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Human Rights Developments

Contenders in the undeclared civil war in Burundi killed thousands of unarmed civilians, many of them children, women or the elderly. The battle between the minority Tutsi and the majority Hutu grew in extent during 1996 until it touched most of the fifteen provinces of Burundi. The Hutu armed opposition groups pushed forward aggressively in March and April and again in September, when they bombarded the capital, Bujumbura. Struggling to maintain control in the face of attacks from three Hutu opposition movements, the Tutsi-dominated army killed thousands of noncombatants in the course of its operations. Occasionally it took responsibility for the deathsCalthough it usually under reported the number killedCbut sought to justify the killings by saying that the civilians were actually rebels or had been helping the armed opposition groups. In an apparent change of policy in late October, the army officially acknowledged that soldiers had murdered some fifty civilians at a military camp in Bururi province on October 13. Declaring that the civilians had been wrongfully killed, the army said the Aindisciplined@ soldiers would be punished.

By late in the year, the Front for the Defense of Democracy (FDD), a largely Hutu movement, took control of areas of northwestern Burundi. At first it concentrated mostly on military objectives, but it increasingly attacked civilians, particularly displaced Tutsi or Hutu who refused to assist them. The other two armed opposition groups, PALIPEHUTU and FROLINA, also killed noncombatants. Among the worst of the army attacks were those at Buhoro in Gitega province on April 26, where some 230 civilians were killed; at Kivyuka in Bubanza on May 3, where some 375 were slaughtered; at Mutambu where 111 were killed on June 12; and at Nyeshenza, commune Mugina, where some 500 were killed on June 27. Among the raids by Hutu rebels which took the most lives were those on Butezi, in Ruyigi province, on May 28, in which forty-nine people were slaughtered, and on Teza, in Muramvya province, on July 3 where some eighty persons were killed. In one of the most terrible attacks on a Tutsi displaced persons camp, some 340 persons were massacred at Bugendana on July 20. The military blamed that attack on Hutu rebels as well, but other sources report that locally resident Hutu carried out the massacre in retaliation for the part played by the displaced persons in a previous attack on their community by the Burundi army. According to physicians working in Burundi, these attacks generally killed five persons for every one left wounded. Both hospitals and schools were attacked. The U.N. special rapporteur on Burundi concluded in a February 27 report that neither the rebel forces nor the Burundian army observed the principles of international humanitarian law.

Leaders of regular army or armed opposition units sometimes disclaimed responsibility for slaughter of civilians, saying such attacks were unauthorized excesses carried out by undisciplined subordinates. Civilian and military authorities claimed to have investigated some military abuses but in most cases produced unconvincing reports justifying the actions of the soldiers and minimizing the number of civilian casualties. No soldiers were brought to trial for having killed civilians in the course of these operations.

Military units often permitted, encouraged or sometimes participated in attacks executed by supposedly civilian militia units. Many militia were composed of young people, particularly secondary school students. On May 17, for example, Tutsi secondary school students from Kiganda, directed by six soldiers, killed fifty-one people from a near-by communityCtargeted because they were Hutu. In late July, Tutsi students reportedly killed thirty of their Hutu classmates at an agricultural school in Gitega.

In what may portend a legitimation of violence by civilians, the government in April proposed the creation of a Aself-defense force.@ Such a force helped carry out the genocide in neighboring Rwanda two years ago. In July, young Tutsi recruits were being trained, although the goals of the program had not been defined and safeguards against its misuse had not been implemented. According to the Burundian human rights league, Iteka, the program was being used as an excuse by some radicals to commit abuses against their opponents.

Dozens of persons Adisappeared@ either after having been seized during military operations or after having been detained for questioning by military or police.

On July 25, Major Pierre Buyoya, a past president of Burundi, was put in power by a military coup. He announced the suspension of the national parliament and banned political parties, declaring that he anticipated a three year period of control before restoring democratic institutions. In the days after the coup, the army killed hundreds of civilians in Muramvya and elsewhere, thus undermining Buyoya=s claim to have taken power to end the violence. Subsequent to the coup and the banning of political parties, twenty-five members of the National Assembly in exile in Tanzania and Kenya called for a united front with the National Council for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD), the parent organization of the FDD guerrilla forces. They were all members of the largely Hutu FRODEBU party. Shortly after, sixteen other FRODEBU deputies living in Zaire also announced their support for the CNDD. Their shift from attempting to work within the government to allying with armed opposition forces attacking it showed the erosion of a middle ground. Moderates without guns appeared increasingly forced to align themselves with armed groups.

