posted on Wed 20 Jan 2016 11:20 AM
Council Visiting Mission to Burundi and Addis Ababa

Council members leave today for a three-day visiting mission to Burundi and the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Angola, France and the US will serve as co-leads on the Burundi leg of the mission, and Egypt will lead the Addis Ababa leg.

Council members are scheduled to arrive in Bujumbura, Burundi, on 21 January where, according to the terms of reference for the mission, they plan to meet with the President of Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza, the Foreign Minister, National Assembly President and Vice-President, representatives of political parties, civil society organizations and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, among others. The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Jamal Benomar, will also be present. Although some members were interested in meeting with opposition representatives, it seems that due to strong resistance from the government and other members this is unlikely to be on the schedule.

Council members have kept a close eye on the situation in Burundi, holding regular meetings as events have unfolded and making a one-day visit on 13 March 2015. Members are familiar with the political turmoil and violence following President Pierre Nkurunziza’s announcement that he would run for a highly controversial third term in April, which many believed was unconstitutional. They are further concerned that a dialogue led by the East African Community (EAC) has been mostly dormant. New developments indicate that the situation is deteriorating further, marked by increased militarisation. Opposition groups attacked military facilities for the first time on 11 December 2015, and their operations have become more sophisticated and elaborate.

On 16 January, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Al Hussein said that the attacks and large-scale human rights abuses that occurred during the initial search operations in their immediate aftermath appear to have triggered new and extremely disturbing patterns of violations. He spoke of cases of sexual violence by security forces and a sharp increase in enforced disappearances and torture. He added that an ethnic dimension is starting to emerge as some of the victims were apparently attacked because they were Tutsi. In order to reinforce these points, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Ŝimonović, held an unofficial briefing for Council members on 15 January. Some members may want to get further information on these matters while in Burundi.

While being kept up-to-date on Burundi developments, the Council has struggled to get consensus among its members. Council members were at odds about the legitimacy of Nkurunziza’s contentious third term, and in their attitude towards the measures taken by the government to quash political opposition. There have also been differing views on whether more pressure needs to be put on the government to enter an all-inclusive dialogue with opposition parties.

Council members have also been divided on whether to support the 17 December 2015 decision of the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) to establish a 5,000 troop “African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi (MAPROBU), for an initial period of six months”, a decision that has been rejected by the government of Burundi. In its communiqué following the December meeting, the AU requested the Council to authorise the mission and provide logistical support. A previous decision by the AU to send human rights and military observers to Burundi has also led to divisions in the Council. To date, the Council’s only response to the December decision has been a press statement noting the AU decision to deploy an African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi and calling on all Burundian stakeholders to fully comply with it (SC/12174 of 19 December 2015).

During their March 2015 visit to Burundi, which focused mainly on the looming presidential and legislative elections and the third term issue, Council members were unable to present unified messages to the parties in Burundi. Some Council members were outspoken in asserting that a third term was not only illegal but would be very divisive and a risk to Burundi’s stability. Others were supportive of Nkurunziza’s response that the matter was a legal issue to be decided on by the constitutional court and that he intended to abide by the decision of the court (which eventually ruled that he could run for a third term). It does not seem that the previous visiting mission had much effect on subsequent developments, which may be on the minds of some members given continuing divisions.

These divisions emerged during the negotiations on the terms of reference for the current visit last week. France circulated a draft to Council members based on agreed language contained in recent Council documents (resolution 2248 of 12 November 2015, S/PRST/2015/18 of 28 October 2015 and SC/12174). However, it was difficult to come to agreement as certain Council members wanted to emphasise different elements within these documents which made it difficult to agree on key messages. Finally it was decided that the terms of reference would simply state that the Council will deliver the messages contained in these documents.

Resolution 2248 expressed the Council’s intention to consider additional measures against “all Burundian actors whose actions and statements contribute to the perpetuation of violence and impede the search for a peaceful solution”. It also urged the government of Burundi to cooperate with the EAC-led, AU-endorsed mediation, to enable it to immediately convene an inclusive and genuine inter-Burundian dialogue involving all concerned. S/PRST/2015/18 expressed concern about insecurity and violence in Burundi, condemned human rights abuses and called for all stakeholders to engage in dialogue.

Accordingly, Council members in their meetings with Burundian officials are likely to raise the issue of how to revitalise the inter-Burundian inclusive dialogue involving all stakeholders. Greater UN and AU involvement in the dialogue may also be a point of discussion. Some Council members could stress the importance of Burundi accepting some form of increased international presence in Burundi, such as MAPROBU or human rights observers.

In Addis Ababa, the Council plans to hold Informal consultations with the PSC on the situations in Burundi and Somalia. The issue of the proposed AU peacekeeping mission and the UN and AU roles in the Burundian dialogue are likely to be central points of discussion on Burundi. On Somalia, Council members are likely to discuss the continuing security challenges faced by the AU Mission to Somalia, and political issues, in particular ongoing efforts to get agreement on an electoral model.

Also in Addis Ababa, Council members are expected to make a courtesy call on Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Chairperson of the AU Commission. Initially the US conveyed a request made by the AU Commission for Council members to meet with Zuma during the Council’s stopover in Addis Ababa on the way to Burundi. However, the African members of the Council, supported by Russia and Venezuela, expressed the view that given the tense relationship between the AU Commission and Burundi, it might be counterproductive if such a meeting took place before Council members interact with the government directly.