Human Rights Developments
The opposing sides in the four-year-old civil war in Burundi raped, tortured, and killed thousands of civilians and looted and destroyed civilian property in 1997. The Tutsi-dominated armed forces used extensive violence against the majority Hutu population in order to crush support for Hutu rebel groups. Shortly after Buyoya returned to power in a July 1996 coup, the military government began a program of forced resettlement of hundreds of thousands of Hutu civilians in areas of rebel activity. In the policy known as regroupment, officials ordered civilians to assemble at designated sites, generally around military posts.
After gathering those who complied with the orders in camps, the military conducted "cleanup" operations, going systematically through the countryside, looting and burning homes, and hunting down anyone who resisted being regrouped. The armed forces killed thousands of unarmed civilians, many of them women, children, and elderly, for refusing to be regrouped and drove survivors into the camps. The camps themselves represented a clear violation of the right to freedom of movement and, despite government claims that the camps were created "to protect the civilian population," amounted to concentration camps.
Inside the camps, the Hutu population continued to face persecution. The military summarily executed hundreds of people they suspected of supporting rebel groups and arrested, tortured, and killed many others who violated camp rules, such as curfews. The camps were seriously overcrowded, without water and other facilities and the creation of the camps seriously disrupted agricultural production, leading to chronic malnutrition and illness. Within the camps, rape by soldiers and forced labor for camp residents was common. Although the province of Kayanza began dismantling its regroupment camps in late August, camps remained in Bubanza, Bujumbura-Rural, Cibitoke, Karuzi, and Muramvya, and new camps were created in the southern provinces of Bururi and Makamba.
The armed forces frequently retaliated against Hutu rebel activity by attacking Hutu civilians. Among the worst army attacks on civilians was a December 12, 1996 attack in Kayanza in which 114 people were killed; repeated attacks in Giheta commune of Gitega in late 1996 and early 1997 in which hundreds of civilians were killed; and a May 14 attack on Mugendo parish near Magara, Bujumbura-Rural in which soldiers killed forty-two people during a religious service. Attacks on refugees returning from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Tanzania in early 1997 killed several hundred. The military also carried out numerous attacks targeting specific individuals who weresummarily executed or "disappeared." Areas most affected by such attacks included Isare, Kanyosha, Kabezi, and Muhuta communes of Bujumbura-Rural; Rutegama, Bukeye, and Bugarama in Muramvya; and Burambi, Buyengero, and Rumonge in Bururi. Most of those killed or taken and presumed dead were business people, teachers, catechists, or other community leaders, whom the armed forces feared could organize resistance among the population, or young men, whom the armed forces feared might someday join the rebel groups. In some cases, soldiers raped women before killing them.
Hutu rebel groups also targeted civilians. The largest of the groups, the Forces for the Defense of Democracy (FDD), faced a major setback with the closure of their bases in DRC in late 1996, and was further weakened by the regroupment policy which cut them off from popular support. The FDD launched a major offensive in southern Burundi in March. The FDD was able to occupy the area around Magara in Bujumbura-Rural and around Nyanza-Lac in Makamba and to expand the territory under its control in Burundi.
The most widespread human rights abuse by the FDD and other rebel groups was looting from the civilian population, but the rebels also killed a number of unarmed civilians, both Hutu and Tutsi, in indiscriminate attacks. The FDD killed more than one hundred people in an April 17 attack at Kayogoro in Makamba, and on April 30 FDD combatants killed forty people at a Catholic school at Buta, Bururi, in an attack that gained international condemnation because nearly all of those killed were children. The FDD ambushed a number of civilian vehicles on the main Lake Tanganyika road and several other roads in the country. In July and August, fighting in Bubanza and Cibitoke between the FDD and a rival rebel group, the Party for the Liberation of the Hutu People (PALIPEHUTU), left several hundred Hutu dead and drove thousands to flee the area.
The warring parties began a massive arms buildup, and resorted increasingly to the use of landmines. An increasing number of injuries and deaths in mine explosions were reported during the year.
The armed forces nearly doubled in size, from 25,000 to 40,000, in less than two years. The military conscripted secondary school and university students (including women), members of youth gangs, and children reportedly as young as ten. Virtually all recruits have been Tutsi, further exacerbating the lack of ethnic balance in the armed forces. To facilitate the expansion, training was reduced from one year to three months.
