Two weeks after the contested legislative and communal elections that took place in Burundi and with presidential polls just days away, senior United Nations officials warned the Security Council today that situation prevailing in the Central African country is once again at risk of sliding into violence.
“Burundi is on the brink again [and] the grave danger the country faces should not be underestimated, given the increasing polarization and the apparent choice of Burundian leaders to put personal interest before those of the country,” declared UN Assistant-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Taye-Brook Zerihoun.
“An escalating pattern of politically motivated violence, coupled with this country's history of recurring bloodshed and atrocities, should alert us to the potential for serious crisis,” underlined UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein.
Both officials echoed similar concern as they briefed the Security Council on the situation in Burundi; Mr. Zehiroun on the electoral process and the political and security situations through the work of the UN Election Observation Mission (MENUB) and Mr. Zeid on the protection and promotion of human rights.
“On 2 July, MENUB assessed that the legislative and communal electoral process of June 29 took place against the background of a political crisis, and in a climate of widespread fear and intimidation in parts of the country,” said the Assistant Secretary-General.
Some opposition political parties and civil society organizations, notably those opposed to a third term for President Pierre Nkurunziza, called the elections a “sham” and declared they would not recognize the results.
Fundamental freedoms of participation, assembly, expression, opinion and information suffered increasing restrictions during the campaign period and as Election Day drew nearer, according to the MENUB observers deployed in all 18 provinces of Burundi.
In the past six months, went on to say Mr. Zeid, members of opposition parties, civil society activists and media figures have been targeted for intimidation, severe harassment and arbitrary detention.
“Peaceful protests have been met with unwarranted use of force, including lethal force, in violation of Burundi's obligation under national and international law to guarantee the right to freedom of assembly. Demonstrators have been imprisoned and subjected to torture and ill-treatment. We have also received reports of extrajudicial killings. To date these violations have not been investigated, prosecuted or sanctioned.”
While MENUB assessed that the Independent National Election Commission adequately handled the voter registration and the nomination of candidates, opposition parties repeatedly accused the electoral management body of “lacking credibility and independence,” continued Mr. Zehiroun.
Preparations and arrangements for Election Day were largely sufficient, and instances of violence and explosions preceded, and in some cases took place alongside Election Day activities, mostly in Bujumbura, he pointed out.
“In view of its findings, MENUB concluded that the environment was not conducive for free, credible and inclusive elections. The African Union, the Eastern African Community, and the International Conference on Great Lakes Region expressed similar concerns.”
According to the Election Commission, the preliminary results of the legislative elections show that Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie-Forces pour la défense de la démocratie (CNDD-FDD), the party received 60.2 per cent of the votes, a result rejected by the opposition, Mr. Zehiroun said.
“Preparations for the presidential election are ongoing. Ballot papers have been printed with all the eight candidates approved by the Election Commission including those who have announced they would boycott the elections,” he stressed, adding that the political and security situations in Burundi have remained tense and volatile since the polls.
“The crisis arising from President Nkurunziza's decision to run for a third term in office has undermined a decade of steady progress in building democratic institutions, and precious gains in the sense of a common national community,” warned UN rights chief Zeid, stressing that more than 145,000 people have fled to neighbouring countries, and convinced that Burundi is on the brink of “devastating violence” again.
Contrary to some recent reports, the massive outflows of refuges appear to have been sparked, not by rumour, but by precise and targeted campaigns of intimidation and terror. Refugees interviewed by his Office in the Democratic republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Tanzania continue to refer to the Imbonerakure militia as the main threat, but some have also stated that militants from other groups are also employing violence – a new and disturbing development.
During an emergency summit on 6 July, the Assistant Secretary-General added, the East African Community (EAC) issued a Communiqué, in which were made a number of recommendations, including the postponement of the presidential elections to July 30th 2015; the formation of a government of national unity involving both who participated in the elections and those that did not; and the deployment of an EAC electoral mission to observe the presidential elections.
For Mr. Zehiroun, that Communiqué is a “clear path forward”.
According to the UN, civil unrest erupted on 26 April in Bujumbura after the ruling CNDD-FDD party elected President Pierre Nkurunziza on 25 April as its candidate for then-scheduled 26 June presidential election. Mr. Nkurunziza has been in office for two terms since 2005, and a broad array of actors warned that an attempt to seek a third term was unconstitutional and contrary to the spirit of the 2000 Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement for Burundi that ended a decade of civil war in the country.