Head of UN Office Briefs, Says Mistrust Lingers from 2010 Election Boycott;
Chair of Peacebuilding Country-Configuration, Foreign Affairs Secretary Also Speak
In a briefing to the Security Council this morning, the top United Nations official in Burundi praised the Central African country's continued progress in consolidating peace and stability, but he cautioned that, with critical elections on the horizon, sustained international political engagement would be required to effectively remedy the two-year standoff between the Government and opposition parties, and ease the lingering economic hardships facing the Burundian people.
Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Office in Burundi - known by the acronym BNUB - said the country had travelled a long path out of the cycle of violence that had plagued it for more than four decades and was now enjoying an unprecedented period of uninterrupted democratic progress and stability. Yet, that was not to say Burundi had overcome all the challenges it faced, he said, stressing that efforts to establish a more just and peaceful society had been tempered by lingering mistrust following the boycott of 2010 elections by opposition parties.
That situation had a negative impact on Burundi's political environment, he said, and that a troubling development was highlighted by both the Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission's Burundi Configuration - just back from a visit to Bujumbura - and the Permanent Secretary of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Burundi, who also addressed the Security Council today.
Mr. Onanga-Anyanga said that the standoff between the Government and the extra-parliamentary opposition had led to tense relationships - sometimes with a violent edge - putting an unnecessary and regrettable strain on political space. The tense political environment ran counter to the letter and spirit of the consensus that had surrounded the political consolidation process since the Arusha Accords. " Burundi's long-term stability - and more immediately, the successful preparations and conduct of the 2015 elections - hinge critically on maintaining both," he said. With the electoral campaign on the horizon, it was essential now that both the Government and the opposition played their part in ensuring a continued consensus approach in dealing with the challenges ahead.
Against that background, he said that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had called on all parties to intensify efforts to nurture dialogue and normalize relations and to ensure that foundations were laid now for a peaceful and participatory campaign period. Moreover, sustained United Nations and international political engagement, combined with adequate backing of Burundi's development strategy, were required to help achieve the vision of consolidating a vibrant democracy where all citizens could live in peace and freedom.
With that in mind, Mr. Onanga-Anyanga said the Secretary-General had, in his report (S/2013/36) recommended that the mandate of BNUB be extended for one year, consistent with the views of the Government. Further, on the basis of discussions with senior officials, the Secretary-General intended, over the coming year, to field a Strategic Assessment Mission, which would provide a further assessment of the situation through the existing benchmark framework. That process would inform his recommendations regarding the future United Nations presence in Burundi and he planned to present those recommendations in his next report to the Council.
He went on to commend the Burundian Government for its efforts to strengthen governance and institution-building, leading to continued improvements in mechanisms to fight corruption and build accountability. The Geneva Conference of Development Partners, held in late October 2012, had helped mobilize support for the implementation of the country's new Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper, with an impressive show of support from Burundi's partners.
Turning to progress made against the benchmarks set by the Arusha Accords, he said the democratic processes were expanding despite the political standoff. The majority of the country's institutions continued to solidify functions and build capacity. He said that legislative bodies had at once become more inclusive, while continuing to diversify their make-up. He paid tribute to the Government's openness to dialogue with the opposition. Further, thanks to the extended period of calm, the Government was moving to strengthen the security sector, including ensuring the national forces were more professional. Still, he cautioned that sporadic violence - as well as the cross-border movements of armed groups in the region - was evidence that there were still destabilizing forces that bore close monitoring. "This country has come too far to allow the democratic and political processes to go off track," he said.
As for transitional justice and reconciliation, he said that a draft law on the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission was now being discussed in Parliament. The President of the National Assembly had expressed the country's desire to overcome the deep divisions that had haunted it for too long. BNUB was providing assistance to that end, and he hoped that all parties in the country would press forward with the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission that built on the international community's experience in that area, and which met international standards.
He went on to highlight the Government's efforts to bolster legislative and judicial institutions, including those that would battle corruption. On human rights, he said the situation had shown some encouraging signs in 2012. However, BNUB had tirelessly worked with the Government to ensure national capacity-building to promote and protect human rights in the country. The independent human rights commission had been established in 2011, and that body had recently opened three regional offices, which had strengthened the efficiency and scope of its work. Here, he also stressed the need to ensure that a dynamic and active civil society must be allowed to continue its oversight role to ensure that relevant Government institutions operated effectively and in the interests of the Burundian people.
Despite solid progress on many of the benchmarks, Burundi still faced challenges in the area of social and economic development. Indeed, today more than ever, the country needed the support of all its partners to overcome the deep poverty that affected major portions of the population. In the short term, Burundi needed financial support to address immediate needs. He said that the private sector must also become more active in strengthening the country's productive sectors, including in energy, agro-industry and in enhancing infrastructure to carry out mineral resource exploration and exploitation.
"Lifting a country out of poverty and healing the wounds of cyclical violence are immense challenges. Overcoming them requires the contributions of all elements of society," he said, underscoring his confidence in the Burundian Government and people to build a more open and democratic society that would be better able to respond to the major tasks at hand. The United Nations had - and would - remain at Burundi's side, and he believed that there was a true opportunity for the country to establish and era of transformative politics through inclusion, dialogue and the search for the common good.
"To move forward, however, it will be crucial that we do not lose sight of the objective Burundi has set for itself in Arusha and in its 2005 Constitution," he said, citing the country's stated commitment to building institutions that strove for good governance and equitable growth, while forming a society that respected diversity and human rights.
