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In a continuing civil war, both government troops and insurgents slaughtered unarmed civilians and carried out other grievous human rights violations, including arbitrary executions, rape, and torture, and the pillage and destruction of property. The number of lives lost was apparently less in 1998 than in 1997, however, and most parties to the war engaged in negotiations that gave some hope of peace.

In Burundi, as in neighboring Rwanda, representatives of the majority Hutu and the minority Tutsi struggled for power. The Tutsi, an elite who had dominated political life for centuries, rebuffed Hutu efforts to participate more fully in power, whether through political means or rebellion. In 1972, in the worse such case, the Tutsi-dominated army massacred as many as 200,000 Hutu following several Hutu attacks on Tutsi.

In 1993, Maj. Pierre Buyoya, in power after a military coup, permitted a fair election which chose the first Hutu president, Melchior Ndadaye, but Tutsi soldiers murdered Ndadaye in October 1993. Hutu in many communities, sometimes led by local officials, then slaughtered thousands of Tutsi and the army massacred thousands of Hutu, sometimes in communities where there had been no violence against Tutsi.

The army permitted a nominal restoration of civilian rule after Ndadaye’s murder, but the government remained paralyzed as radical Tutsi militia led “dead city” demonstrations and as predominantly Hutu opposition groups mounted an insurgency in rural areas. In 1996 Buyoya took power again, supposedly to end violence. The army set out to destroy the base of the insurgents among the population by a policy of “regroupment,” forcibly relocating hundreds of thousands of civilians into camps controlled by soldiers. During 1997, troops massacred thousands of unarmed civilians as they displaced hundreds of thousands of others into camps where there was no often no adequate provision for food, water or health needs. Soldiers burned homes, destroyed crops, and pillaged other property in the process. In many camps they raped, otherwise injured, or removed residents who then “disappeared.”

After 1993, the army expanded to an estimated 60,000 troops, drawing in students as well as many of the young, urban-based Tutsi militia. Rebels who left the insurgency were sometimes organized into paramilitary groups to assist the regular troops. The authorities established local self-defense forces in many communities and distributed firearms to civilians, most of them Tutsi.

At the start of 1998 the two major blocks of insurgents were the Forces for the Defense of Democracy (Forces pour la Défense de la Démocratie, FDD), with its political wing, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy (Conseil National pour la Défense de la Démocratie, CNDD) and the Party for the Liberation of the Hutu People (Parti pour la Liberation du Peuple Hutu, PALIPEHUTU) and the allied National Liberation Front (FNL). They competed with each other as well as with authorities for the support of the population. As the military extended its control in late 1997 and early 1998, the insurgents adopted increasingly harsh tactics against the local population, extorting money and goods and in some cases obliging them to relocate to areas under rebel control. The rebels killed local authorities and also ordinary people who refused to support the insurgency. In some communities, local people moved voluntarily to military bases because they had been attacked by insurgents.

On January 1, insurgents attacked the airport and the surrounding area. In that attack and subsequent reprisals by the army, some 300 civilians were killed. The insurgents clashed with the military around the capital throughout January and February and in other provinces to the south and west in the following months, but ordinary life resumed in some other parts of the country.

With the reduction in combat in many areas and in the face of continuing international opposition to the regroupment camps, authorities permitted civilians to return to their homes. From a high of some 700,000 in camps in 1997—many of them forcibly displaced by government troops—the number fell to about half a million in February 1998, not quite 10 percent of the population.

The insurgents were weakened by the disruption of their bases in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in late 1996, following attacks by Rwandan-backed rebels against the Congolese (then Zairean) government. Burundian insurgents were forced to flee, most of them to Tanzania. In 1998, the Burundian government charged that rebels had created new bases in Tanzania, an allegation denied by the Tanzanian government. In one case in March 1998, however, Tanzanian authorities acknowledged that Burundians had been engaged in military activities in a camp near the border and removed them to another location. To help end these activities, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced a program to train Tanzanian police to monitor the camps.

The use of bases in adjacent countries was only one facet of the tangled connections among various insurgents and governments throughout the region. The International Commission of Inquiry (Rwanda), which monitored the flow of arms to the area, published proof of links between the FDD and PALIPEHUTU and remnants of the Forces Armées Rwandaises (FAR), the army which had participated in the Rwandan genocide in 1994 and which was attacking the current Rwandan government. Burundian and Rwandan insurgents cooperated in training, procuring arms, and in joint military operations, such as the January attack on the Bujumbura airport . Rwandan and Burundian armies, mirroring the collaboration of the rebels, engaged in joint operations in frontier regions.
In June, Buyoya and the National Assembly agreed to a new constitutional arrangement which enlarged the National Assemblyby some forty seats to be filled by political parties not previously represented and by members of civil society designated by the government. Installed as president under this new system, Buyoya erased some of the discredit of having taken power militarily and gained credibility in the international community.

