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Suffering in Silence : Civilians in Continuing Combat in Bujumbura Rural

Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper, June 2004  (Printer Friendly PDF Version, 16 Pages)

BURUNDI Suffering in Silence : Civilians in Continuing Combat in Bujumbura Rural in French



To the Government of Burundi, the FDD and the FNL

To the Government of Burundi

To the United Nations Security Council

FDD Abuses: “The Politics of the Stick”

FDD and Government Cooperation in Bujumbura Rural

Violations of International Humanitarian Law

Killings of Civilians


“A Swarm of Bees”: Pillage, Looting, and Occupation of Property

Displacement and Humanitarian Assistance

Command Responsibility and Impunity

Official Reactions

“Provisional Immunity”

Demobilization, Recruitment, and Children in Military Service

The International Community


With most of Burundi at peace, the United Nations has assumed responsibility for the African Mission in Burundi (AMIB), a peacekeeping force already in place under the auspices of the African Union. The new UN force, known as the United Nations Operation in Burundi (ONUB) is supposed to facilitate implementation of agreements between the government of Burundi and former rebel groups, including the most important of them, the Hutu-led National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) of Pierre Nkurunziza. Implementation of the agreements has been slow, preventing real consolidation of the fragile peace.   

The UN force also has the mandate to protect civilians at imminent risk of danger, an important charge given that the combined forces of the government army and the FDD of Nkurunziza continue to jointly carry on combat against a smaller Hutu rebel movement, the Forces of National Liberation (FNL) in the province of Bujumbura rural.1 In recent months, soldiers of the government army (Forces Armeés Burundaises, FAB) and combatants of both rebel forces violated international humanitarian law by killing, wounding, raping, and pillaging civilians in areas just outside the capital. Both Burundian and international actors focus on diplomatic developments and largely ignore these continuing crimes. As one victim put it, “The civilian is like a bridge that everyone walks across. He never chooses to collaborate with one or the other but he is forced to do so. The big difference is that the others—soldiers and rebels—are armed.”2

[1] In the past adamantly opposed to negotiations with the government, the FNL changed its stand on April 21 and announced a ceasefire to clear the way for talks. Twenty-four hours later the effort failed and combat resumed.

[2] Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, March 4, 2004.