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Briefing Security Council, Special Envoy for Burundi Says New Constitution, President’s Actions Create Opportunity to End Political Crisis

The Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Burundi asked the Security Council today to appeal to all sides in the East African nation to participate � in good faith � in a fifth and potentially final inter Burundi dialogue that would build on recent developments and, hopefully, take place as soon as possible.

Michel Kafando's quarterly briefing to Council members was the first since President Pierre Nkurunziza announced on 7 June � when he promulgated a new Constitution approved by 73 per cent of voters in a referendum on 17 May � that he would not seek an additional term in office when elections take place in 2020. He also pledged to support his successor.

The Special Envoy drew attention to a 3 August workshop of Burundian political actors that produced a road map leading to the 2020 elections, as well as to his meetings with Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni and with the former President of the United Republic of Tanzania, Benjamin Mkapa � the mediator and the facilitator, respectively, of the inter Burundi dialogue process led by the East African Community.

Emphasizing the importance of the new Constitution and the President's statements, he said both developments created an opportunity to make progress towards a final settlement of a political crisis that dates to 2015 when protests erupted following Mr. Nkurunziza's announcement that he would seek a further term in office.

Summarizing recent developments, he said the security situation in Burundi remains calm, and that 35,000 refugees have returned to Burundi from Tanzania since September 2017. A series of high level visits meanwhile demonstrated the Government's willingness to improve relations with the international community, he said, adding that he hopes Burundi and the European Union will soon resume talks leading to the lifting of European sanctions.

In the ensuing debate, many Council members welcomed the President's declaration that he would not seek re election, praised the role being played most notably by the East African Community and looked forward to free and fair elections in 2020. At the same time, however, several delegates voiced concern over the human rights situation and called for the Government to resume cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

France's representative, for one, said the situation in Burundi remains volatile. There is a lack of real inclusive dialogue, she stated, expressing concern that militia groups continue to spread violence. She stressed the need to fight impunity including in all ranks of the security forces, adding that it is essential that fundamental liberties be restored for all citizens.

In the same vein, the Netherlands' delegate pointed to ongoing human rights violations � including assassinations, murders, arbitrary arrests and politically motivated kidnappings. She encouraged the Government to end impunity and guarantee the rights of all Burundians.

Equatorial Guinea's representative said the international community must look at the situation in a broad manner while respecting Burundi's sovereignty. Stability and development in Burundi has consequences for the entire Great Lakes region, he said. The situation in Burundi must be resolved through inclusive dialogue, he added, with regional actors contributing positively in supporting such efforts.

Ethiopia's delegate said the political impasse in Burundi can only be addressed through peaceful, inclusive and consensual dialogue. The lack of progress in the East African Community led mediation is a matter of concern, she added, stressing the need to relaunch dialogue based on the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement signed in 2000. For its part, she said, the Government should engage with the international community in an open minded manner.

CAte d'Ivoire's speaker urged Burundian authorities to take the necessary measures to build confidence, reduce political tensions and resume dialogue based on the Arusha Agreement. Expressing concern over the plight of Burundi refugees, he said a better economic situation will create opportunities for returnees. He added that his country strongly supports opening an office of the Secretary General in Burundi.

The representative of the Russian Federation said he regretted that the Council did not hear from the Permanent Representative of Switzerland in his capacity as head of the Burundi configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission. His delegation does not share the alarmist view held by other Council members, who he wondered might be playing into the hands of the Burundian opposition, he added, warning against the imposition of ready made solutions.

Burundi's delegate said he regrets that a minority of Council members do not share the Special Envoy's view of the pace of developments in his country. Their tendency to distance themselves from the Envoy, most Member States and the real situation on the ground demonstrates that they are prisoners of the rhetoric of 2015. The inter Burundi dialogue now is part of the country's culture and those who want the Government to promote it are preaching to the choir, he added.

On the human rights situation, he reiterated the Government's willingness to work with the United Nations and others to promote human rights through sincere and frank dialogue. Talk of a supposed lack of cooperation with the High Commissioner for Human Rights is misinformation. He went on to appeal for the Council to have the courage to remove Burundi from its agenda, saying the political situation is calm, stable, under control and by no means a threat to international peace and security.

This hounding of Burundi must stop, he said, otherwise history will show that the Council has been acting unfairly on behalf of non African and non Burundian interests. Burundi's place is not in the Council Chamber, but in those agencies of the United Nations responsible for social and economic development.

Also speaking today were representatives of Kuwait, Sweden, United States, Kazakhstan, China, Poland, Peru, Bolivia and the United Kingdom.

The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 11:22 a.m.

