10 March 2017

Burundi: UN - Authorities Shutting Doors of Engagement on Crisis

The United Nations says that nearly two years since the election crisis in Burundi, the country is still at risk of intensifying its problems.

Speaking Thursday to the U.N. Security Council, the secretary-general's special adviser, Jamal Benomar, reported that Burundi was still struggling with a fragile security environment; soaring unemployment, especially among youth; and deterioration of the humanitarian situation.

He also underscored that the political impasse had only deepened in the two years since President Pierre Nkurunziza sought what many viewed as an unconstitutional third term in office. Perhaps most troubling, he said, is the worsening human rights situation.

"Many Burundians live in fear as a result of widespread repression and increasing intimidation by the Imbonerakure, the ruling party's youth militia," Benomar said. "Members of opposition political parties, as well as perceived opponents, reportedly continue to be victims of arbitrary arrest, detention, ill treatment and enforced disappearances."

Benomar said 3 million Burundians need humanitarian assistance, a quarter of the population. Since the crisis erupted in 2015, nearly 400,000 people have fled the country, and the U.N. refugee agency projects that number will reach 500,000 by year's end.

International police force

In July 2016, the Security Council authorized a 228-member international police force to deploy to Burundi to prevent human rights violations and provide stability for an intra-Burundian dialogue. The government has continued to reject the council's decision, and the force has been unable to deploy.

Former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, who is the facilitator for the opposing sides, told the council via a video link from Entebbe that the parties were far apart, despite intensive efforts to bring them together.

"Each side claims to be the depository or the custodians of the Arusha agreement [which ended the country’s civil war and created a power-sharing agreement between the Hutu majority and Tutsi minority] and the constitution," he said. "And the tendency is to see other side as the criminals, and therefore they are the ones who should be visited with all the wrath of the power of the state or the power of the international community."

Benomar expressed his frustration with the Burundian government, saying the United Nations had tried to engage with Bujumbura but "the doors to engagement and cooperation have been largely shut by the authorities."

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