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On Burundi, ICP Asks Samantha Power of Mbonimpa, She Cites Arusha

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, September 3 -- In Burundi, amid a “closing of political space,” human rights defender Pierre Claver Mbonimpa has been in jail for 105 days. Inner City Press has previously reported on his case, here and elsewhere, and has asked (repeatedly) about it at the UN. Mbonimpa is now sick.

  On September 3 Inner City Press asked US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power about Mbonimpa, and relatedly about the reports of Burundi's ruling party arming its youth wing. Video here, and embedded (with Libya question) below, with US Mission transcript.

  Samantha Power replied that she has raised the imprisonment of Mbonimpa with Burundi's leadership, publicly and privately. (Inner City Press previously asked Ambassador Power about Burundi at a Security Council question and answer stakeout of the type the new Free UN Coalition for Access urges all Security Council presidencies to hold after closed door consultation sessions.)

I suppose the situation on the ground has not changed materially,” Ambassador Power said, “since we last engaged on this... the closing of political space, the walking away from aspects of the Arusha Accords.”

  During the recent African Leaders Summit in Washington she and other US officials raised the issues, she said. The US “wants the UN to maintain a role on the ground in the coming weeks as we approach the elections,” she said. Inner City Press has reported on Burundi using the “persona non grata” process to expel UN staff.

  Ambassador Power noted that the Security Council has held more meetings about Burundi this year than in any other analogous period. One wonders, will this continue up to the election? After? Watch this site.

Updated with US Mission transcript:

MODERATOR: Last question is Matthew.

QUESTION: Matthew Lee, Inner City Press. Thanks for the briefing and, on behalf of the Free UN Coalition for Access, hoping for question and answer stakeouts after consultations to hear what happened and ask you about it... On Burundi, I know that you visited there, and I wanted to know what’s the status of the UN looking into allegations that the ruling party was arming its youth wing and trying to get the release of this human rights defender, Mbonimpa, who is, I believe still in jail after several months.  Thanks.

AMBASSADOR POWER:On Burundi, I personally raised the case of the human rights defender and lawyer that you mentioned many, many times publicly and privately with the Burundian leadership. I think the – I suppose the situation on the ground has not changed materially since we last engaged on this. We still have real concerns about the closing of political space, the walking away from aspects of the Arusha Accords, which have been the foundation on which Burundi’s stability and peace and reconciliation have been predicated. All of those concerns remain, and they were raised by myself and by other American officials in the African Leaders Summit when President Nkurunziza visited not long ago.

The only thing I can say I guess beyond that at this point is that we are also deeply committed to ensuring that the UN maintains a role – an important role on the ground in Burundi in the coming weeks, particularly as we approach the elections, which are likely to be a very tense time, given what the government has done against opposition parties, and given that, again, the circumstances for civil society and the opposition have grown much more difficult in recent weeks. We don’t have reason to expect that things are suddenly going to open and that’s going to create tension, and I will note that the Council, I think, has met more on Burundi in recent months than probably in any other analogous period.

So again, this is something that I think we have made our views as a council and we have made our views bilaterally speaking by national capacity very well known to the Burundi authorities at a very combustible time. Thank you, everybody.


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