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Human Rights Development

Burundi began 1994 still reeling from months of violence that had followed the assassination of its first democratically elected president the previous October. In the last two months of 1993 between 30,000 and 50,000 people had been killed. The population of Burundi, like that of its northern neighbor, Rwanda, is predominantly composed of Hutu, who make up about 85 percent, and Tutsi, who represent about 15 percent of the total. As in Rwanda, there is also a very small number of a third people, the Twa.

Tutsi dominated political, economic and military life in Burundi until the early 1990s. Following internal and foreign pressure for reform, the elite permitted the establishment of a multi-party electoral system. In June 1993, the first Hutu president of Burundi, Melchior Ndadaye, was elected, but he was assassinated on October 21 in the course of a coup attempt by the largely Tutsi army. Within hours of the beginning of the coup, Hutu in the northern, central and eastern parts of the country began barring the roads to prevent troops from reaching their communities. In many of these communities they also launched attacks on Tutsi civilians, sometimes under the direction of local government authorities who were Hutu. The army responded with excessive and often indiscriminate force and attacked Hutu communities, including those where there had been no previous disorder. During the worst weeks of violence, hundreds of thousands of people fled to swamps and forests, to safer regions elsewhere in Burundi or across the frontiers to Tanzania, Rwanda, or Zaire. At the beginning of 1994, thousands_mostly Hutu_remained abroad while thousands of others_mostly Tutsi_clustered in camps or in urban centers, where they could count on ready protection by soldiers or police.

The attempted coup, which collapsed within two days, touched off a constitutional crisis. Both the officials designated by the constitution to succeed the slain president had also been assassinated, leaving a weak caretaker government in power. The crisis continued until January 1994 when the National Assembly designated Cyprien Ntaryamira to serve the remainder of Ndadaye's term as president. Ntaryamira, in turn, was killed two months after his installation in the same April plane crash that killed President Habyarimana of Rwanda. Sylvestre Ntibatunganya, then President of the National Assembly, succeeded him as interim President of Burundi for three months. According to the constitution, a national election should have been held to choose the President who would fulfill the remainder of the five-year term. But given the general insecurity in the country, with thousands of people in displaced persons' camps or abroad, such an election was impossible. Faced with the refusal of the political parties to find a mutually acceptable candidate for the presidency, the constitutional court extended the interim authority of Ntibatunganya. In September the parties finally agreed to install Ntibatunganya for the remainder of the five-year term originally won by Ndadaye in June 1993.

Extremists on both sides increased their bases of support during the eleven months of instability between the assassination of Ndadaye and the installation of Ntibatunganya. Each side used threats and actual violence against the other and against moderates who sought to craft a compromise between the two.

Splinter groups of extremist Tutsi sought to achieve their objectives, such as representation in the cabinet, by "dead city" demonstrations. In February, April, and August, they shut down the capital by barricades, threats, and attacks on those who dared to move around Bujumbura. Each such demonstration resulted in several dozen people dead or injured. Army and police rarely intervened to restore order in these incidents and actually participated in some of them.

Extremist Hutu began training and arming underground militia groups. Throughout the year they staged ambushes and small attacks on soldiers and on camps where displaced Tutsi were housed. In early May, for example, they killed three soldiers in an ambush in the northern province of Ngozi and in June two more were killed in the section of the capital, Bujumbura, known as Kamenga. The army responded to those attacks, killing Hutu indiscriminately. In March, April, and September troops raided predominantly Hutu sections of Bujumbura, such as Kamenga, to search for arms. The operation in April, the most violent of the three, involved encircling and bombarding the neighborhood after most of the inhabitants had been evacuated. The government acknowledged that six hundred people were killed at this time. Several hundred people died in the other attacks. In connection with the September disarmament operation, 385 people were arrested on the orders of the Military Auditor General, Lieutenant-Colonel Janvier Baribwegure. Thirteen of these prisoners subsequently disappeared, apparently the victims of summary execution: their bodies were found several days later just outside the city.

Both Hutu and Tutsi suffered from violence in the countryside as well. Every month there were attacks from one side or the other, particularly in the northern and central provinces. Tutsi from the displaced persons' camps attacked Hutu in adjacent areas, often with the assistance of soldiers. Some of the killing was in reprisal for earlier massacres of Tutsi in the same communities, but other cases of violence were related to the struggle over the control of land and other property. Hutu also attacked Tutsi, such as in Tangara commune, Ngozi province, where thirty-two Tutsi were killed in February, and in Muramvya, where six Tutsi were killed in late June.

The influx of thousands of Rwandan refugees after the genocide began in their country in early April heightened tensions, particularly in those parts of northern Burundi near the frontier. In the province of Kirundi, Rwandan Tutsi, who had sought refuge in Burundi some time previously, killed dozens of Rwandan Hutu refugees who had just arrived in Burundi. In late July Tutsi killed more than forty Hutu refugees from Rwanda in the province of Kayanza.

Tutsi extremists also assassinated a number of officials or important political leaders, including the administrators of Vumbi commune and Kiremba commune, Kirundo province, and the parliamentary representative from Ngozi province Sylvestre Mfayokurera, who also headed the militia of the FRODEBU (Front for Democracy in Burundi) political party. Assassins also targeted but failed to kill the Governor of Ngozi province in July and killed an expatriate agent of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Kirundo province in mid-August.

