Report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Burundi (S/2018/89)

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I. Introduction

  1. The present report is submitted pursuant to resolution 2303 (2016), in which the Security Council requested me to report to it on the situation in Burundi every three months, including on any public incidents of incitement to hatred and violence.
    Further to his appointment on 5 May 2017 and his subsequent visits to Burundi and the region, my Special Envoy briefed the Council on 26 July and 20 November 2017 to provide his assessment of the situation in that country and of the outcome of his meetings with government officials, political party leaders and civil society representatives, as well as with the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, and the former President of the United Republic of Tanzania, Benjamin Mkapa, the mediator and the facilitator, respectively, of the East African Community-led dialogue process.

  2. The present report covers the period since the briefing by my Special Envoy of 20 November 2017 and provides details on the latest political developments in Burundi, regional efforts to convene an inclusive dialogue and the activities of my Special Envoy and the United Nations system in that country.

II. Major developments

A. Political developments

  1. More than two and a half years after the beginning of the latest crisis in Burundi, the political situation remains tense. The Government continues to seek constitutional amendments, exacerbating tensions with the opposition. Meanwhile, stymied by persistent mistrust between the Government and the opposition, regional efforts to bring together the parties to the conflict have been unsuccessful thus far. Rather than seeking common ground, the stakeholders continue to wrangle over the dialogue process itself.

Developments within Burundi

  1. The Government of Burundi has continued on its course to revise the Constitution. On 24 November 2017, the Government adopted recommendations of the National Commission for the Inter-Burundi Dialogue. Expected to be put to referendum in May 2018, the proposed revisions include: (a) extending the presidential term to seven years; (b) providing a five-year period for a possible review of the ethnic quota of 60 per cent Hutu to 40 per cent Tutsi in the executive branch, the Parliament and the judicial branch; (c) creating the post of Prime Minister and removing the post of Second Vice-President; and (d) replacing the two-thirds majority necessary to pass basic bills in Parliament with a simple majority. Many stakeholders and partners of Burundi have raised concerns that the proposed revisions could reverse some of the gains made as a result of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement for Burundi. Providing an opportunity to abolish the ethnic quota enshrined in the accord is of particular concern.

  2. In Bugendana, in the province of Gitega, on 12 December, the President of Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza, launched a campaign in favour of the revisions. Joined by government officials, leaders of registered political parties associated with the ruling party, Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie-Forces pour la défense de la démocratie (CNDD-FDD), diplomatic representatives and a crowd numbering in the thousands, the President applauded the amendments for providing Burundi with a modern Constitution and warned those seeking to oppose the changes, vocally or actively, of crossing a red line. In response, leading opposition figure Agathon Rwasa of the coalition Amizero y’Abarundi, who is also the First Vice-President of the National Assembly, boycotted the ceremony and denounced it as a violation of the law. The Vice-President of the opposition party Sahwanya-Front pour la démocratie du Burundi (Sahwanya-FRODEBU), Léonce Ngendakumana, described the campaign as a development that could further exacerbate the sociopolitical climate in Burundi.

  3. On 5 November, President Nkurunziza extended by six months the mandate of the Independent National Electoral Commission, a decision that was contested by the opposition. On 15 December, the President of the Commission met with political party leaders, civil society organizations and religious representatives to request their participation in the provincial and communal electoral commissions.

  4. Meanwhile, on 11 December, the Minister for the Interior and the Minister for Finance signed a joint ordinance outlining a system of payment of voluntary contributions from the public to a Government-run fund for the 2020 elections. The fund was launched in June 2017 by President Nkurunziza, who contributed F Bu 5 million, or $2,850, and called upon the population to join him in what he considered to be fulfilling one’s patriotic duty. Lauded as symbolic of the financial autonomy of Burundi vis-à-vis donor nations, the fund has been described by President Nkurunziza as the recovery of national political independence in unity.

Several ministers, high-profile government officials and civil society organizations have publicly contributed to the fund. Employees, students and unemployed persons have been requested to pay a set amount, ranging from the equivalent of 50 cents to one month’s salary per year, beginning in January 2018. Contributions from civil servants are to be withdrawn automatically from their salaries. Those who are unable to pay must provide the reason in writing.

  1. The chairs of the civil society organization Parole et action pour le réveil des consciences et l’évolution des mentalités, Faustin Ndikumana and Gabriel Rufyiri, and the anti-corruption watchdog group Observatoire de lutte contre la corruption et les malversations économiques denounced the campaign as illegal. Mr. Rufyiri went further, describing the system as the organized daylight robbery of the world’s poorest people. The opposition umbrella group Conseil national pour le respect de l’Accord d’Arusha pour la paix et la réconciliation au Burundi et la restauration de l’état de droit (CNARED) and Sahwanya-FRODEBU also denounced the campaign.