Taking the floor next, Paul Seger, Chair of the Burundi Configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, said that during his 14 to 16 January visit to Bujumbura, he had met with representatives of all political parties, civil society and the private sector . The main purpose of his visit had been to discuss the future steps of the Configuration's engagement with Burundi, including follow-up to the October 2012 Geneva donors' conference.
He had proposed that governmental authorities continue their double track approach - engagement in both political/institutional and socio-economic fields - as the country moved forward. He had also gathered during his discussions that the Government would like the Configuration to continue its support through 2015, which he considered very positive. To that end, he reiterated his willingness to continue advocating and counselling Burundi and would try his best to ensure that the pledges made at Geneva were kept.
The Government planned to begin in April the setting up of sector-specific conferences on infrastructure, private sector development, health, good governance and the environment. He urged national authorities to plan for those respective conferences with care - even to the point of perhaps postponing them - to ensure that the requisite priorities were set and the right audiences were targeted. The international community must lend a hand in that effort, he said, underscoring that the Geneva Conference had only been the first step. "The tricky part of implementing the [Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers]-II starts now," he said.
During his visit, Mr. Seger had recommended concentrating the Configuration's efforts in areas such as national reconciliation and transitional justice, widening the political space and the democratic culture, rule of law, and good governance. In all those areas, the Peacebuilding Commission could be an important platform for dialogue and exchange, and thus, support the efforts of other actors like BNUB or the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Progress in those four areas "is needed and indispensible", he continued, adding that this year would prove decisive for the consolidation of peace as the country headed into its 2015 elections. The success of that process depended on the contributions of both the Government and the opposition, and he sensed in Bujumbura that none of the parties wanted to repeat "the errors of 2010".
He said that the Government had made clear that it wanted "a real competition" in 2015, and the extra-parliamentary opposition was keen to participate. While such positive attitudes were welcome, risks remained that the polling process might be disrupted, he said, underscoring the importance of maintaining political dialogue between the Government and the opposition, which would be key in mitigating such negative forces. Similarly, the process of dealing with the past was very critical, and while it was up to Burundi to choose its own path in that regard, he urged the Government to be very sensitive to the wishes of all Burundian society and to address their concerns to the best extent possible.
Before concluding his briefing, he said that the effectiveness of his work as Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission's Burundi Configuration was largely based on the role of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and his team. Collaboration with BNUB had, for example, been key to the success of the Geneva Conference. Indeed, for bilateral and multilateral partners, BNUB represented "an institutional guarantee that their money is well spent." Consequently, BNUB's continued presence on the ground was, in his view, crucial, and he urged that it be extended at least through 2015. "We all know that Burundi is not the immediate focus of the Security Council. But, it is often these 'silent countries' that represent true success stories," he said, appealing to the Council to not jeopardize the opportunity by prematurely withdrawing its attention. He also appealed to all donors present in the room to seriously consider deploying their development assistance, in the form of budgetary support, as Burundi risked facing considerable problems in meeting even its most basic expenses, due to the difficult economic and financial environment.
In his address, Albert Shingiro, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, highlighted some tangible achievements, among them, the settling of political disputes through inclusive dialogue and, in 2010, the organization of free, fair and democratic elections in line with international standards. Additionally, members of the independent electoral commission had been nominated to prepare for the 2015 polls. According to a recent survey, the people of Burundi had trust in the electoral process; an increase from 66 per cent in 2009 to 83 per cent in 2011. The Government had also continued to professionalize its defence and security forces. In the context of its disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme, it had been possible to collect more than 12,000 grenades, 2,000 rifles and 400 handguns.
In that connection, he noted that the successful reintegration of former rebels into the defence and security forces had contributed significantly to stabilizing the country. The elaboration of a national security strategy had also been important, as had the improved governance and anti-corruption efforts. Additionally, a national independent human rights commission had been created, along with an ombudsman's office and tax office, among many other institutions. There had been steady improvement towards combating corruption and, in the context of rule of law, the Government, since the transition period in 2005, had continued to promote an independent justice sector.
He reported that the National Human Rights Commission continued to investigate cases and had three regional offices; dialogue with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights had been quite valuable. A centre for victims of sexual violence had been established, as well. The country was also making headway in connection with its regional integration efforts. Economic and social development remained extremely challenging as, despite considerable efforts by the Government and people, poverty, lack of land, food insecurity and high unemployment persisted. Budgetary support from Burundi's development partners was more vital than ever, beyond project financing. With the help of its development partners, the country had decided to draft a second poverty reduction strategy paper, which integrated some of the peacebuilding elements.
Overall, he said, the country continued to require the support of the international community and United Nations as, like others in the subregion, it could not fully enjoy its newly gained peace and peacebuilding if security outside its borders as a whole "is not good". Negative factors in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in particular, were troubling and had led his country to adopt a policy of "neither interference nor indifference". That situation required the Council's greater attention, as it could inflame the entire region and threaten international peace and security. Meanwhile, his Government would continue to send troops to other countries as part of its recognition of what the international community had done for it during those difficult periods in its history. Still, "no country in the world can ever do everything all at once". For that reason, his Government appealed for an eventual reconfiguration of the United Nations presence, when the time was right, to a country team, and it sought a more flexible commitment by the Peacebuilding Commission as developments warranted.
The meeting began at 10:23 a.m. and ended at 11:26 a.m.