Throughout the year, extremists used assassination to eliminate Hutu political leaders, such as the governor of Cibitoke province and his adviser, the director of internal documentation, and the provincial director of agricultural services in Gitega. In addition, two Tutsi officers known to be moderate, Lt. Col. François Fyiritano and Lt. Col. Dieudonné Nzeyimana, were slain by unknown assailants. In early September, Archbishop of Burundi Mgr. Joachim Ruhuna, a Tutsi known also for his moderate views and opposition to violence, was assassinated in early September along with a nun who was traveling in his automobile. On May 3, three Hutu teachers were apparently arrested by soldiers at Gikungu in Bujumbura and taken to the Gasenyi displaced persons= camp where militia killed them.

In a positive measure, perhaps in response to international concern over media incitement to genocide, the government licensed the new, private Radio Umwizero [Radio Hope] financed by the European Union, to broadcast information promoting human rights and reconciliation. Studio Ijambo, funded by the U.S., prepared radio programs along the same lines. The following month, the government banned seven publications, three identified with Tutsi, four with Hutu, for having promoted ethnic hatred. Six of the seven had apparently been guilty of doing so.

A series of attacks and threats on vehicles, offices and residences of international relief agencies in late 1995 caused them to briefly suspend assistance throughout Burundi. In late April 1996, assailants threw grenades at buildings of the International Red Cross (ICRC) in Gitega, forcing the organization to withdraw personnel from this central city. In June, three expatriate ICRC workers, traveling in a clearly marked convoy, were ambushed and killed in northwestern Burundi, leading to the withdrawal of the ICRC from the country. No one had been arrested or tried for these attacks but the assailants were believed to be soldiers. A December 1995 broadcast by the Burundi State Radio was part of a propaganda offensive that charged the relief organizations with excessive help to the Hutu or even with actually providing arms and funds to Hutu rebels. By mid-year, many organizations had withdrawn all their personnel to the capital city, thus restricting services to the needy and reducing opportunities for outsiders to observe human rights developments in the provinces.

Some 350,000 Burundian refugees live abroad, mostly in Tanzania and Zaire, with about 400,000 more displaced within the country. During the past two years, regions where Hutu and Tutsi formerly lived together were subject to ethnic clashes and massive population movements, with Tutsi now largely concentrated in towns or at military camps and Hutu dispersed in the countryside. In addition, at the start of the year, some 90,000 Rwandan Hutu refugees clustered in camps along the northern frontier of Burundi. They had fled their homes in 1994 when the Rwandan Patriotic Army defeated the government responsible for the genocide. In February, the Burundi army made efforts to drive Rwandan refugees away, but stopped in the face of severe international criticism. They resumed again in July with threats and attacks on refugee camps, driving some 15,000 Rwandans back across the border. Again, international protests forced a halt to this refoulement. But, in August, Burundian authorities, in cooperation with the Rwandan government, closed the remaining camps and forced most of the remaining refugees to return home, leaving some 200 Rwandan refugees in Burundi. In several cases, Burundian soldiers killed refugees, such as at Magara camp in mid-August, where they beat three refugees to death and wounded another three.

A small-scale guerrilla movement, led by PALIPEHUTU, existed in Burundi before 1993, but the present large-scale conflict resulted from efforts of a part of the Tutsi elite to recapture power lost in the June 1993 election when their UPRONA party was defeated by FRODEBU, a party that represented mostly Hutu. A group of military officers, posing as the protectors of the Tutsi, murdered the democratically elected president, Melchior Ndadaye and then stood byCor collaboratedCas increasingly radical Tutsi groups used violence in the streets to reassert Tutsi predominance in government in the months that followed. In the weeks just after Ndadaye=s assassination, between 30,000 and 50,000 Burundians were killed: Hutu massacred Tutsi, often under the direction of local government officials or political leaders, and the army slaughtered thousands of Hutu, supposedly on the pretext of restoring order. A few lower-ranking officers were arrested on charges of having assassinated the president, and some 2,600 others, most of them civilians, were detained for having participated in the 1993 killings. Some 150 of the detainees were soldiers. Criminal courts, blocked by judicial vacancies that the National Assembly failed to fill, held no trials for more than two years. During that time, nearly 3,000 other persons were arrested, many on charges of politically-linked crimes, resulting in a total of some 5,500 persons awaiting trial. The great majority of persons accused were Hutu, while the judiciary was virtually exclusively Tutsi. Judges coped with a number of problems due to limited resources, but the greatest obstacle to fair trials was intimidation of the judges by radical Tutsi. In addition, almost all lawyers were Tutsi and few agreed to take Hutu clients, especially for cases of political importance. After judges were finally named, the courts reopened for sessions in February and June. Of some 150 cases heard, the courts handed down eighty-nine convictions with the death penalty and thirty-six with the penalty of life imprisonment. None of the convicted had access to legal counsel.