Briefing

MICHEL KAFANDO, Special Envoy of the Secretary General for Burundi and former President of Burkina Faso, recalled the President of Burundi's promulgation on 7 June of a new Constitution that was approved by 73 per cent of voters in a 17 May referendum. On the same day, the President announced that he would end his mandate in 2020 and support his successor, who will be elected. Emphasizing the importance of those two developments, he said they create an opportunity to make progress towards a final settlement of the Burundian situation. Elaborating, he said the Government and the political class should take the opportunity to work together to create a new political environment that will allow consolidation of national unity and peace.

Describing a road map leading to the 2020 elections, adopted at a workshop of political leaders in Kayanza on 3 August, as worthy of encouragement, he provided a review of his efforts since he last briefed the Council on 24 May, including meetings 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 inter Burundi dialogue process. In Kampala, he said he presented Mr. Museveni with a written message from the Secretary General as well as a memorandum containing proposals relating to the dialogue process and to initiatives that should be undertaken by certain guarantors of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement. Both the mediator and the facilitator reiterated their commitment to restarting the dialogue as soon as possible, with Mr. Museveni in particular committed to organizing an extraordinary summit of the East African Community on the question. For his part, the Special Envoy said he plans to visit Burundi in early October to discuss how to take the dialogue process forward, with the involvement of the mediator and facilitator.

The security situation in Burundi remains calm, he said, adding that the Government must be hailed for its efforts and encouraged to remain vigilant. On the humanitarian situation, he noted the voluntary return since September 2017 of 35,000 Burundian refugees from Tanzania, with support from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Such efforts must continue with respect for the principle of voluntary repatriation and guarantees of reintegration in host communities. He went on to review bilateral and multilateral cooperation, including visits to Burundi by delegations from, among others, the Inter Parliamentary Union and the International Organization of la Francophonie. Such visits manifested the Government's willingness to improve relations with the international community, he said, adding that he hopes Burundi and the European Union will soon resume their dialogue, leading to a swift resumption of financial cooperation, given that sanctions are not always an ideal solution. He also called on the Burundian authorities to finalize talks on the memorandum of understanding with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Burundi and to sign an agreement that will enable the Special Envoy's office in Bujumbura to function in the best conditions.

Concluding, he asked the Council to reiterate its appeal for all protagonists in the Burundian crisis to participate � in good faith � in a fifth and possibly last inter Burundi dialogue which he, together with the mediator and facilitator, will be trying to organize in the coming days, either in Entebbe or Arusha. With a road map in place, the Council would do well to issue such a call to ensure that this time, the dialogue will be a success.

Statements

ANNE GUEGUEN (France) said the situation in Burundi remains volatile following years of instability. There is a lack of real inclusive dialogue, she added, expressing concern that militia groups continue to spread violence. The status quo is not tenable over the long term. She stressed the need to fight impunity including in all ranks of the security forces. It is essential that fundamental liberties be restored for all citizens. The President's announcement that he will not seek re election is a welcome development, she said, underscoring the role of regional organizations in ensuring the facilitation of free, fair and credible elections. France, the European Union, neighbors in Africa and the wider international community stands ready to help Burundi.

JOB OBIANG ESONO MBENGONO (Equatorial Guinea) said that the President's announcement that he will not seek re election is a sign of good faith. The international community must look at the situation in a broad manner while respecting Burundi's sovereignty. Stability and development in Burundi has consequences for the entire Great Lakes region, he added. The situation in Burundi is an internal matter and must be resolved in such a manner, mainly through inclusive dialogue, he added. Regional actors can contribute positively in supporting these efforts. This is the best way forward. Burundians should work together to further negotiations and hold free and fair elections.

MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) said he hopes that the 2020 elections will be free, credible and transparent, with the participation of all sectors of Burundian society, including women, as well as a free press. Kuwait applauded the Government's efforts, alongside others, towards providing stability, thus creating the basis for a lasting solution. An extraordinary regional summit will make it possible to facilitate the fifth round of inter Burundi dialogue, which would in turn help the political process. Expressing concern about the humanitarian situation, he stated that perpetrators of human rights violations must be brought to justice.

LISE GREGOIRE VAN HAAREN (Netherlands) said human rights violations are continuing in Burundi, including assassinations, murders, arbitrary arrests and politically motivated kidnappings, as well as the infiltration of Government agents into refugee camps in Tanzania. She strongly encouraged the Government to end impunity, guarantee the rights of all Burundians and resume cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. On the inter Burundi dialogue, she encouraged the East African Community to hold the next session as a matter of urgency, with all sides participating without preconditions.

KACOU HOUADJA LA�ON ADOM (CAte d'Ivoire), while welcoming the improvement of the security situation in Burundi, also expressed regret for the political impasse. He urged Burundian authorities to take the necessary measures to build confidence and reduce tensions in the political climate and resume a dialogue based on the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement. On the humanitarian effort, he expressed concern over the plight faced by thousands of Burundi refugees in the region, while also welcoming efforts deployed by that country's authorities and the United Nations to help those refugees return home. The economic situation in the country must be improved. This will provide opportunities to those returning to Burundi. CAte d'Ivoire strongly supports the opening of an office of the Secretary General in Burundi, he added.

