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The UN and the Ticking Bomb of the Burundi Elections

Burundian refugees, mostly women and children, wait on the shore of Lake Tanganyika to be transferred by boat to Kigoma and then on to Nyaragusu refugee camp. Photo: UNHCR/B. Loyseau

Burundian refugees, mostly women and children, wait on the shore of Lake Tanganyika to be transferred by boat to Kigoma and then on to Nyaragusu refugee camp. Photo: UNHCR/B. Loyseau

Despite protests against the current president's bid for a third term in office, Burundi's leaders insist on going forward with the election stating that the country is fully stable. For the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon “the crisis threatens to undo more than a decade of work to consolidate peace and reconciliation in the country"

“The crisis in Burundi threatens to undo more than a decade of work to consolidate peace and reconciliation in the country,” said United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon Monday June 29 as he reiterated his last week appeal to Burundian political leaders to put self-interest aside and focus instead on the wider interest of country – the citizens’ welfare and security.  Despite that, and the prevailing political and security environment, Burundi's leaders insist on going forward with the election stating that the country is fully stable. However, the situation is exactly was it was during this same period last year – if not worse – as the authoritative governmental system still places a stronghold over the political scene which puts much strain between parties, while the parliament seeks to impose laws that infringe upon the rights of civilians. “The current political crisis must be addressed through dialogue, in the larger interest of the people of Burundi, in order to consolidate peace and security and further strengthen national reconciliation,” Ban added.

Burundi’s flagrant failure in respecting citizens’ freedom of expression and assembly, plus acrid issues from the past is causing the country to have to face its worst crisis since the 2000 Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement for Burundi that resulted in the end of the country’s civil war nine years ago. The country plunged into another tumultuous mayhem in April when President Pierre Nkurunziza of the ruling National Council for the Defense of Democracy – Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) publicized his desire to run for a third consecutive five-year term. Since the governing party and its youth militia use violence to limit freedom of speech and hate speech to obtain certain electoral outcome, citizens then have neither a voice, a choice nor any chance

“The neglected violent past has become a major obstacle for the country’s future. 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,” said Pablo de Greiff, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence. De Greiff also highlighted the fact that one of the main important issues it the disarmament of youth militias. Recalling the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Burundi in 1990, de Greiff added that “Democratic legitimacy has been deliberately circumvented and Burundi’ has sharply departed from a rule of law based society,”

When the United Nations, along with the African Union’s member states, called for the parliamentary election to be postponed, Burundi’s government immediately rejected the idea. Even more, Nkurunziza’s supporters insist on his entitlement to another term saying that voters’ voices do not count as Nkurunziza was first elected by the parliament in 2005. Thus, many thousands have begun to flee to neighboring Central African States, seeking refuge.

As of a June 30 report from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), almost 145,000 Burundians have registered as refugees across the borders of neighboring countries. Many more thousands are believed to have fled the country, but have not registered.  Melissa Fleming, UNHCR spokesperson, said that in anticipation of more arrivals, relocation efforts have been sped up over the last days since only 13% of the agency’s targeted $207 million funds to aid Burundi’s refugees, via its Regional Refugee Response Plan (http://www.unhcr.org/555f1dfe9.html), has so far been achieved.  And the daily score of refugees is rising as Burundians continue to flee their homeland. Official figures show that 66,000 Burundi refugees are registered in Tanzania; 56,000 in Rwanda; 9,038 in Uganda; 11,500 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Even in Zambia, which is quite a distance from Burundi numbers show as many as 400 registered refugees from Burundi. “More than 1,100 people are now crossing various borders each day,” said Adrian Edwards, spokesperson for UNHCR. “The exodus is likely to climb even higher.”

Echoing concern over the challenging situation of Burundi refugees and also the neighboring States that are accepting them, the UN Security Council (UNSC) called on the international community to provide humanitarian assistance, urging Burundi’s government to work towards creating conditions conducive to the return of its citizens when situations have calmed down. The UNSC also 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 (if it actually comes to realization).

Last year during the turmoil, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, Special representative of the Secretary-General for Burundi, as he briefed the Security Council, commented that “There is a lack of genuine political dialogue on major national issues; and the effect of a number of restrictive laws on freedoms of expression and assembly is still a source of controversy and concern, which is disconcerting just nine months away from the 2015 elections.”  And during a brief interview on June 26, Onanga-Anyanga told LaVoce, “We must insist on Burundi to understand unilateral solutions to resolve conflicts. If parties remain stubborn in looking into their own self-interest, these will be short-term wins and a loss of opportunity.”

 

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