Burundian peace activist barred from UN meeting
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A briefing by a Burundian activist to the UN Security Council was cancelled at the last minute on Thursday after Russia objected to her participation, diplomats said.
Rights activist Carine Kaneza was scheduled to brief the top UN body on the devastating crisis in her homeland as the Security Council discussed a damning report by the new UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, on the situation in Burundi.
Diplomatic sources told FRANCE 24 that Russia objected to Kaneza’s participation and her intervention was subsequently cancelled. Moscow reportedly cited a technical issue as the reason for blocking her participation, saying they had not been given enough prior warning.
China and Egypt also reportedly shared those objections. Diplomatic sources however told FRANCE 24 that the objection followed a wider pattern of certain permanent Security Council members -- Russia and China in particular -- tending to push back against attempts to bring human rights and civil society voices into the Security Council.
Russia is also widely viewed as one of the Security Council members that has traditionally shielded Burundi from tougher action by the UN.
Last year, Burundian authorities opposed Kaneza’s inclusion in peace talks between the government and the opposition in neighbouring Tanzania. Joseph Bangurambona, the permanent secretary in Burundi's foreign affairs ministry, told Reuters that the government did not recognise Kaneza’s role in the talks nor the organisation she represents.
Kaneza is a spokesperson for the Burundi Women and Girls Movement for Peace and Security.
All eyes on a likely fourth presidential term
The UN report by Guterres, which is his first on Burundi, states that the political impasse in the country has deepened, while the population is terrorised by a regime of serious and systematic human rights abuses. The crisis was sparked by Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to successfully run for a third term in 2015, sparking mass protests and a failed coup.
Guterres has warned against Nkurunziza seeking a fourth term -- a possibility that the president alluded to in December -- and joined others in sounding the alarm on a political process that could lead to changes to the constitution, which he said “has the potential to plunge the country into an even deeper crisis”.
In an interview with FRANCE 24, Kaneza warned that “the risk of genocide and mass atrocities” described in the Secretary-General’s report are clear red flags.
Despite being barred from Thursday’s briefing, Kaneza spoke to some Security Council members on the sidelines of the meeting. She said she is particularly keen to see more pressure from the Great Lakes region, and called on Burundi’s neighbours to speak with one voice and in order to apply coercive measures, including a potential trade embargo, in an effort to bring the government to the table.
The UN report by Guterres notes that despite a decline in overt violence and fewer incidents of armed confrontations, reports of human rights violations and abuses continue, including killings, enforced disappearances, gender-based violence, arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture and ill-treatment, and the discovery of unidentified bodies.
He details allegations of more than 200 cases of enforced disappearances since October 2016 and 593 violations of the right to life since April 2015.
‘Axis of evil’
Responding to the report, the Burundian ambassador to the UN, Albert Shingiro, said Guterres was part of “an axis of evil” that was “harassing” Burundi.
While the government claims that the situation in the country is calm, thousands of Burundians continue to flee. With some 386,000 already having crossed borders to neighbouring countries, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, forecasts that more than half a million people will be living outside the country by the end of 2017.
The Secretary-General’s top diplomat on Burundi, Special Adviser on Conflict Prevention Jamal Benomar, told FRANCE 24 that: “The accounts of torture that are emerging from the country are horrendous, bodies are being found across the country in rivers, found hanged in supposed suicides.”