MAHLET HAILU GUADEY (Ethiopia) said the political impasse in Burundi can only be addressed through peaceful, inclusive and consensual dialogue. The lack of progress in the East African Community led mediation is a matter of concern, she added, stressing the need to relaunch dialogue under the auspices of that organization, with support of the African Union and United Nations, and based on the Arusha Agreement. The Council should explore new avenues to engage Burundi including through alleviating the socioeconomic difficulties faced by the people and addressing the humanitarian situation. The Burundi Government, for its part, should engage with the international community in an open minded manner. She also called on the Government to fully cooperate with the three human rights experts in gathering information.

JOAKIM VAVERKA (Sweden) said today's briefing clearly illustrates the need for the Council's continued engagement and support, especially in regional mediation efforts. The Arusha Agreement continues to be fundamental for peace and security for Burundi and the region. An inclusive political resolution of the current conflict, through dialogue, must be found, he stressed, expressing support to the East African Community led efforts to revitalize an inclusive inter Burundi dialogue. A consensus based road map towards free, fair and inclusive elections in 2020 is vital. Urging the United Nations and the wider international community to support the process, he further underscored the need to ensure women's full and equal participation in the election process. He also expressed concern for the continued lack of progress in addressing human rights violations and abuses in Burundi.

JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States) welcomed the President of Burundi's announcement that he will not seek a fourth term, saying it sets an example for the region. He called on the Government to improve respect for human rights, media freedoms and overall governance. He expressed concern that the Government has not agreed to resume cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and that it has denied access to that entity's commission of inquiry. The United States is also concerned by human rights abuses, including unduly harsh sentences for human rights defenders. He called on the Government to ensure that opposition members can participate fully in future elections, adding that all sides must reject violence as a political tool. He went on to welcome regional efforts to convene an inter Burundi dialogue in September with sustained regional support. Success, however, will depend on good faith engagement from the Government and opposition members.

KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) commended the President of Burundi's decision not to seek another term, saying that will contribute to peace and security. Hopefully the 2020 elections will be fair and transparent with the participation of all stakeholders. Only such an approach will ensure a durable peace and it should be supported by the international community. He stressed the importance of African Union and East African Community efforts, as well as the work of the facilitator and the mediator. While the security situation remains generally calm, a large number of internally displaced persons and refugees need assistance, he said, stating that that issue must be constantly addressed by the Council, the United Nations and others in a collective fashion. He added that close coordination between the United Nations, African Union and subregional structures will have a significant impact.

LIE CHENG (China) welcomed recent positive developments in Burundi, adding that it is an important country in ensuring the stability of the Great Lakes region. In the same vein, he emphasized the need for the international community to respect Burundi's sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. The international community must continue to support the Burundi political process, including through regional and subregional efforts. Humanitarian assistance to Burundi must be strengthened and delivered in a timely manner. All regional and international organizations must resume the delivery of supplies and services. For its part, China will continue to provide support to Burundi.

KAMIL KRZYSZTOF MIELUS (Poland) took note of some concerns that some provisions of a new Constitution adopted by referendum on 17 May are incompatible with the Arusha Agreement, but welcomed the announcement that the President of Burundi did not intend to seek a fourth term. He urged the Government to take transparent steps to improve governance, respect human rights, open the public and democratic space and ensure media freedom ahead of the elections. The Arusha Agreement gives hope not only to Burundi but also to the entire region. It is urgent now to go back to the spirit of the Agreement and to preserve the country as an inclusive and safe home for all its people.

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) said his delegation took note of positive developments in Burundi following the referendum, including reduced violence and the President's announcement that he will not be a candidate in the 2020 elections. However, a climate of instability, human rights violations and a lack of dialogue has continued, he said, expressing concern at Government inaction vis A� vis human rights. Peru wants the Council to keep paying attention to developments in Burundi, he said, stressing the need to implement the Arusha Agreement and to maintain the delicate balance between Burundian communities following the civil war. Peru hopes that the inter Burundi dialogue will be inclusive, and that the situation of Burundian refugees and accountability for human rights violations will also be addressed. The memorandum of understanding between the Government and the High Commissioner for Human Rights must be implemented to allow the latter to resume its work on the ground, he said, highlighting also the key role of regional organizations and Burundi's neighbouring countries.

