairs on their own. He expressed hope that international partners will honour their commitments to Burundi in a timely manner, including by assisting with refugee repatriation and resuming economic cooperation and development assistance to the country as soon as possible. Emphasizing that Burundi no longer poses a threat to international peace and security, he urged the Council to remove the country from its agenda in order to focus more closely on other matters. For its part, China provides support in such areas as agriculture education and infrastructure construction, he said.

MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium) welcomed recent gestures of openness by Burundi’s authorities, as well as measures aimed at stemming violence, and support being provided to the country’s upcoming elections by regional partners. Calling on the Government to ensure that the elections are free, peaceful and transparent, he encouraged the entire Burundian populace to participate in that process. He expressed concern over instances of violence that continue to mar the pre‑electoral period from time to time. That period must not be marked by hate speech, and the rights of the media cannot be constrained. Turning to the human rights situation, he voiced alarm about a reported uptick in abductions and violence, as well as arbitrary arrests targeting members of Congrès national pour la liberté. The Council should acknowledge that the path towards the upcoming elections “is still long,” he said, adding that the United Nations still has an active role of play.

KAROLINA DOROTA JANIAK (Poland), pointing to recent positive steps in the right direction in Burundi, joined others in expressing concern over the instances of violence described by other speakers. It is crucial to address doubts expressed by some media outlets regarding the newly adopted media code of conduct, she said, encouraging all of the country’s people to take part in the upcoming elections. “Burundian society is still exposed to serious challenges,” she said, noting that it is the Government’s obligation to ensure freedom of expression and assembly. The authorities should also restore contact with OHCHR and engage closely with regional partners, including the African Union and the East African Community, she said.

TIEMOKO MORIKO (Côte d’Ivoire) praised the overall stable environment in Burundi, as well as progress being made in preparations for elections. Stressing that only a safe political space will result in credible polls, he called for work towards revitalizing the national dialogue. In addition, the plight of refugees must be addressed through support for the Tripartite Agreement. He also acknowledged the contributions of the Special Envoy to the progress in Burundi that has been achieved so far.

BASHAR A. A. A. E. ALDUWAISAN (Kuwait), calling attention to the improvement in Burundi’s political environment, expressed hope that the positive momentum will continue through the holding of elections, which must be free, fair and inclusive and encompass the participation of civil society and women in particular. He welcomed the Government’s support for the elections and the assurance that the President would not run again. He also said he looked forward to cooperation with regional organizations in the effort to make further progress, underlining that as the security situation continues to improve, the Government can bring all parties to the table. In addition, he called for the end of violence and abductions and for holding to account all perpetrators of human rights violations. Scaled‑up efforts are needed to ensure the reintegration of returning refugees. Finally, he stressed the importance of support for Burundi’s nation development plan.

DAVID CLAY (United Kingdom), paying tribute to the Office of the Special Envoy, emphasized the importance of regular written reports on the situation in Burundi. He called on all stakeholders to ensure safe and credible elections, which are vital for the stability of the country. Dialogue is also critical to develop a road map to resolution of the political crisis. Violations of human rights must stop and freedom of the press must be guaranteed. In addition, the rights of returning refugees must be respected and their needs addressed. Despite positive developments, the situation in Burundi still represents a threat to international peace and security. It must therefore remain on the Council’s agenda, he said.

MATHIAS LICHARZ (Germany), commending the Special Envoy’s work, noted differences between previous speakers in their view of the security situation in Burundi and the violence and human rights violations there. He cited specific attacks that illustrated how tensions are still high in the country and are threatening peace and stability. It is for that reason he supports keeping Burundi on the Council’s agenda, he said. Calling on the Burundian authorities to ensure free and fair elections, he urged that there be inclusive dialogue to work out disagreements. He also urged that the human rights and humanitarian needs of returning refugees be addressed. In that regard, respect for the Tripartite Agreement was crucial. He also noted his full support for the efforts of the Peacebuilding Commission to address the socioeconomic factors that affect stability in the country.

ALBERT SHINGIRO (Burundi), thanking the outgoing Special Envoy for his work, said he leaves behind a country that is calm, stable and definitively reconciled. “He has accomplished his mission,” he said, expressing concern that some delegations in their interventions today used language that has not evolved alongside progress in his country. The political situation is now dominated by preparations for the 2020 elections, with a timetable in place, the Kayanza Road Map adopted and the independent electoral commission operational. Noting that Burundi has not had to rely on any outside financing, he said the country is increasing its ownership over the process and promises that it will be free, fair and transparent. In Burundi, as elsewhere in the world, elections are an internal affair. Any outside assistance must be invited and should not attempt to interfere in their results.

He recalled that, during the recently concluded Non‑Aligned Movement Summit in Azerbaijan, 120 member States called for Burundi to hold free, transparent and inclusive elections and congratulated the Government for its work to that end. With the exception of a handful of crimes that occur in many countries, the situation in Burundi remains peaceful and secure. Describing poverty as the top challenge facing his country, he called for the international community’s support in mobilizing resources in that arena. On human rights, he said the Government is implementing most of the universal periodic review’s recommendations and regularly brings criminal perpetrators to justice. “Now is the time to rebuild trust” and avoid backsliding, he said, expressing Burundi’s commitment to engage with the wider region and with the United Nations various development instruments. Emphasizing that his country — whose situation poses no threat to international peace and security — does not merit a place on the Council’s agenda, he warned that its arbitrary retention is setting a bad precedent for the organ’s future work.

For information media. Not an official record.