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Security Council discusses situation in Burundi. UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

Security Council Briefing on the Final Report of the Secretary-General on the UN Office in Burundi (BNUB), Under-Secretary-General Jeffrey Feltman

Mr President,

I am pleased to brief the Security Council on the final report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Office in Burundi (BNUB).
As members of the Council know, the report before the Council reviews progress made in implementing the mandate of BNUB, since 31 July 2014. It also takes stock of the overall mandate implementation of UN peacekeeping and political missions in Burundi since 2004. Further, it presents an assessment of the remaining challenges facing Burundi, after the closure of BNUB on 31 December.
In accordance with Security Council resolution 2137 (2014), BNUB ended its drawdown and its mandate on 31 December. I joined SRSG Onanga-Anyanga in Bujumbura to mark the symbolic closure of the Office on 12 December during my visit to Burundi, and had the pleasure to co-chair a warm flag-lowering ceremony with the Minister of External Affairs and International Cooperation.
As the Council is aware, Burundi has made substantial progress, overcoming formidable challenges since the end of the civil war. Burundi adopted power-sharing as a system of governance, established ethnically-balanced institutions, held regular elections and remains committed to the promise of national reconciliation.
Burundi today is much safer and secure than a decade ago.
These achievements, and the spirit of the Arusha Accord on which they were built, are first and foremost attributable to the determination of Burundians to break with the past and work towards a peaceful, democratic and prosperous nation. It is also the result of a remarkable level of steady engagement by regional countries, the United Nations and international partners, demonstrating that concerted international action can yield positive results.
Mr. President, let me emphasize some of the key challenges that Burundi still faces.
The spirit of Arusha with its principles of dialogue, consensus and democracy has eroded since the 2010 elections as political polarization continues to hamper efforts to consolidate peace, democracy and development. Concerns remain about shrinking political space, restrictions of the right to free assembly and expression, and the challenges of building an independent justice system which is a critical element of a functioning democracy. Much greater efforts are also required to strengthen pro-poor economic growth and to create employment opportunities, especially for the country’s youth.
Organising peaceful and credible elections is one of the most pressing challenges facing Burundi this year. As in previous elections, the 2015 elections present Burundians with the opportunity to further strengthen peace consolidation efforts undertaken since the Arusha Accord. For that to happen it would be desirable for the following requirements to be met: First, it is critical that the CENI – the Independent National Electoral Commission – manages the electoral process in an inclusive manner, with integrity, impartiality and independence. Second, Burundians regardless of party affiliation must be free to exercise their civil and political rights, including their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Moreover, it behoves the Government to ensure that opposition parties and their leaders are able to fully participate in the electoral process. Conversely, opposition parties must play their part and remain engaged throughout the electoral process and use peaceful and democratic means to address all electoral disputes. Third, it is the responsibility of the Government to prevent violence without impinging on the people’s rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, by ensuring that state officials and security forces act impartially and in line with the law. Finally, individuals committing unlawful acts of political violence must be prosecuted without delay.
As requested by the Council, the United Nations Electoral Observation Mission in Burundi, known by its French acronym MENUB, started operations on 1 January with the mandate to follow and report on the electoral process in Burundi before, during and after the 2015 elections. Special Envoy Uteem undertook his first visit to Burundi from 3 to 17 January, during which he held fruitful meetings with Government officials as well as members of the diplomatic corp in Bujumbura. He also inaugurated MENUB in the presence of political party leaders, CSO representatives and the diplomatic corp. Regrettably, Government officials and the president of the CENI and representatives of the ruling CNDD-FDD did not attend the ceremony on account that the Status of Mission Agreement (SOMA) had not been signed. We signed the SOMA yesterday and expect the Government to do so soon.
Clashes at the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo between the Burundian army and armed groups have reduced sharply since July last year. However, on 30 December, the Burundian army reported clashing with an unidentified armed group of approximately 100-200 members entering from neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo into Burundi’s Cibitoke Province. Over the course of several days, the Burundian army reportedly defeated the group, killing between 95 and 105 of its members. The Government did not formally identify the attackers and no one has claimed responsibility for the clash. In another incident, on 4 January, five unidentified gunmen dressed in military fatigues executed three members of the ruling CNDD-FDD in a bar in Ruyigi Province, some 250 km east of Bujumbura. If not managed carefully, incidents such as these, at a time of elections, could heighten political tensions.
Mr. President,
Beyond the elections, Burundi faces challenges no less critical. Improvements in health, education, employment, and infrastructure need to be at the heart of the political debate, if the country’s leaders are committed to placing the national interest above all others. The Government will need to broaden political space, allow democratic institutions to provide the checks and balances essential for a functioning democracy, especially if it wants to forge broader consensus in policy formulation. Security and justice sector institutions will require sustained professionalization and capacity-building, especially if they are to retain the public trust.
Addressing the remaining challenges will require the efforts of all Burundians and sustained support from Burundi’s development partners. The joint communiqué of the Burundi Partners Conference of 12 December re-emphasised the mutual commitments of the Government and its partners adopted at the 2012 Geneva Partners Conference. As part of its commitments, the Government guaranteed a credible, inclusive and peaceful electoral process while international and regional partners pledged to continue to support the country’s peace consolidation and socio-economic development efforts. In that regard, I am pleased to note that the United Nations will continue to provide support through the Peacebuilding Fund to enhance political dialogue and social cohesion; youth participation in political and socio-economic life; human rights; and resolution of land disputes.
I would like to underscore the importance of the Security Council’s support for regional peace and security efforts. The Council’s support for the implementation of the Peace, Security and Development Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the region presents an opportunity in that respect. The African Union, the East African Community and the International Conference of the Great Lakes all have important roles to play in that regard.
Mr. President,
In concluding, I would take this opportunity to thank the people and Government of Burundi for the cooperation extended to BNUB, including the seamless and timely completion of the Mission’s drawdown and exit. I would like to thank the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, for his outstanding leadership and to all BNUB staff for their contribution to the United Nations efforts in Burundi. I would also like to reiterate our appreciation to the Peacebuilding Commission, the Peacebuilding Fund and all bilateral donors for the fruitful partnership for peacebuilding in Burundi.
Finally, I thank the Council for its continued commitment to Burundi through the deployment of United Nations field presences in the country during the past 10 years.