The situation in Burundi - Report of the Secretary-General (S/2019/837)
- 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. The report covers the period from 14 June to 15 October 2019 and provides details on the latest developments in Burundi, regional efforts to convene an inclusive dialogue and the activities of my Special Envoy for Burundi and the United Nations system in the country. It also provides suggestions on how to advance the inter-Burundian dialogue and includes a discussion of the way forward and an examination of the role of the United Nations in the run-up to the general elections scheduled for 20 May 2020. After the issuance of my previous report of 15 November 2018 (S/2018/1028), the Secretariat briefed the Security Council on 21 November 2018, 19 February 2019 and 14 June 2019 on the situation in Burundi and the activities of my Special Envoy.
II. Major developments
A. Political developments
- During the period under review, the impasse over the inter-Burundian dialogue and preparations for the general elections continued to have an impact on political developments in Burundi. The Independent National Electoral Commission published the electoral calendar on 28 June. However, uncertainty persists over the participation of all interested stakeholders in the process, amidst shrinking political space and the need to create an environment conducive to peaceful, transparent and credible elections. While the President of Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza, has reiterated on several occasions that he will not seek another term in office, the ruling party has yet to designate its candidate for the next presidential election. There has also been a noticeable increase in acts of political intolerance, often perpetrated by the Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie-Forces pour la défense de la démocratie (CNDD-FDD), with some local authorities and security services either taking part in, or tolerating, those acts.
Developments within Burundi
Since the registration of the Congrès national pour la liberté (CNL) in February 2019, its political activities, as well as those of other parties, such as the Union pour le progrès national (UPRONA) and Forces nationales de libération have been hampered.
Following a series of acts of vandalism against CNL offices across the country in June and July, the Spokesperson for CNL claimed on 1 August that more than 10 party offices had been set ablaze or defaced. He concluded that those acts had been part of the ruling party’s strategy to intimidate the opposition. On 18 August, a CNL member was killed in the Rugari area, as a result of a clash between CNL supporters returning from the inauguration of their office in the province of Muyinga and a group of unidentified people believed to be members of the Imbonerakure. On 28 August, one Imbonerakure died at Kira Hospital, in Bujumbura, from injuries sustained during another clash between youth members of CNL and CNDD-FDD that occurred on 25 August in the province of Bujumbura Rural.
On 15 June, the CNL office in Nyabiraba, in the province of Bujumbura, was set ablaze by unidentified people. The leadership of CNL blamed the incident on the Imbonerakure acting in complicity with police and local administrators. He urged the Government to ensure that all political parties be allowed to carry out their activities freely. The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of the Interior rejected the allegations of political intolerance and, with regard to the arson at the CNL office, intimated that it was an act of criminals. Presumed perpetrators were indeed arrested on the same day and tried on 19 June. Among the 15 presumed criminals, 9 were alleged members of CNL. They were sentenced to two years of imprisonment. On 22 June, the leader of CNL denounced the ruling of the court, questioning how members of his party could have set the office ablaze.
On 21 August, the First Vice-President of Burundi and the Minister of the Interior held a joint meeting with leaders of political parties, provincial governors and communal authorities, as well as representatives of security and defence forces, to discuss the organization of the 2020 elections. Reportedly, the First Vice -President urged provincial governors and security forces to remain neutral and above political partisanship, regardless of their political affiliations. He blamed local administrators and members of the security and defence forces for preventing transport companies from conveying members of opposition parties to their rallies and demanded that such acts stop.
Leaders of political parties and provincial governors signed a one -month truce, during which they would seek appropriate ways to end political intolerance. A followup meeting chaired by the First Vice-President and the Minister of the Interior was convened on 24 September in Bujumbura. During the meeting, which was attended by leaders of political parties, 15 out of 18 provincial governors singled out CNL members as instigators of violence targeting CNDD-FDD members. In his assessment, the Minister of the Interior framed the situation as calm, apart from a few isolated cases of insecurity, which he blamed on CNL members. The SecretaryGeneral of CNL denied those allegations.
On 9 August, the Minister of the Interior lifted the suspension of the Conseil des patriotes party, along with seven other parties. The parties had been suspended since 13 July for the late submission of their activity reports. On 21 August, the Ministry of the Interior registered Burundi’s thirty-fourth political party, the Mouvement des patriotes humanistes.
On 30 June, the eve of the fifty-seventh anniversary of the independence of Burundi, President Nkurunziza urged Burundians to resist foreign interference. He announced the suspension of voluntary contributions to the electoral fund from ordinary citizens and civil servants and announced the renaming of several national landmarks to remind Burundians of significant historical events and personalities.
On 16 August, the President’s Senior Communications Adviser, the President’s Deputy Spokesperson and the Secretary-General of the Government held a press conference in the province of Gitega on the theme “2020 elections: challenges and prospects”. They advised Burundians to remain calm and to resist any attempt to disrupt the elections and cause bloodshed. They also asserted that, since gaining independence, Burundi had experienced democracy only in the past 18 years, under CNDD-FDD rule, and argued that the country had made steady progress in the maintenance of peace and security since 2015.
