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On Burundi, US Supports AU Not Sending Observers, What of UN's UNclear Position?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, June 29 -- As in Burundi the crackdown on those opposing or even questioning a third term for Pierre Nkurunziza proceeds, now with the head of the Parliament having to flee the country, there are  attempts to ban or dodge questions, including by the UN. Then there is what seems like outright obfuscation, see below.

 On the evening of June 29, the US State Department put out this statement:

"The United States is deeply disappointed that the government of Burundi moved forward with parliamentary elections today despite woefully inadequate conditions for them to be credible, disregarding the strong urging of the African Union, the UN Secretary General and many other voices calling for a delay.  We call on President Nkurunziza to place the welfare of his country and people ahead of his wish to serve a third term by heeding the calls for dialogue and demonstrating respect for the Arusha Agreement, including its provisions on term limits. 

"We urge the Burundian government to return to the table and to participate seriously in the political dialogue facilitated by UN Special Representative Bathily, AU Special Envoy Fall, and their East African Community and International Conference on the Great Lakes Rregion colleagues. We want all stakeholders to reach consensus on new electoral dates and find a political solution for this crisis.

"The United States supports the AUís decision not to send electoral observers in recognition that free, fair and credible elections are impossible given the current security situation and the closure of political and media space.  We share the AUís concern about the hardships facing the people of Burundi and urge President Nkurunziza to cooperate fully with the AU and regional organizations to resolve the current crisis and enable credible elections to go forward at a later date."

  If the US supports the AU position, what of the UN's UNclear position?

  On June 28, both UN Secretary General and the UN's MENUB said that the MENUB mission IS observing the legislative election, unlike the African Union which announced that it would not, due to conditions not being met.

  But in a parallel universe, on June 29 the head of the UN Development Program Helen Clark tweeted that "UN is not observing and has withdrawn from support to the conduct of the election." Then after Inner City Press noted it, Clark deleted it. Thus does the UN try to have it both ways.

   Later on June 29 along with a question about climate change Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon about Burundi, and if the UN is observing. Video here. From the UN's own transcript:

Inner City Press: Because it is the day of the election in Burundi, I have to ask this, where does it stand for the international community for an election that is taking place without any observers, what can be done? What is the next step forward?

SG Ban Ki-moon: "Let me briefly answer your question about the current situation in Burundi. Yesterday, all day long, I have been speaking to some African leaders in the region, including President Kikwete of Tanzania who is acting as President of the East African Community. I have also spoken to AU Chairperson Madame Zuma, as well as President Zuma of South Africa. They are the leaders who have been constantly engaging in this. I have been expressing my serious concern that while all the opposition political parties have boycotted - and even the Vice-President and the Parliamentary speakers Ė they have all condemned and criticized President Nkurunziza and left their country because of their serious concern. While UNDP and the United Nations have withdrawn our electoral support there, our United Nations observation team is now observing this election process. Now it seems that the election has been continuing. I reiterated my appeal to all Burundian political leaders to consider the wider interest of the people of their country and to resolve political issues through dialogue in order to preserve peace and strengthen national reconciliation.  I also emphasize the responsibility of the Government of Burundi to ensure that the elections take place in a secure environment and also to guarantee the safety and security of UN observers, so that they can perform their mandated responsibilities free from intimidation and harassment. This is mandated by the Security Council. This is what I can tell you at this time. I am very closely observing and watching and coordinating and consulting with African leaders. Thank you."

  While the answer is appreciated, it remained unclear what Clark had meant, and the UN's stance on the elections and observing them. Inner City Press asked for a yes or no answer, was Clark wrong in saying the UN is not observing - and no clear answer was given.

  We also note that while Laurent Fabius of France, the UN Security Council penholder on Burundi, was doing this as a joint press encounter with Ban, Fabius did not answer on Burundi at all. We'll have more on this.


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