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The Tutsi-dominated government of Burundi, combating rebellions among the Hutu majority, began forcing civilians in the area around the capital into so-called "protection sites" or "regroupment camps" beginning in late September 1999. Burundian authorities claimed the measure was intended to protect the civilians, most of them Hutu, from attack by the rebel National Liberation Forces (Forces Nationales pour la Libération, FNL) who were becoming increasingly well-entrenched in the area. In fact, they meant to deprive the FNL of support from local people who helped them, sometimes willingly, sometimes under duress. By removing civilian support, the authorities hoped to isolate the FNL and thus reduce its increasingly frequent attacks on the capital. They hoped also to quiet Tutsi extremists who accused them of weakness in confronting the rebel threat.

Soldiers used force and threat of force to make civilians move to the sites, where no preparations had been made for their arrival. In failing to provide for the basic needs of those displaced-shelter, food, water and sanitation-the Burundian government violated the norms and principles of international humanitarian law. From the start, camp residents have lived in inhumane conditions, subject to arbitrary restrictions, demands of forced labor, and punishment by soldiers. As one camp resident commented, "We live in misery so that people in the capital can live in security."1

After the beginning of regroupment, rebels reduced their attacks on Bujumbura although they continued attacking soldiers and sometimes civilians in the countryside. In the early months of 2000, both rebels and the army increased military activity parallel with new efforts to settle the war by negotiation. Soldiers became increasingly concerned about rebel activity within the camps. They selected suspected rebels from among camp residents and beat them to obtain information and to force them to join the government side. In several cases, soldiers beat the suspects to death.

Soldiers also raped and sexually harassed women who live in the camps. They recruited children to spy for them in the camps, to help them loot property, and to serve as lookouts, scouts, and porters when they are on patrol.

By the end of 1999, authorities had obliged some 80 percent of the population of the province of Bujumbura-rural-some 350,000 people-to live in fifty-three camps.2 Although regroupment helped reduce attacks on the capital city, rebels remained firmly established in rural areas. They simply shifted from one place to another when attacked by the army, which had insufficient troops available to control the whole region at the same time. Rebels continued to live off the crops of local people and even to inhabit the houses of those forced to live in the camps.

The international community severely criticized the policy of regroupment. In January 2000, the Burundian government promised to begin closing the camps but it made little progress in doing so until early June. At that time, rebel leaders made closing the camps a precondition for peace negotiations and former South African President Nelson Mandela, facilitator for the negotiations, condemned the regroupment sites as "concentration camps." Under this pressure, President Pierre Buyoya agreed that everyone in the camps would be allowed to return home by the end of July.

At the time of writing, about two-thirds of those forcibly displaced from their homes in September 1999 still lived in misery in the camps. This report documents the human rights abuses inflicted on them as well as on those who have been able to return home. It shows the importance of closing the camps promptly and completely and of holding perpetrators accountable for abuses they have committed.

This work presents information drawn from twenty of the fifty-three camps. It is based on visits to the camps as well as interviews with camp residents, representatives of local and international nongovernmental organizations familiar with conditions in the camps, and military and civilian officials of the Burundian government.

1 Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, December 12, 1999.

2 Ligue Burundaise des Droits de l'Homme Iteka, Le Burundi à la croisée des chemins, Rapport Annuel Sur Les Droits de l'Homme, 1999 (Bujumbura, April 2000), p. 53.

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