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Burundi: UN helps distribute free identity cards for next May's polls

29 December 2009 – One million Burundians old enough to vote next May will receive a free national identity card, thanks to a campaign supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other agencies.

Previously, administrative costs and delays made it almost impossible for poor people to obtain the card needed to vote, and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Executive Representative Youssef Mahmoud recently warned that a lack of funding was challenging the “significant advances” made in the small Central African country after decades of ethnic and factional war.

The campaign is especially targeting women living in the countryside and groups that are underprivileged or isolated. It will take only one day to create and deliver the cards, and UNDP has provided assistance to card issuance centres in 129 municipalities, which now have the necessary equipment.

The year 2010 will be a watershed for Burundi as it will be the first time that an election cycle has come to a conclusion without disruptions.

In his most recent report to the Security Council, Mr. Ban noted that while Burundi had witnessed significant progress in recent months, it needed help both to ensure successful elections and tackle challenges such as human rights abuses, corruption and weak institutions.

He said he remained concerned about reports of restrictions to the freedom of assembly and expression of opposition parties imposed by local authorities, and of militant activities of youth groups allegedly associated with certain political parties that were generating fear and suspicion.

Mr. Mahmoud said Council President Pierre Nkurunziza and the Interior Ministry last month urged political leaders to put an end to “these potentially destabilizing practices. While these statements seem to be heeded, the situation bears continuous scrutiny by the Minister of the Interior, all political parties and civil society organizations,” he added.

At the time he said the UN Integrated Office in Burundi (BINUB) and UNDP were looking, as a matter of urgency, into practical ways to help potential voters who could not afford the administrative costs of acquiring a national identity card.

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