Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on the Situation in Burundi

Ambassador Jonathan Cohen
Acting Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
February 19, 2019


Thank you, Mr. President. Special Envoy Kafando, thank you for today’s briefing on the latest developments in Burundi, and Ambassadors Mohammed and Lauber, thank you too for sharing views of the African Union and the Burundi Configuration of the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission respectively.

Mr. President, the United States is deeply concerned by the stalled status of the East African Community-led Inter-Burundian Dialogue, and particularly by the manner in which the talks broke down. We express our deep appreciation to His Excellency, former President Benjamin Mkapa, for his continuous efforts as the Facilitator of the Dialogue, which have been critical in trying to advance discussions on strengthening political stability in Burundi.

This work remains unfinished and will need new regional champions. The United States urges the Government of Burundi, the EAC, and the guarantors of the Arusha Agreement to renew their commitment to finding consensus on a 2020 elections roadmap and preparing a free and fair electoral process that will allow all Burundian voters to participate in choosing their leaders. We urge the Government of Burundi to engage with these partners, and view the government’s attendance at the EAC Heads of State Summit earlier this month as a potential sign of progress.

Mr. President, Burundi’s 2020 elections are a unique opportunity that must not be missed. Despite our concerns about the dialogue, the United States continues to welcome President Nkurunziza’s announcement that he would not seek a fourth term and will support his successor.

A peaceful transition of power — based on an inclusive electoral process — will signal to the international community a renewed commitment to democracy and political stability. In our view, a peaceful transition would become more likely if the Kayanza roadmap were expanded to include the input of all stakeholders, including women and youth, opposition and ruling party leaders, civil society representatives, and prominent political activists, and by ensuring all eligible candidates are allowed to contest for the presidency. We welcome the Government of Burundi’s recent steps on political party registration, demonstrating that commitment.

Long-term political stability, however, cannot be achieved without respect for human rights. Mr. President, the U.S. is deeply concerned by the Government of Burundi’s decision to close the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Burundi. We fear that the further deterioration of respect for human rights will isolate the Government of Burundi in both regional and international bodies, which does not bode well for prospects for peace and security in the region.

Mr. President, the United States urges the Government of Burundi to address persistent and reliable reports of illicit arms transfers, combatant recruitment, and armed group activity in eastern DRC that are tied to Burundi. We’re particularly disturbed by reports that the Burundian military and the ruling party’s youth militia have been active in South Kivu. We’re also concerned about tensions between Burundi and Rwanda and reports of cross-border attacks by armed groups in these countries and the eastern DRC.

No one wins from a proxy war in the Great Lakes. The United States urges all parties to refrain from the use of violence and to respect territorial integrity. We encourage more cooperation among UN institutions working in the region, particularly the Office of the Special Envoy for Burundi, the Office of the Special Envoy for the Great Lakes, and MONUSCO. We call on this Council to support dialogue in the region and believe that regular briefings to this Council are essential to address rising tensions.

Mr. President, more than 58,000 Burundian refugees have returned since the outbreak of violence in 2015. Food insecurity, poverty, and harassment from local officials to join the ruling party present major hurdles to voluntary repatriation for the nearly 350,000 Burundian refugees who remain displaced. The United States encourages the Government of Burundi to continue collaborating with UNHCR to facilitate the voluntary, dignified, and safe repatriation of its nationals, whose inclusion in the political process will strengthen and further legitimize the 2020 electoral process.

So many Burundians are desperate for basic services, but the government’s October 2018 suspension of some international NGOs continues to affect important programs assisting the Burundian people. While the majority of NGOs have been reinstated, approximately 20 remain suspended, and a handful have left the country. We urge the government to lift all remaining suspensions to ensure the continuation of vital services to the Burundian people and to allow these NGOs unhindered access to deliver services.

Finally, Mr. President, we understand that the Government of Burundi objects to being included on the Council’s agenda. We would like nothing more than to remove them. But the United States is deeply concerned by rising regional tensions – which are not just a war of words, but of bullets – as well as by Burundi’s increasing diplomatic isolation and deep domestic political divides. In our view, it would be irresponsible to disengage before 2020, and we urge our colleagues on this Council and our Burundian counterparts to put their collective effort into increasing productive dialogue and reducing the likelihood of violence on Burundi’s path to peace, security, and development.

I thank you, Mr. President.