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Ban appeals to Burundian authorities to consider postponing elections

A boat carrying Burundian refugees arrives in Baraka, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
UNHCR/F. Scoppa
A boat carrying Burundian refugees arrives in Baraka, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Ban appeals to Burundian authorities to consider postponing elections

Closely following political and security developments in Burundi, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today encouraged the country’s authorities to consider the postponing of the elections scheduled for July 15.

“Deeply concerned over the prevailing political and security environment in Burundi, the Secretary-General appeals to the Burundian authorities to seriously consider the proposal put forward by the Joint International Facilitation Team to postpone the elections further in order to create a conducive environment for inclusive, peaceful and transparent elections”, reads a statement made available this morning by the UN Spokesperson.

Such a decision would be in line with the recent decisions of the African Union Peace and Security Council and the Summit of the East African Community, notes the statement.

Ban’s call comes ahead of a just-scheduled meeting of the UN Security Council later today on the situation in Burundi.

“The Secretary-General reiterates his appeal to all Burundian political leaders to address the current political crisis through dialogue in the larger interest of the people of Burundi, in order to consolidate peace and security and further strengthen national reconciliation.”

The statement commends the efforts of the Joint International Facilitation Team, comprising the East African Community, the African Union, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region and the United Nations to assist the Burundian parties “to reach consensus on the way forward to ensure peaceful and credible elections in their country.”

“In Burundi, the neglected violent past has become a major obstacle for the country’s future,” said last week Pablo de Greiff, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence.

Warning that the governing party and its youth militia use violence to limit freedom of speech and hate speech to obtain certain electoral outcome, the independent expert stressed the utmost importance to disarm those youth militias.

Burundi’s political turmoil started in early April when President Pierre Nkurunziza said he would stand for a third term, a decision denounced as unconstitutional by the opposition.

“Voters must be free to support or to oppose any political party…without undue influence or coercion of any kind which may distort or inhibit the free expression of the elector’s will,” Mr. de Greiff underscored.

Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency warned today that increasing numbers of people are fleeing Burundi ahead of next weeks' polls, with thousands seeking refuge across the central African State's borders.

“More than 600 people are now crossing each day into Rwanda, between 200 and 300 into Tanzania, and a further 150 to 200 into Uganda,” Adrian Edwards, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) pointed out, warning that the exodus was likely to climb still higher.

So far, nearly 127,000 Burundians have registered as refugees. However, many more are believed to have fled the country, but not registered. Latest official figures show 62,000 in neighbouring Tanzania, 45,000 in Rwanda, 8,855 in Uganda, 10,590 in Democratic Republic of the Congo, and even 400 in faraway Zambia.

In anticipation of more arrivals, relocation efforts have been sped up over the last days. In May, UNHCR and 17 partners launched the Regional Refugee Response Plan for $207 million to protect and assist up to 200,000 Burundian refugees. Despite the deteriorating situation in Burundi, the plan has realised only 13 per cent of its target, leaving crucial services, such as water, health and sanitation, seriously underfunded.

Expressing concern over what it called grave threats to security in Burundi as elections approached, the Security Council. Later in the day, called for the urgent holding of inclusive dialogue between parties there to create the conditions — and determine an appropriate schedule — for peaceful and credible polls.

Through a statement read out by Ramlan Bin Ibrahim of Malaysia, Council President for June, the 15-member body strongly condemned violence and human rights violations in the country ahead of the planned communal, presidential and senatorial elections, and welcomed efforts to address the crisis by the East African Community and the African Union Peace and Security Council, among other regional actors.

Through the text, the Council emphasized that dialogue should address protecting freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, including the right of members of the political opposition to campaign freely; the release of those arbitrarily detained following demonstrations; respect for the rule of law; the urgent disarmament of armed groups allied with political parties and all matters on which the parties disagree.

The Council took note of the African Union’s statement that political dialogue to this point had not made adequate progress on those matters and that the current situation could jeopardize important gains recorded since the signing of the Arusha Agreement for peace in Burundi and the ceasefire of 2003, affecting the stability of the region.

It also took note of the Union’s Communiqué stating that the date of the election should be set by consensus between the Burundian parties, in the spirit of the East African Community’s statement of 31 May 2015 — which requested postponement — and on the basis of a technical assessment to be undertaken by the United Nations.

The Council welcomed the African Union’s decision to deploy human rights observers in Burundi and to put in place military experts to verify the disarming of the youth groups, as well as to send an election observer mission if conditions for free and fair elections were met, with a ministerial delegation to visit by the first week of July to assess those conditions.

The 15-member body called on the Electoral Mission of the United Nations in Burundi (MENUB) to fully perform its role and to swiftly report to the Security Council before, during and after the elections. Reiterating concern over the difficult situation of refugees from Burundi in neighbouring States, the Council called on the international community to provide humanitarian assistance and urged the Government to create the conditions conducive to their return.