A new report, Proxy Targets:Civilians in the Civil War in Burundi released today by Human Rights Watch, documents human rights abuses committed by both sides of Burundi's civil war.
Upon taking power in a July 1996 coup, Major Pierre Buyoya pledged to end ethnic conflict in Burundi, but as president, "he has overseen a massive campaign of military violence against Burundi's civilian population," said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch. The Buyoya regime has forced tens of thousands of civilians who lived in areas of rebel activity into regroupment camps and designated camp sites, generally around military posts. The military then carried out "clean up" operations in the countryside, looting and burning homes, and killing thousands of unarmed civilians, many of them women, children, and elderly, who resisted being moved to the camps. Although some camps have been closed in recent months in the north of Burundi, other camps continue to be created in southern Burundi.
In the camps, soldiers have summarily executed hundreds of people accused of supporting rebel groups and have tortured and killed many others alleged to have violated camp rules. Soldiers have engaged widely in rape and have instituted forced labor in many camps. The government failed to provide for the sanitary or medical needs of the mass of forcibly displaced civilians. The camps are seriously overcrowded, without water and other facilities. As a result, thousands of people have died of illness. The creation of the camps seriously disrupted agricultural production, leading to chronic malnutrition in some areas. Human Rights Watch calls on the government to immediately close all regroupment camps and to allow the civilian population to return to their homes.
In regions where regroupment camps have not been created, the armed forces have frequently responded to Hutu rebel activity by retaliating against civilians and they have summarily executed Hutu civilians suspected of supporting the rebel groups. The report documents several bloody attacks by the armed forces against Hutu civilians in the area around the capital Bujumbura. The armed forces have also engaged in rape, looting, and destruction of property.
"The various Hutu rebel groups, such as the Forces for the Defense of Democracy (FDD), have also targeted civilians, particularly Tutsi and Hutu whom they believe to be supporting the government," according to Mr. Takirambudde. The report documents several attacks on civilians by the FDD in southern Burundi . It charges the FDD and other insurgent groups with widespread looting, with having held Hutu civilians against their will in areas under their control and with forcing them to raise crops to feed their troops. These activities have upset usual agricultural production, leaving many people without an adequate food supply. Human Rights Watch calls on the FDD and all insurgent groups to halt attacks on civilians.
"As the government of Burundi and the insurgents begin peace negotiations, all parties, local and international, must insist on accountability for human rights abuses. Any settlement must provide for investigating abuses by all sides and bringing to justice those who have engaged in murder, rape, torture, looting, and destruction of property. Otherwise, a lasting peace will not be possible," said Mr. Takirambudde.