Inter-Burundian dialogue led by the East African Community

  1. The East African Community-led inter-Burundian dialogue did not make significant progress. During a fourth dialogue session, held in Arusha, United Republic of Tanzania, from 27 November to 8 December, the parties failed to engage in a genuine and direct dialogue to reach an agreement or issue a statement, notwithstanding efforts made by the facilitator. Instead, the facilitator compiled a summary of convergent and divergent points to present to the mediator.

  2. On 7 November, prior to the dialogue session, the Permanent Representative of Uganda to the United Nations visited President Nkurunziza on behalf of President Museveni to discuss efforts to move the political process forward. On 20 October, the facilitator also met with the Secretary-General of CNDD-FDD as part of consultations held before the dialogue session. Meanwhile, the Minister for Interior and Civic Education convened a meeting of the Political Party Forum on 21 November, comprising leaders and representatives of registered political parties, in preparation for the session. During that meeting, the Secretary-General of CNDD-FDD appealed to the participants to lobby the facilitator in order to prohibit civil society representatives from taking part in the meeting, arguing that discussions shou ld be held between politicians only.

  3. Nonetheless, some 32 registered political parties and identified civil society organizations, along with members of the media, women, young persons and religious groups, with the exception of the Catholic Church, attended the session. The Government was represented by the Assistant to the Interior Minister and CNDDFDD by senior members of the party. The Ombudsman and Domitien Ndayizeye and Sylvestre Ntibatunganya, two former Presidents, were also present. Leaders o f Burundi-based opposition groups, including Agathon Rwasa and Evariste Ngayimpenda of Amizero y’Abarundi and Léonce Ngendakumana of SahwanyaFRODEBU also attended. CNARED was not invited as a bloc and, as a result, its members declined to attend. In addition, 34 individuals on the Government’s arrest warrant list were not invited. In a statement and letter to the mediator of 18 November, CNARED dismissed the session as a ploy to support President Nkurunziza in his efforts to bury the Arusha Agreement and the Constitution. Leaders of the “Halte au troisième mandat” (“Stop the third term”) campaign also refused to attend, arguing that the process lacked inclusivity and that security was not guaranteed for participating civil society representatives. The leaders also criticized the leadership of the East African Community for not matching their rhetoric to their values, arguing that a party to the conflict had successfully diverted the objective of the process to its advantage, rendering the dialogue meaningless.

  4. On 8 December, the session was concluded with a summary of 19 points of convergence, including: (a) the sovereignty of Burundi and the political and social rights of all Burundians; (b) the commitment to the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement and the Constitution as the foundation for sustainable peace, security and stability; (c) the political nature of the crisis and the need for a political solution; and (d) the need to create a secure environment for the return and reintegration of refuge es and exiled political actors, as well as for the resettlement of internally displaced persons, with the support of other stakeholders and the international community.

  5. The facilitator also summarized 11 points of divergence, issues on which participants were unable to agree, as follows: (a) the depoliticization of the security organs; (b) basic freedoms for individuals and legally organized groups, such as freedom of association, assembly, speech and movement; (c) the release of political prisoners; (d) constitutional amendments; (e) the move from a two-thirds majority to a simple majority in the Parliament; (f) the disarming of civilians and groups;

(g) personal security and the protection of property belonging to returning exiled political actors; (h) security sector reforms; (i) engagement with armed groups ready to renounce violence and pursue a peaceful settlement; (j) the opening up of the political space; and (k) the lifting of arrest warrants and the offer of amnesty to political detainees.

  1. The facilitator pledged to meet with the mediator in order to brief him on the session and seek his views on the way forward, with a view to planning an additional session in the coming months. The Government, however, continued to insist that the process be moved to Burundi, arguing that there was no crisis in that country. On 11 December, the Spokesperson for the Government issued a statement asserting that the meeting had been the last to be held outside the country. In the statement, the Spokesperson called upon refugees and exiled Burundians who were not facing prosecution to return home and contribute to the organization of the 2020 elections.
    As for those for whom an arrest warrant had been issued, the Government continued to call upon them to return in order to face justice.

  2. Conversely, political opposition leaders maintained that the security situation in Burundi was poor, human rights abuses continued and a genuine and inclusive dialogue would be needed to provide a sustainable solution to the crisis, while also stressing the dire socioeconomic and humanitarian situation in the country. On 8 December, CNARED issued a communiqué in which it urged regional leaders, namely President Museveni and the President of the United Republic of Tanzania,
    John Magufuli, to exert political, diplomatic and economic pressure, including a possible embargo, on President Nkurunziza in order to compel him to join the dialogue. It called upon the African Union, the East African Community and the United Nations to recognize that President Nkurunziza did not want to negotiate and requested the United Nations to further involve itself in the resolution of the crisis. It also warned of the risks of a civil war caused by the pursuit by President Nkurunziza of lifetime presidency.