Despite being enmeshed in the larger conflict within the region, the parties in Burundi persisted in peace negotiations just as military conflict escalated in the DRC. The new government and most of the major insurgent groups arrived at a preliminary agreement and a cease-fire that was to begin at the end of July. But both the government and the FDD immediately reneged on the cease-fire agreement and one part of PALIPEHUTU also declared that it would continue military activity. Several of the already numerous parties involved in negotiations divided further, complicating the process. FRODEBU had been divided into two wings for some time, one inside Burundi and one in exile; the CNDD/FDD split in May; PALIPEHUTU experienced internal difficulties in July; and UPRONA, a largely Tutsi party, divided in October.

Both insurgents and soldiers engaged in substantial military activity from July through October, particularly in the provinces of Rural Bujumbura, Bubanza, Kayanza, Muramvya, and Nyanza-Lac, where military attacks in August caused the flight of 2,000 people to Tanzania. A round of peace negotiations in October produced some progress and the parties were to meet again in January 1999.

Ethnically-motivated attacks marked the memory of all Burundians, many of whom believed that justice for these crimes was essential to peace. The calls to end impunity for these violations originally focused on recent events but grew to include demands for justice for the massacres of 1972, or even before. At the same time, both Hutu and Tutsi increasingly labeled the killings to which they have been subjected as genocide, a term whose emotional impact was amplified by the genocide of Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994.

As of April, nearly 10,000 persons were imprisoned in Burundi, the overwhelming majority of them Hutu charged with crimes against Tutsi. Although hundreds of Tutsi, civilian and military, had killed Hutu, very few were arrested for these crimes. Most judges and higher officials in the judicial systems and police were Tutsi, leading many Hutu to believe that ethnic considerations resulted in an unfair enforcement of the law.

Throughout the years of governmental paralysis, arrests continued but few prosecutions were completed. By 1998 the judicial system was overwhelmed and the prisons were overpopulated to the point of endangering the lives of those incarcerated. The 10,000 inmates were confined in prisons meant to accommodate a maximum of 3,600. In April, only 18 percent had been tried. Thousands of the others were detained without investigations having been completed—or even begun—and without having seen a judge, as the law required. Hard pressed for funds, the government cut back on food and medical attention to detainees, with the result that mortality among prisoners was close to 10 percent between January and April 1998, according to the local human rights group Iteka. In April, the government released eighty-three detainees against whom there was no credible evidence of guilt, in part because they lacked the food to feed them.

Most trials fell short of international standards of due process. Some took place within the space of one hour or less. Few of the accused had access to counsel. There were fewer than forty lawyers in Burundi and most of them were Tutsi who refused to defend those accused of crimes against other Tutsi. Since 1997, however, both the United Nations Human Rights Center and Iteka had arranged for foreign lawyers to assist the accused, with the result that the quality of some trials improved in 1998. In cases where lawyers were present, for example, the right of the defendant to present witnesses was more likely to be respected. At the end of October 1998 some 250 persons had been condemned to death.

Burundians from various parties called for an international tribunal to try the most serious offenders against international humanitarian law. Because a U.N. commission concluded that the 1993 killings of Tutsi constituted genocide, some Tutsi asserted that such a court should be established on the model of the international tribunal for Rwanda. Hutu expected that an international court might deliver more equitable justice than courts within Burundi.

While justice for civilians functioned imperfectly, army and police violated the rights of citizens virtually unchecked. Dozens of persons “disappeared” at their hands. Some were apparently detained incommunicado in irregular places of detention, but others were feared dead. Several persons detained by police or soldiers in and around the central market of Bujumbura in early 1998 had not been heard from nine months later.

In March, authorities confiscated the copies of a FRODEBU newspaper, L’Aube de la Démocratie, and then closed down NetPress, a news agency which had published a report of the confiscation. The number of newspapers had declined sharply in the previous two years, in part because journalists fear harassment by the authorities. Authorities also enforced a ban on political demonstrations.




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Stop the Use of Child Soldiers

Abduction and Enslavement of Ugandan Children

Human Rights Causes of the Famine in Sudan


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