Thank you, Madam President, and thank you, Special Envoy Kafando, for your briefing. We’d also like to thank Ambassador Lauber for your briefing as well and your tireless work in the PBC.
Arbitrary arrests, a lack of transparency, the suspension of media outlets, and attempts to pressure voters marred Burundi’s May 17 referendum process, undermining confidence in its reported outcome. The results leave us concerned that Burundi is moving closer to one-party rule.
The referendum has taken place against a backdrop of stalled progress in the East African Community-led dialogue, continuing repression, and an unstable political situation. The referendum further aggravates ongoing, acute political tensions, which have destabilizing effects for Burundi and the broader region.
While the government did allow vigorous campaigning by the opposition during the designated two-week campaign period, numerous cases of harassment and repression against referendum opponents in the months preceding the vote contributed to a climate of fear and intimidation, resulting in a climate that did not allow for a credible referendum. The absence of independent observers also undermines confidence in the reported result. We also condemn reports of armed groups killing 26 innocent civilians in the days leading up to the referendum. This climate of violence, fear, and repression underscores the need for serious dialogue to advance peace.
Restrictions on media worsened in advance of the referendum, further undermining the credibility of the process. We condemn the government’s decision to suspend Voice of America and BBC broadcasts during this particularly volatile time. This decision, along with other media restrictions, arbitrary arrests, and harsh sentences for human rights defenders, undermines basic democratic norms and signals continuing, troubling limitations on civic and political space in Burundi.
We remain concerned that the government will interpret the revised constitution as resetting presidential term limits, and that other amendments seek to consolidate the president’s power, place restrictions on independent candidates and coalitions of candidates, and run counter to the power-sharing principles enshrined in the Arusha Agreement. These amendments will have long-term impacts on Burundi’s governance and institutions. We recall the ruling party’s commitment under the Pretoria Protocol to respect the principles of the Arusha Agreement, including respect for term limits, and expect it to abide by them.
The United States is closely tracking the trend of leaders extending their rule by eliminating or to extending term limits. We note from experience that when whole generations of people are denied democracy and fundamental freedoms, instability and insecurity often result. Burundi seems to be following this undemocratic trend, which we fear will lay the foundation for continued instability and political tensions for years to come.
The United States supported and was present at the signing of the Arusha Agreement that brought an end to years of tragic civil war in Burundi, and we believe it is in the interest of Burundians and the wider region for parties to continue to respect it.
Madam President, the Government of Burundi needs to take clear steps to reopen the political space for members of the opposition, independent media, and civil society and to engage in inclusive dialogue with Burundian political stakeholders.
It is critical that the Government of Burundi participate in good faith in the next session of the Inter-Burundian dialogue. We urge the region to intensify its engagement on Burundi in the post-referendum period to press for a durable political solution to Burundi’s political crisis, a reopening of political space, and an end to human rights abuses and violations.
Thank you, Madam President.