Increasingly, extremist rhetoric contributed to the atmosphere of insecurity. In June, a Hutu pirate radio station, called Radio Rutomorangiro, or Radio Truth, began broadcasting calls to violence from a mobile transmitter that shifted between Rwanda and Zaire. In late July the parliamentary leader Christian Sendegeya was forced to resign after accusations that he had circulated a tape recording inciting Hutu to hatred and violence. A number of apparently random incidents of violence, such as bomb and grenade explosions in markets and buses, increased the fear of ordinary citizens.

By threats and attacks on houses, Tutsi extremists have forced Hutu to move out of sections of the capital that were predominantly Tutsi. Meanwhile, Hutu have pushed Tutsi out of neighborhoods where they were the minority. This forcible separation of the city into hostile, virtually mono-ethnic zones extended the general separation of the groups that had occurred in some regions of the interior following the violence of late 1993.

The Burundi authorities have made no effective response to halt the continuing violence. The first governmental commission named to investigate the assassination and the attempted coup d'etat of October 1993 and the ensuing killings accomplished nothing. In September new commissions were established at the level of the provinces to gather information about the events. There have been no trials of any of the authors of the coup or the subsequent massacres. Francois Ngeze, implicated in the execution of the coup, was under house arrest for the first six months of the year, but was released in June. The administrator of the commune of Ryansoro was arrested on charges of having directed the killing of Tutsi in his commune but he was released after three months of detention without ever having been brought to trial. When organizers of street violence were arrested in Bujumbura in August, Mathias Hitimana, head of the Party for the Reconciliation of the People, a small extremist party, led students in clashes with the police to force their release. He was subsequently arrested himself but the authorities liberated Hitimana and the other detainees after a "dead city" demonstration left some twenty people dead.

The Right to Monitor

Most civilian and military authorities cooperated with the International Commission of human rights experts who arrived in January 1994 to investigate the 1993 coup and its aftermath. After the departure of the commission, however, and particularly after the publication of its report critical of both civilian and military authorities, Burundi human rights activists who had assisted the commission were subjected to threats and harassment. Two of them found it necessary to flee the country. The human rights league ITEKA was subjected to intimidation by authorities during the month of September following its effort to press for investigations into disappearances and summary executions.

The Role of the

International Community

The international community responded rapidly and effectively to the 1993 attempted coup. Its unanimous rejection of the military take-over was important in convincing the troops to return to the barracks. It was less effective, however, in the weeks of violence that followed and paid relatively little attention to the massacres of Hutu and Tutsi that continued for some weeks. In early 1994, international concern with bringing to justice the authors of the coup and the massacres produced no real results. A three person investigatory commission was dispatched by the United Nations Security Council in March. Its report, presumably submitted to the Secretary-General not long after, has never been published nor even made available to members of the Security Council.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, sent a special representative to Burundi after the October violence. He served as a useful mediator between the various factions, helped keep international attention focused on Burundi, and provided balanced assessments of events to correct distorted accounts circulated by extremists. In the face of the catastrophe in neighboring Rwanda, international concern with preventing a similar disaster in Burundi increased. The Organization of African Unity deployed a military observation mission of several hundred soldiers over the course of several months in the spring. They continued to monitor the situation throughout the country until the end of the year. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights visited Burundi in May and called for international attention to the critical situation there. The U.N. then launched a human rights program, focusing largely on long term efforts to improve the judicial system and to educate people about human rights.

A series of international observers visited Burundi including the former African heads of state Sekou Toure and Obasanjo, sent by the Organization of African Unity, a delegation of members of the U.N. Security Council, and a high-level delegation representing President Clinton. African presidents Ali Hassan Mwinyi, Yoweri Museveni, and Frederick Chiluba met in August to seek a solution to the political conflict in Burundi and the Security Council continued to follow developments there throughout the year. The United States has played a constructive role in pressing for political dialogue, judicial reform, and the prosecution of those accused of assassination and mass killings.

International attention has not been sufficient to eliminate the continuing violence nor to bring those guilty of the massacres to justice, but it has helped to prevent a recurrence of killings on the scale of the previous year.

The Work of

Human Rights Watch/Africa

Immediately after the assassination of President Ndadaye and the onset of the massacres, Human Rights Watch/Africa responded to a call from the local human rights league to investigate massive human rights abuses in Burundi. In cooperation with the International Federation of Human Rights (Paris), The Great Lakes League for the Defense of Human Rights (Kigali), and SOS Torture (Geneva), Human Rights Watch/Africa carried out this inquiry in late January and early February. The thirteen researchers from eight countries, known as the International Commission to Investigate Human Rights Abuse in Burundi, published a 200-page report in July, which concluded that the majority of the armed forces in Burundi participated in the attempted coup d'etat and assassination or did nothing to stop these crimes. The report also concluded that members of the administration participated in the subsequent killings of civilians in a number of communes and that the armed forces repressed the violence in these communes, often with the use of excessive force. In some places, the army attacked civilians who had not previously been involved in the disorder and killings. The most pressing recommendation of Human Rights Watch/Africa and other members of the International Commission was to bring those responsible for the assassination and the other massacres to justice immediately.

Through advocacy at the United Nations, with U.S. officials and with authorities of other governments, and through publication and interviews, Human Rights Watch/Africa worked to secure international pressure on the Burundian authorities for the arrest and trial of those accused of participation in these massive human rights violations. It pressed for measures to make the Burundi courts more effective, including the temporary recruitment of foreign jurists and prosecutors. Human Rights Watch/Africa also kept decision-makers, the press and the public informed about current developments in Burundi, helping to provide factually-based assessments of developments in an atmosphere rife with propaganda.

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