Donors beginning aid discussions with Burundi’s government on February 28 must press for an end to summary executions, torture and other human rights violations, Human Rights Watch said in a report issued today.
The 11-page report, “Warning Signs: Continuing Abuses in Burundi,” details recent violations by both the Burundian government and the rebel National Liberation Forces (Forces Nationales de Libération, or FNL), with which the government is still at war. The report calls on both the government and the international community to establish mechanisms to deliver justice for serious past crimes by government and rebel forces.
“In their drive to defeat the FNL, government soldiers, police and intelligence agents use tactics that violate both Burundian and international law,” said Alison des Forges, senior Africa adviser at Human Rights Watch. “And most of them escape punishment for their misconduct.”
After 10 years of civil war, a former rebel group won the elections in June, and its members dominate a government that took power in August 2005. The newly elected president, Pierre Nkurunziza, is also a member of this group, 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, or CNDD-FDD).
The report details how government police and intelligence agents have tortured civilians accused of links with the FNL. It also documents how the government has detained scores of other civilians without following legal procedures.
In the Burundian capital Bujumbura, Human Rights Watch documented the recent killing of a 16-year-old who was seen in the hands of intelligence agents and police shortly before he was shot to death. Official accounts that he was shot while trying to escape do not concur with evidence that he was shot in the face and chest.
In recent weeks, as in the past, FNL rebels have also killed and abused civilians, in some cases because they refused to provide food or money for the rebel cause. In one such case, the rebels abducted and killed a woman in Kanyosha commune near Bujumbura and badly mutilated her body.
The report also documents the detention without charge of former FNL combatants who have turned themselves in to government authorities. Many are being held in various military camps and other facilities, and government forces have used them to identify civilians who supposedly assisted the FNL.
In October, the Burundian government named a commission to work with the United Nations to establish both a truth and reconciliation commission and a special chamber within the Burundian court system to deal with serious violations of international humanitarian law during the civil war. But so far, the government has made no further apparent progress in setting up either of these mechanisms to deliver justice.
“Prosecuting past war crimes needs to be the first step for a new system of justice in Burundi,” said Des Forges. “Donors should insist that the Burundian government make justice a priority, and they should be prepared to assist with the costs.”