EU fails to convince ACP countries to sanction Burundi

Kenyan activists and Burundian expatriates hold placards and candles during a candlelight vigil held for Burundi in Nairobi, Kenya, 13 December 2015. [Dai Kurokawa/EPA]

Despite two years of political crisis and a downward spiral of human rights and rule of law abuses in Burundi, Europe has failed to mobilise a wave of condemnation from other developing countries. EURACTIV France reports.

At the 33rd session of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly, which took place in Malta from 19-21 June, the EU’s criticisms again failed to make an impression among the bloc’s African partners.

The situation in Burundi began deteriorating in April 2015, when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would stand for an unconstitutional third mandate. He was re-elected that July.

For two years the political situation has been on a downward spiral. The president is now trying to obtain a mandate for life and is cracking down on his opponents.

The EU suspended its direct aid to Burundi’s government in March 2016, under the clause of the 2000 Cotonou Agreement between the bloc and the 77-country ACP group guaranteeing the respect of human and democratic rights.

Authoritarian drift

European representatives submitted a resolution to the EU-ACP assembly condemning the country’s authoritarian drift and human rights abuses, but it did not pass.

“It’s the same situation again and again. African countries reject all criticism from Europe concerning human rights and the political situation. We saw the same sweeping rejection at the last assembly over the situation in Gabon,” said German socialist MEP Jo Leinen.

After its first resolution was rejected by the majority of ACP countries, the EU submitted a new, edited version. “The European Union proposed to send a new observation delegation to Burundi to witness the situation and delay the vote on a resolution until the next assembly. This proposal was also rejected,” Leinen added.

“There is a real refusal by African countries to accept lessons on human rights from European countries. Even if some countries do condemn the attitude of Burundi,” the MEP said.

EU suspends Burundi government aid over violence

The European Union, strife-torn Burundi’s biggest aid donor, on Monday suspended all direct funding to the government for failing to meet EU concerns over its human rights record.

But the rejection of European proposals in the EU-ACP assembly is nothing new. During the last assembly, a similar front formed to protect Gabon from criticism.

In December 2016, MEPs submitted a resolution that called into question the result of the Gabonese election. Gabon lashed out over what it saw as the EU observation mission’s lack of independence.

After failing to reach an agreement with their ACP partners, MEPs instead adopted a resolution in the European Parliament, in which they unilaterally condemned the situation in Gabon.

Diplomatic tensions

While African countries formed a barrage against the EU’s proposals, MEPs also rejected a proposal submitted by Burundi. This “asked the European Union and its member states to take into account the achievements of the government […]” and to “lift the sanctions on Burundi”.

But diplomatic tensions between Bujumbura and Brussels had already come to a head earlier in the month. In a communication published on 5 June, the Burundian government said it knew of “the circulation of a document regarding the probable implication of the European Union in the destabilisation of the republican institutions of Burundi”.

EU fears more violence in Burundi, vows to directly assist the population

The European Union, strife-stricken Burundi’s biggest aid donor, today (15 February) warned the country could face “appropriate measures” if it does not remedy its human rights record.

The documents referred to in the communication are those that suggest the EU’s involvement in the extraction from the country of certain human rights activists. For its part, the EU refuted all accusations of interventionism in a declaration published on 7 June. The bloc said Burundi’s complaint was the result of a “knowingly erroneous interpretation of its support for human rights defenders”.

Aid conditionality

With a package of around €430m per year for 2015-2020, the EU is Burundi’s biggest donor. But direct aid was suspended more than a year ago and the dialogue between Brussels and Burundi is looking increasingly hopeless.

EU looks to confirm aid as a lever on human rights issues

For over 20 years, the EU has used development assistance as a lever to advance the cause of human rights. But with the current cooperation framework soon to expire, the future of aid conditionality looks uncertain. EURACTIV France reports.

This situation occurs again and again in the EU’s relations with its ACP partners, which are regulated by the Cotonou Agreement.

Adopted in 2000, this agreement governs the EU’s political, economic and development interactions with the 77-country group. Both sides must commit to respecting human rights, the principles of democracy and the rule of law.

“We will not be able to avoid a deep debate on human rights for much longer,” said Leinen.

And with talks on the revision of the Cotonou Agreement due to start in 2018, this debate should start soon.

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