On 20 August, President Nkurunziza stated that the three main objectives he had set at the beginning of his term in office had been met, namely: (a) peace, security and justice for all; (b) good governance and democracy; and (c) inclusive and sustainable development. He remarked that Burundi would soon be financially independent and, consequently, become self-sufficient. He also recalled events preceding the 2015 elections and asserted that there were still a few Burundians who were trying to destabilize the country. They would, however, fail, as “Burundians will not want to be enslaved”.
During a conference held by spokespersons of ministries and public institutions on 21 June, the President’s Spokesperson denied any plan to restore monarchy in Burundi, although the monarchy’s motto, “God, King and Burundi”, is inscribed on some national monuments in lieu of the national motto, “Unity, work and progress”.
He pointed out that the national motto had been imposed by the UPRONA party and opined that a referendum would be required to transform Burundi into a monarchy.
On 4 August, the exiled opposition platform 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) outlined in a press release the conditions for its participation in the 2020 elections, which included the opening of the political space and an end to the persecution of opposition members and supporters. CNARED urged the Government to engage with all Burundian political actors, inside and outside the country, to agree on ways to hold credible and inclusive elections in 2020. It also called upon the international community and all partners of Burundi to continu e pressuring the Government to create an environment conducive to fair elections. The Executive Secretary of the platform, Anicet Niyonkuru, called for a meeting with the Government to agree on preconditions for the return of CNARED members to Burundi, whether they were under prosecution or not. His move was rejected by other political leaders in exile, notably those who had resigned from CNARED in early March, who likened it to capitulation.
Subsequently, a government delegation led by the Ombudsman met with representatives of CNARED from 28 August to 2 September in Nairobi. The Spokesperson of the Ombudsman then issued a press statement clarifying that the meeting was informal and followed previous meetings that the Ombudsman had held inside and outside Burundi with political actors, as part of his mandate. The press statement also highlighted that the meeting had not been part of any official negotiation process and that discussions had focused on the release of political prisoners, the opening of the political space, a review of the composition of the Independent National Electoral Commission, the issuance of passports for some opposition members in exile, their repatriation in one group, the cancellation of arrest warrants for some exiled opposition members, and the provision of security guards for those who would return to Burundi. The statement also underscored that the Nairobi meeting would be the last until the current election cycle was completed, in 2020. In reaction, the Spokesperson for CNARED, Onésime Nduwimana, rejected the Ombudsman’s communiqué, insisting that negotiations had taken place between CNARED and a government delegation, with the blessing of the Government of Burundi.
On 5 October Mr. Niyonkuru arrived in Burundi for a short visit. On 7 October, following a meeting with the Assistant to the Minister of the Interior, Tharcisse Niyongabo, he announced that he was in Burundi to discuss the return of all exiled members of CNARED. On the same date, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of the Interior told the media that exiled political leaders under prosecution could return to Burundi but would account for their alleged crimes and be judged upon their return.
It should be recalled that on 10 September, eight former members of CNARED had created a new opposition platform in exile named the Coalition des forces de l’opposition burundaise pour le rétablissement de l’Accord d’Arusha. In a statement issued on 23 August in which they had called for a postponement or a boycott of t he elections, they had noted that preparations for the elections were taking place in a climate of fear and shrinking political space and had highlighted hate speech, acts of harassment and restrictions on civil and political rights, such as the freedom of expression. They had also regretted that the East African Community-led dialogue had not brought about the expected results.
In the same context, in a letter read out in churches across the country on 21 September, the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Burundi pointed out efforts to “suffocate and assault certain political parties and to persecute their members ”. The Conference expressed concerns about intolerance and political violence in the run-up to the May 2020 presidential election, adding that criminal acts go as far as politically motivated killings against persons who hold different views from those of the Government. They further accused the Imbonerakure of committing atrocities and “taking the place of security forces”. The President’s Communications Adviser and the Secretary-General of CNDD-FDD accused the bishops of “spitting their venomous hatred through incendiary messages on the eve of the elections, … sowing division … and spreading hatred among the faithful”.
On 17 August, CNDD-FDD celebrated “Imbonerakure day”. In Bujumbura, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Mayor of Bujumbura, the Secretary-General of CNDD-FDD, the Senior Communications Adviser in the Office of the President and other government officials attended the event, which has been organized every year since 2017. Various sources reported that, while marching through different neighbourhoods in Bujumbura, the Imbonerakure chanted slogans in which they denounced, among others, the “critics who work with colonizers and smear their names in international organizations”. Some members warned against repeating the events that had led to the crisis in 2015, and invited opposition members to join CNDD-FDD. Other slogans reiterated the Imbonerakure’s support for President Nkurunziza, while threatening the opposition. In his address to supporters in Kanyosha, on the outskirts of Bujumbura, the Secretary-General of CNDD-FDD impressed upon the Imbonerakure to always give priority to dialogue and to reassure young people from other political parties that the objective of Imbonerakure was the development of Burundi. He also reminded them that Burundi was their shared legacy and that they should maintain good-neighbourliness with other youth groups.
With regard to the East African Community-led inter-Burundian dialogue, government officials have consistently stated that the dialogue is over and complained of interference by some members of the international community in the domestic affairs of Burundi, while stressing that the focus of the dialogue was on preparations for the general elections. The opposition, on the other hand, continually criticized the region and the international community for their inability to compel the Government to participate in an inclusive dialogue, without preconditions, while calling for a last session of the inter-Burundian dialogue.