ALEXANDER V. REPKIN (Russian Federation) voiced regret that the Council did not hear today from the Permanent Representative of Switzerland in his capacity as head of the Burundi configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission. From the information received from the Russian Federation's diplomats in Bujumbura, the situation overall in Burundi is calm, with refugees and opposition politicians returning and the Government releasing more than 2,000 political prisoners. Turnout for the 17 May referendum was impressive and unprecedented for Africa, with a majority voting in favour of the new Constitution that incorporated all the main elements of the Arusha Agreement. Noting that the President has said he is ready to support his successor, he said the Russian Federation did not share the alarmist view held by other Council members who are not taking positive trends into account. He said he had the impression that instead of optimizing Council meetings, some members have been playing into opposition hands. He added that his delegation is against any mentoring or the imposition of ready made solutions, which risked complicating the situation.

PEDRO LUIS INCHAUSTE JORDA�N (Bolivia), welcoming the fact that the May referendum was completed in a safe and inclusive manner, encouraged stakeholders to continue the work to renew the inter Burundi dialogue. He applauded efforts of regional leaders in supporting the Arusha Agreement, recognizing efforts of the East African Community, the African Union and the Peacebuilding Commission. It is important to continue to support these efforts, he added, also underscoring Burundi's commitment to peace and security through its deployment of troops to international missions. He highlighted the voluntary return of some 40,000 Burundi refugees, urging the international community continue in their efforts to support them. Underscoring the need to lift sanctions, he added that such measures have a negative impact on the situation on the ground.

JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom), Council President for August, speaking in his national capacity, said the Arusha Agreement brought peace to Burundi following years of war and the death of thousands of Burundians. A genuine, inclusive dialogue with all parties remains the only viable option towards peace, he said, adding that progress on the East African Community led dialogue remains crucial for Burundi and the region. The human rights situation remains deeply concerning, he continued, urging the Government to take swift steps to address violations and ensure justice. He further urged the Government to engage with relevant international actors in this regard, including OHCHR.

ALBERT SHINGIRO (Burundi) said he regrets that a minority of Council members do not share the Special Envoy's view of the pace of developments in his country. Their tendency to distance themselves from the Special Envoy, most Member States and the real situation on the ground demonstrates that they are prisoners of the rhetoric of 2015. The return to normalcy in Burundi made it possible to organize the Constitutional referendum, the return of refugees and several high level visits, including one last week by the President of the Inter Parliamentary Union who said he found the country calm and stable, with the political class determined to turn the page on 2015 and to work towards elections in 2020. Whilst enacting the new Constitution, the President of Burundi said his term in office will end in 2020 and that he is prepared to support his successor. Contrary to the rhetoric of some who believe the President is shaping the Constitution for his own purposes, that gesture is a good example for the Burundian people and the African continent. It should be encouraged and applauded. He added that the President's emphasis on tolerance and a more open political space has been underscored by the repatriation of thousands of refugees, the return of the former President, Vice President and Members of Parliament, and the release of prisoners. The inter Burundi dialogue has meanwhile become a part of the country's culture and those who asked the Government to promote it are preaching to the choir. He recalled that representatives of all political parties met on 3 August to informally exchange views on the challenges ahead, leading to the adoption of a road map towards free and inclusive elections in 2020.

Recent meetings between senior Burundian officials and the mediator and facilitator of the inter Burundi dialogue showed that the regional dynamic is alive and well, contrary to what some Council members said today, he stated. The voluntary return of refugees is continuing at a satisfactory pace, but Burundi is asking UNHCR and others to intervene with host countries which are holding some Burundians hostage and putting up obstacles to their repatriation. On the human rights situation, he reiterated the Government's willingness to work with the United Nations and others to promote human rights through sincere and frank dialogue. It is currently waiting to hear from the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the appointment of three experts, he said, adding that talk of a supposed lack of cooperation with that entity is, in Burundi's view, misinformation. The same applies for the memorandum of understanding between Burundi and the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Turning to the sanctions imposed by European partners in 2015, he said the context had changed completely, with the tensions of that year having passed and a page in Burundi's history having been turned. At their recent summit in Mauritania, leaders of the African Union asked the European Union to lift its unfair and immoral sanctions, which ran counter to the United Nations Charter and impacted vulnerable groups.

He went on to emphasize the pride Burundi takes in participating in United Nations and African Union peacekeeping missions. The excellent work of its brave soldiers, deployed in difficult conditions, should be recognized appropriately. He then appealed to the Council to have the courage to remove Burundi from its agenda, saying it is clear that the political situation is calm, stable, under control and by no means a threat to international peace and security. Nor, he said, is there an objective argument for the Council to keep holding meetings on Burundi. This hounding of Burundi must stop, he said, otherwise history will show that the Council has been acting unfairly on behalf of non African and non Burundian interests. Burundi's place is not in the Council Chamber, but in those agencies of the United Nations responsible for social and economic development.

Source: United Nations

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