Following the FDD advance in the south, the armed forces distributed arms to Tutsi civilians and began military training for Tutsi men in Bujumbura and elsewhere, substantially expanding a civilian defense program begun in 1996. Civilian militia have been involved in a number of violent attacks in Burundi in recent years, and the expansion of civilian militia appeared to give government sanction to such activities. Nevertheless, the Tutsi militia were involved in fewer violent incidents in 1997 than in the recent past.
The Buyoya regime engaged in preliminary talks with FDD representatives in Rome, a development that was announced publicly in May. Although some Tutsi factions objected to holding discussions with a group they accused of genocide, Buyoya expressed a commitment to finding a peaceful settlement to the conflict. Negotiations to be moderated by former Tanzanian president Nyerere were scheduled for August 25, but the government and the largely Tutsi UPRONA party withdrew at the last moment. Buyoya subsequently stated that he would participate in future talks.
Political activity continued to be restricted in 1997. The National Assembly and political parties operated under critical constraints. Hutu politicians faced continued harassment. In February, agents of the Center for National Documentation arrested and tortured FRODEBU executive secretary Domitien Ndayizeye. In a March raid, agents confiscated FRODEBU computers and documents, and arrested and tortured Augustin Nzojibwani, FRODEBU secretary general, in an attempt to extract the password to the computers. On August 2, Paul Sirabahenda became the twenty-third FRODEBU member of parliament to be assassinated since 1993.
Conflict increased among Tutsi political factions. Former president Bagaza remained under house arrest for much of the year, and other Tutsi politicians who had publicly challenged Buyoya, such as leaders of the youth group SOJEDEM and Charles Mukasi, an UPRONA leader, were brought in for questioning or placed under house arrest at various times during the year. Following the revelation that the government was secretly engaging the FDD in talks, Bagaza's party, the Party for National Recovery (PARENA), as well as a disgruntled faction within Buyoya's party, UPRONA, organized demonstrations in the streets of Bujumbura. A series of mine blasts in Bujumbura in May and June were also attributed to these factions. A rift between Buyoya and other UPRONA leaders gradually expanded during the year.
The judicial system continued to be a major concern. The number of people detained in national prisons increased from 6,100 in December 1996 to more than 9,000 in August 1997, the majority held without charge. Prosecutions for participation in the 1993 ethnic massacres began, largely of Hutus accused of participating in attacks on Tutsi. On July 31, six people were executed for participating in the 1993 massacres after a brief show trial without legal representation. Fourteen more people were condemned to death in August. Both trials were travesties of due process intended solelyto make a political point. At the same time, a case against military officers accused of involvement in the assassination of President Ndadaye in October 1993 made little progress. To date, the numerous assassinations of Hutu politicians remain uninvestigated.
A number of provinces adopted a reconstruction program in 1997, using community councils to arrange repayment for the destroyed property of victims of ethnic violence. While many people, including Hutu politicians, supported the principle of compensation for damages, in practice the program was used by Tutsi to profit from Hutu and to pursue personal grudges with little consideration for justice. Those who were accused of having pillaged and were unable to pay the damages assigned faced imprisonment. In Karuzi, where the Hutu residents of regroupment camps are being required to pay Tutsi even though their own homes had also been destroyed and all of their property stolen or destroyed.
The Right to Monitor
Local human rights groups remained constrained in their operations. The drop in militia violence reduced one of the main dangers to human rights work. However, it appears that the decline in harassment of human rights groups reflects their reduced activity. Many people were surprised when the most credible group, ITEKA, signed on to a letter calling for an end to the sanctions against Burundi.
The Burundian Association for the Defense of the Rights of Prisoners began a program of monitoring the treatment of the growing prison population. The group had difficulty receiving authorization to enter prisons and speak with prisoners, but the appointment of a more moderate justice minister in May may resolve this issue.
The United Nations Human Rights Center in Bujumbura expanded from five to twelve monitors in 1997, but they found their operations severely constrained. The government, given an opportunity prior to publication to respond to the center's monthly reports, regularly delayed its response and sought to prevent the publication of the reports. The liaison committee provided for by the authorization agreement with the government was only formed in January, and most of the government representatives on the committee did not participate. In January, a campaign against the center began in the media and elsewhere, and vandalization of center cars and other harassment soon followed. Security concerns also limited the ability of the center to conduct research in parts of the country with extensive human rights problems.
