Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Electoral Observation Mission in Burundi (S/2015/985).

Wednesday, December 16, 2015
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Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Electoral Observation Mission in Burundi (S/2015/985).

Code: S/2015/985

Topic: This report by the Secretary-General is on the United Nations Electoral Observation Mission in Burundi (MENUB), pursuant to Security Council resolution 2137 (2014). It covers the time period between 29 June and 18 November 2015 and provides an overview of the conduct of the electoral process as well as details on the closing and liquidation of MENUB.

Women, Peace and Security

The Secretary-General’s report gives account on major political, security, human rights and humanitarian developments in the aftermath of the elections of 29 June 2015 and provides details on the elections and electoral observation. Significant references to women’s concerns are limited to the dedicated section that discusses the participation of women and “other marginalized groups” in the electoral process, drawing upon related provisions in the Arusha Agreement, which request that women should occupy at least 30 per cent of seats in the National Assembly and the Senate as well as 30 per cent of positions in the government. While 30 per cent of the candidates listed were women, the report recognizes that they were rarely highly ranked and received significantly less media coverage than male candidates, meaning that only 25% very elected directly, and that the percentage of female representatives at ministerial level has notably decreased since the last election in 2010.[1] Additionally, the report provides sex-disaggregated data in two instances, accounting for the gender breakdown of registered voters with women making up more than 50%.[2]

Considering the political situation post-elections, the report notes that the National Commission for the Inter-Burundian Dialogue was established according to the principles of the Arusha Agreement, which demand ethnic and gender quotas to ensure women’s participation in all decision-making processes.[3]

While accounting for women’s participation in the electoral process, the report does not pay any attention to additional concerns relating to the WPS agenda, such as references to the impact of women representatives in the national political dialogue or to the status of women’s human rights, including mentions of the prevalence of sexual violence. Moreover, the section on women’s participation in electoral processes could have been much more sensitive towards women’s specific challenges regarding their access to and participation in decision-making processes by refraining from packing issues related “women and other marginalized groups” into four paragraphs. Assumably, women and ethnic minorities are confronted with different challenges, which would have not only deserved to be the discussed in greater depth but also to be mainstreamed throughout the report. Failing to consistently apply a gender lens, one can assume an overall unawareness for considering women’s concerns in aspects other than activities related to the electoral process.

References in Need of Improvement and Missed Opportunities

Political process

Reporting on the President’s announcement to limit the influence of civil society organizations in political matters, the report would have been stronger by highlighting whether women’s civil society organizations, including organizations working on women’s human rights issues, are particularly affected by these restrictions.[4] The report would have further been stronger if it had mentioned whether women representatives of civil society organizations or oppositional political parties were part of the list of 25 individuals to be prosecuted by the Commission of Inquiry for allegedly organizing or supporting an “insurrectional movement” relating to the anti-third-term demonstrations.[5] Moreover, the report could have detailed whether the President’s call for voluntary disarmament and the subsequent forcible disarmament campaign has targeted or targets women, including whether there are plans to establish a comprehensive disarmament strategy that is receptive to the specific needs of women ex-combatants.[6]

Considering activities of the Peacebuilding Commission, the report completely fails to mention whether women leaders and representatives of women’s civil society are included in these processes. Ensuring women’s participation in all decision-making processes is crucial as only a gender-balanced view on the deteriorating political, security and humanitarian situation on the ground can ensure that the varying needs of women, men, girls and boys are adequately addressed.[7]

Electoral assistance

Reporting on the MENUB observation teams that were deployed in all provinces during the election, the report would have benefited from mentioning whether women were also trained to be employed as election observers in order to create an enabling and safe environment for women to approach observer staff to report irregularities.[8]

Human Rights

While accounting for “a surge in human rights violations and abuses, including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and detentions and unexplained deaths of individuals”, the report is completely devoid of references to conflict-related sexual violence, which is a grave negligence and makes one assume that the mission staff has not been in contact with local women’s civil society to gain a comprehensive picture of human rights violations in order to specifically address women’s concerns.[9]

Considering efforts by the African Union Peace and Security Council to expand the number of AU human rights and military observers, the report should have mentioned whether the strict vetting process for members of the Burundian Security Forces, which aims to ensure that they are not involved in allegations of human rights violations, also excludes those involved in SGBV allegations.[10]

Humanitarian situation

Considering the deteriorating humanitarian situation, “particularly in the areas of protection, food security, malnutrition and health”, the report could have further detailed whether women and women-headed households are specifically affected, and whether there have been or will be gender-specific needs assessments.[11] 

Ideal Asks for WPS Transformation

In case the Council decides to authorize a new mission to Burundi, the mandate must reaffirm, enhance and strengthen the Security Council’s commitment to fully and effectively incorporate the WPS agenda into all conflict resolution and peacebuilding efforts in Burundi, including through women’s participation and leadership in all decision-making processes and support for women’s civil society organizations. All future actions must reflect the commitments made in previous resolutions, including resolution 2137 (2014), which mandated MENUB to promote and protect women’s human rights, and the 2000 Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement, which has sustained a decade of peace in Burundi. Applying a gender lens throughout all aspects of the mandate will ensure that all genders are adequately represented and their particular needs in regards to the severe security, political and humanitarian situation are being met.


[1] S/2015/985, para. 63-66

[2] S/2015/985, para. 65, 70

[3] S/2015/985, para. 7

[4] S/2015/985, para. 5

[5] S/2015/985, para. 6

[6] S/2015/985, para. 9

[7] S/2015/985, para. 29f

[8] S/2015/985, para. 40

[9] S/2015/985, para. 19

[10] S/2015/985, para. 28

[11] S/2015/985, para. 25