Background Briefing

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During the thirteen years of civil war in Burundi, children were recruited and used as combatants and general help by all sides in the conflict.1 All but one of the rebel groups involved in the war have signed peace agreements with the government.2 More than 3,000 children who served with the Burundian armed forces, the civilian militia known as the “Guardians of Peace,” and various rebel groups have been demobilized in a process that began in December 2004.3 But the one rebel group that continues to fight against the government, the National Liberation Forces (Forces Nationales pour la Libération, FNL), continues to use children as combatants and for various logistical duties.


Dozens of children who served or who are accused of having served in the FNL are now in government custody. Their legal status is unclear, with some imprisoned and others awaiting a possible demobilization program. Government plans for these children are also unclear, making it difficult for international actors to offer them much-needed assistance.


The children now held at a site known as a “welcome center,” in Randa, Bubanza province, were previously detained at military posts where some served as guides and informers for the government’s military operations, sometimes under duress, and often at risk of their security and wellbeing.


The Convention on the Rights of the Child requires the Burundian government to protect children from all violations of international humanitarian law and assist in the recovery and social re-integration of child victims of armed conflict.4 The government should take all necessary steps to ensure child soldiers who served in the FNL are released from custody and to provide for their recovery and reintegration.


[1] “Burundi: Children Abducted for Military,” Human Rights Watch Press Release, November 14, 2001, [online]; “Child Soldier Use 2003: A Briefing for the 4th UN Security Council Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict,” A Human Rights Watch Report, [online] In this paper, “child” refers to anyone under the age of eighteen. The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child states: “For purpose of this present Convention, a child is every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.” Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 1, adopted November 20, 1989 (entered into force September 2, 1990). According to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, “For the purposes of this Charter, a child means every human being below the age of 18 years.” African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, Article 2 (entered into force November 29, 1999).

[2] The Burundian government and seventeen parties and belligerents signed the Arusha Accords in 2000. The government and the National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie-Forces pour la défense de la démocratie, CNDD-FDD) signed a treaty in late 2003.

[3] Email communication to Human Rights Watch from Laurence Fayolle, Child Protection, UNICEF Burundi, May 30, 2006.

[4] Burundi is also a signatory to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict—known as the Child Soldiers Protocol (A/RES/54/263 of May 25, 2000, entered into force February 12, 2002), which specifically sets out the obligation to demobilize child soldiers (Article 6). The Burundian government should now ratify this protocol.

index  |  next>>June 2006