The Role of the International Community
U.N. agencies worked to alleviate serious problems of health and nutrition brought about by regroupment, a military policy in violation of the rules of war, while seeking to avoid lending support to the government. Meeting humanitarian needs without seeming to condone the policy at the roots of the problem proved challenging, and some agencies such as UNICEF and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) suggested that the humanitarian concerns should override political concerns. Nevertheless, in a discussion of the situation in Burundi on May 30, the Security Council expressed "deep concern" about the regroupment policy and called upon the government "to allow the people to return to their homes without any hindrance."
The United Nations also assumed a role in supporting negotiations, though the primary role in this has been taken by the neighboring states through the Organization of African Unity (OAU). A number of high level delegations visited Burundi in 1997 to monitor the human rights and humanitarian situations. In February and November, the special human rights rapporteur for Burundi, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, issued strongly worded reports condemning abuses in Burundi. In July, the U.N. rejected the request by the government of Burundi that Pinheiro be replaced . Pinheiro later deplored the July 31 execution of six persons which he had sought to prevent because the persons were condemned to death without the benefit of legal counsel.
In a July 15 statement, the U.N. secretary-general firmly turned down a request by the Burundi government for the formation of an international tribunal on ethnic violence in Burundi, believing that the government of Burundi was not interested in a truly independent tribunal but would instead seek to politicize its operations.
The United States vocally opposed the creation of the regroupment camps. The U.S., a major funder of the World Food Programme (WFP) and other programs in Burundi, refused to allow American money to be used in building infrastructure in the camps, for fear this would encourage the camps to become permanent. The U.S. supported efforts to encourage negotiations between the warring parties in Burundi. Several high level delegations visited the region tolend support to the talks.
As the war in the former Zaire set off a new refugee crisis in late 1996, the European Parliament responded with a report prepared by British member Richard Howitt, which sought to create a swift European Union (E.U.) reaction by simplifying the cumbersome bureaucratic structure for approving refugee aid. The Parliament approved the report on November 12.
The European Parliament on December 12 strongly condemned continued fighting in the African Great Lakes Region, but divisions within the E.U. prevented the deployment of a multi-national peacekeeping force. In a March meeting, delegations from the European Parliament and the African, Caribbean, and Pacific Countries approved a compromise resolution on the crisis in the Great Lakes Region condemning the presence of troops and foreign mercenaries in Zaire and inviting all governments involved in the conflict to withdraw their troops and abstain from further interference.
The European Commission on March 26 set aside 100 million ECU over four years to help relieve the debts of poor African, Caribbean, and Pacific countries. The money was earmarked for eleven countries, including Burundi, to ensure that development programs would not be hindered by excessive debt burdens.
On May 7, the European Union condemned the continued violence in Burundi and in particular the massacres and atrocities committed against the civilian population. The European Union condemned the execution in July of six prisoners after unfair trials on charges of genocide.
A May 20 declaration welcomed President Buyoya's announcement of negotiations taking place in Rome with the National Council for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD) and called on the government to disband the regroupment camps at the earliest opportunity. In August, the European Union expressed its full support for the opening of multiparty negotiations at Arusha in Tanzania. It urged the parties in Burundi to refrain from setting preconditions which might create obstacles to negotiation and urged them to "support the peace process which should be conducted in a climate of trust and calm."
OAU and Regional Collaboration
The regional heads of state have taken a leading role in supporting a peaceful settlement to the civil war and a return to civilian rule. The sanctions imposed against Burundi immediately after the July 1996 coup were modified in April 1997 to allow the import of humanitarian goods, but at a meeting in August, regional leaders reiterated their commitment to maintaining sanctions. Presidents Moi of Kenya and Kabila of the DRC, who had announced in July their intentions to ignore the sanctions, appear to have been convinced at the August meeting to respect the sanctions.
Former Tanzanian President Nyerere continued to play a leading role in organizing talks between the government and rebel groups, despite some complaints from the government that he was biased in favor of the rebel movements.
The transfer of power in the former Zaire substantially improved Burundi's relations with that country. Buyoya developed cordial relations with Kabila, with the two leaders exchanging a number of diplomatic visits. Meanwhile, relations with Tanzania deteriorated. The Buyoya regime accused the Tanzanian government of waging a campaign against Burundi by allowing the FDD to establish bases in the country and by pushing for a maintenance of sanctions. In September, Tanzania accused Burundi of mining their mutual border and of making incursions into Tanzanian territory.
Relevant Human Rights Watch reports:
Stoking the Fires: Military Assistance and Arms Trafficking in Burundi, 12/97
The War Against the Civilian Population in Burundi, 12/97
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