UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is sharply criticizing a bid by Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza to make changes to the constitution that could see him hold onto power for another decade or more, according to a report obtained by AFP on Tuesday.
Guterres said the opposition and civil society groups must be included in any decision to change the constitution to avoid a flareup of conflict in Burundi.
“While it is the sovereign right of Burundi to amend its constitution, I strongly believe that such an important undertaking must be conducted in an inclusive manner that seeks to achieve a maximum possible participation and consensus among the key political stakeholders,” said the report sent to the Security Council on Monday.
The council is due to discuss the report on February 26.
In power since 2005, Nkurunziza ran for a third term and was re-elected in 2015 despite provisions of the Arusha peace accord that set a limit of two five-year presidential terms.
The decision to run for a third term sparked violence in Burundi that has left hundreds dead, and sent more than 400,000 Burundians fleeing across borders, mostly in Tanzania.
Nkurunziza has launched a campaign to hold referendum on a new constitution probably in May 2018 that would set a limit of two seven-year presidential terms.
Burundi president Nkurunziza
Several opposition leaders have either boycotted the talks on the constitutional changes or raised questions about their legality.
The constitutional changes would provide for changes to the ethnic quotas between Hutus and Tutsis that were outlined in the hard-won Arusha peace accord that ended the civil war.
“Durable peace comes with addressing the underlying root causes of the crisis, not by jeopardizing the foundations of relative normalcy, such as the Arusha Agreement, which brought a decade of peace to the country,” said Guterres.
The UN chief said he was “deeply concerned” that talks between the government and the opposition remain deadlocked and said it was crucial that all sides “most especially the government” engage in a dialogue.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa are leading a regional effort to end the crisis in Burundi but the report said the mediators had not made significant progress.
The UN rights office continues to receive allegations of killings, enforced disappearances and torture, primarily by state security, the report said.
A UN commission of inquiry set up in 2016 has found that crimes against humanity had been committed in Burundi.