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On Burundi, ICP Asks UN of Attacks on Press, Overlap Between Crackdown & Peacekeeping

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 27 -- Two weeks after the UN Security Council, the United States and the UN Peacebuilding Configuration on Burundi on May 15 issued statements urging calm in the country given the return of Pierre Nkurunziza to presumably run for a third term, on May 27 the UN Security Council got a closed-door briefing from envoy Said Djinnit.

 An hour before they did, Inner City Press asked UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric, transcript here, video here:

Inner City Press: On Burundi, I'd wanted to ask you this.  The… in today's debate in the Council, a number of the Council members brought up the crackdown on media in Burundi alongside the, obviously, attacks on opposition and protesters, including the closing of three radio stations, the seeming shooting of a radio station reporter along with the opposition leader that was killed.  I wanted to know, is the UN doing… given all that's being said in the Security Council chamber today, is the UN and its existing missions in Burundi doing anything to actually try to protect journalists in Burundi?

Spokesman:  Obviously, the question of protection of journalists is one that's high on the agenda and you… as explained by the Deputy Secretary-General himself this morning.  It is critical for Burundi to move forward.  A critical part of Burundi moving forward in a peaceful way and political dialogue is a free press and that a free press be allowed to operate.  So, it's clearly part of the overall discussions that are going on.

Inner City Press: But in the Secretary-General's statement on the attack on the opposition leader, was he or DPA [Department of Political Affairs] or whoever wrote it unaware there was a journalist also gravely wounded at the same time?

Spokesman:  We may not have been aware of the full details, but obviously, attacks on journalists are condemned.

Inner City Press: And just one other question on Burundi.  There's a lot of discussion there, there's a picture, in fact, of a police individual shooting a submachine gun and also a picture of him in a peacekeeper uniform.  So, I wanted to know, is there… is DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] doing anything to see whether people previously deployed or prospectively deployed… there's another individual named Donat [a/k/a Rukonangwe] as possibly deploying… are involved in a picture of shooting in a crowd?

Spokesman:  I think… I haven't personally seen that picture.  If it turns out to be true, as we've seen in other cases, you know, troop contributors are not permitted to use UN insignia, symbols, emblems on uniforms or planes outside of UN peacekeeping operation, so, obviously, if this turned out to be true, it would… it would be in violation of those understandings.  Obviously, the vetting process of peacekeepers from all countries goes through… is cooperation between DPKO and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).  I think there's a special focus if troops would be coming in recently from Burundi; at this point, Burundian soldiers are continuing to serve in UN peacekeeping troops, and obviously, we… the UN has no operational or any control over the troops that have returned to the country. 

  Note: the first asked about is Alfred Innocent Museremu...

  On the way into the UNSC for the 1:15 pm meeting, a Permanent member's deputy ambassador told Inner City Press there would probably be no outcome from the meeting. And so it was -- after an hour and a half, when the Ambassador of the Council's "penholder" on Burundi Francois Delattre emerged, he declined to speak on the UNTV camera.

  He did however to his credit answer questions on the stairs leaving the stakeout. Inner City Press asked him about the timing of the presidential election; he said the conditions are not met.

  But why not put that in a Security Council statement? To make it a Council position?

  Inner City Press asked Delattre about attacks on journalists, the Security Council's topic before and after the Burundi consultation. He genially said it might be a good idea for the Council to speak on that. We'll see -- cell phone video here, in the spirit of Freedom of the Press, by the Free UN Coalition for Access, along with this rough transcript:

Inner City Press: What about the timing of the presidential election?
A: There’s a wide unity around the table, conditions are not met. A wide unity, everybody says that conditions for election are not met. That’s what we should work on. Raising these conditions.
Inner City Press: what about attacks on journalists?

A: That’s a really good point, because you have these consultations on Burundi, and you have this debate on protection of journalists. That’s something that I stressed to my colleagues. Protection of journalists is everywhere and also in Burundi.

Inner City Press: Will there be a statement on it?

A: You had a statement already on Sunday, you cannot have a statement every day. These are real concerns.


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