Burundi has made significant progress over the past year in moving away from its violent past towards a future of peace, stability and development but security, food, human rights and sexual violence remain matters of concern, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says in a new report.
Among the advances he cites the holding of five consecutive elections (communal, presidential, legislative, senatorial and local), even though some of these were boycotted by opposition parties, noting that for the first time since 1993, the authorities successfully took on the challenge entirely on their own in a country that was for decades torn apart by largely ethnic fighting between Hutus and Tutsis, in which hundreds of thousands of people perished.
“Despite the deep divide among political actors over the elections and the fact that a single party will dominate the political landscape for the next five years, it is remarkable that neither of those factors has led to the return of large-scale violence, as had been widely feared,” he tells the Security Council in his latest report on the United Nations mission that has been helping the small Central African country recover from its legacy of violence, UN News Service.
“I believe that the fact that confrontation has remained predominantly confined to the political realm is a testament to the maturing of the political class of Burundi, the vibrant role played by its increasingly strong and independent civil society, and, above all, the population’s desire for lasting peace and development.”
But, he adds: “I am deeply concerned about signs of a returning climate of impunity, the resurgence of acts of torture, intimidation, extrajudicial executions and arrests of opposition members, as well as restrictions on the freedom of expression and assembly.”
The UN mission, known in its most recent incarnation as the UN Integrated Office in Burundi (BINUB), expires at the end of the year and Mr. Ban proposes that it be replaced by a scaled-down mission to be known as the UN Office in Burundi (BNUB) as of 1 January 2011, for an initial period of one year, to complement the various UN agencies working in the country.
The new Office’s mandate will include monitoring key indicators on democracy and governance, and providing advice on the security sector and strengthening human rights and justice institutions. Without giving numbers, he says BNUB’s overall size is likely to be substantially smaller than that of BINUB, in accordance with the Government’s request.
He notes that the scaling down of the former UN Operation in Burundi (ONUB) to BINUB in 2006 created significant tension among national staff, with one group of former staff members still demanding reparations for various reasons, including wrongful dismissal, staging demonstrations, destroying UN property and threatening to kidnap UN staff.
“To reduce the risk of a similar reaction, I urge the Government of Burundi to work closely with the United Nations to assist BINUB national staff in their transition to either the public or the private sector,” he writes.
Mr. Ban notes that the security situation in the country, although relatively stable over the past year, remains a concern, with a high incidence of criminal activities such as armed robbery, killings and sexual violence, and “a significant increase in human rights violations,” including severe restrictions on the freedom of expression and association and the jailing of opposition party members.
He reports an increase in extrajudicial killings and/or politically motivated killings from 27 in 2009 to 29 recorded so far this year, and notes that BINUB confirmed 18 cases of torture while none were reported in 2009.
“Sexual and gender-based violence continues to be a major challenge,” he says, noting that between January and October, the Ministry of Human Rights and Gender registered 1,727 rape cases. He stresses UN efforts to combat sexual and gender violence and generally to promote human rights and civilian protection by regularly reporting violations, briefing the diplomatic community and organizing awareness programmes for State employees and youth groups.
But he also notes that the rate of representation by women in the National Assembly is 32 per cent, above the 30 per cent required by the Constitution, and women’s representation in the Senate is 46 per cent, the highest in Africa and second in the world at this level.
Mr. Ban cites a “considerable risk” that children will be recruited by armed groups due to the heightened tensions that surrounded the electoral cycle; notes that the food situation, although improved thanks to favourable weather, remains worrying; and stresses that with some 100,000 people remaining internally displaced and more than 200,000 refugees still in Tanzania, land disputes and the lack of socio-economic amenities remain a challenge as returns continue.
“Potential civil unrest, natural disasters, epidemic outbreaks, poverty and recurrent food insecurity could still have significant humanitarian consequences and a negative impact on development efforts,” he warns, stressing the important role the UN must play to monitor the situation and update contingency plans to respond to a sudden deterioration of the situation.
Burundi was the first country, together with Sierra Leone, to be targeted by the UN Peacebuilding Commission when it was launched in 2006 to provide financial, economic and other support to prevent countries emerging from conflict from relapsing back into bloodshed, and Mr. Ban noted that the body continued to monitor the country closely.
“The situation in Burundi has sufficiently progressed, in spite of the concerns expressed above,” he concludes. “I therefore encourage the international community to gradually shift its engagement in the country from support for the peace process to assistance in the areas of recovery, development and democratic consolidation. The next five years will be critical in this regard, not least because of the still highly volatile political and security situation in the Great Lakes region.”