The Right to Monitor

Local human rights organizations were permitted to continue operations, including publishing criticisms of all parties to the conflict and monitoring the progress of court cases. Several activists have had their lives threatened by soldiers or Tutsi extremists, which may have influenced the organizations to moderate their criticism of the army. Several activists chose exile, including Tharcisse Nsavyimana, a leader of the most credible human rights group, ITEKA.

Five monitors from the office of U.N. High Commissioner of Human Rights had been investigating the human rights situation in Burundi since April 1996. On at least one occasion, when they sought to travel to the site of the Kivyuka massacre, the army prohibited the mission, giving the insecurity of the region as a reason.

The Role of the International Community

Highly conscious of the consequences of their failure to act during the genocide in Rwanda, the U.N., the Organization of Africa Unity (OAU), the European Union (E.U.), a group of Burundi=s neighbors, and individual donor nations all devoted great attention to resolving the conflict in Burundi and to avertingCor at the least preparing forCfurther disaster. Symbolic of the intense focus on Burundi was the plethora of special envoys charged with facilitating a solution to the crisis in Burundi or in the larger region, including former Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, E.U. special envoy Aldo Ajello, and U.S. special envoy Howard Wolpe.

United Nations

Despite protestations of the need to be prepared for further violence in Burundi, only three of fifty member states approached in early 1996CEthiopia, Uganda and TanzaniaCindicated willingness to contribute troops to a multinational force for humanitarian intervention. In January and again in March, the Security Council encouraged contingency planning and recognized the need to combat media that promoted ethnic hatred. In January, it expressed a willingness to consider a ban on arms for Burundi and travel restrictions and other measures against leaders who incited violence, proposals repeated in an August 31 resolution that set a sixty-day deadline, after which the council would move to implement these measures if no progress had been made.

After having established one commission to examine the assassination of President Ndadaye and subsequent massacres and having refused to make public its report, the Security Council sent a second commission to Burundi to repeat the investigation. Inadequately funded and hampered by lack of access to materials and witnesses, the commission produced a truncated report in July. A witness accused of having participated personally in the murder, who had been in custody at the central prison since late 1993, was shot by guards in a so-called Aattempted escape@ just before the commission was to begin its work. The council initially tried to keep the second report secret as well, but when politicians in Bujumbura selectively leaked those parts that implicated their rivals, the council decided to publish the document at the end of August. The report relied heavily on evidence already published by an nongovernmental organization investigatory commission sponsored by Human Rights Watch, among others, in 1994, but reached very different conclusions. The U.N. report was, however, more severe towards Hutu political leaders than towards Tutsi military authorities: it labeled Hutu killings of Tutsi Aacts of genocide@ and proposed that they should be tried before an international tribunal but called military slaughter of Hutu Aindiscriminate repression of civilians,@ which it said fell within the internal jurisdiction of Burundi. It maintained that there was no hope of fair and effective investigation or prosecution of these crimes in Burundi given the current situation, and so concluded that it was Aunrealistic@ to seek an end to impunity before trying to resolve the overall crisis.

In March, the U.N. Human Rights Commission examined the situation in Burundi and its special rapporteur Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, who conducted two missions to Burundi in 1996, served as an effective and vigorous advocate for international action. In February, he called for an international tribunal to try cases resulting from the killings in Burundi. The five monitors sent by the office of the U.N. high commissioner for human rights published one detailed report in July, reflecting a conscientious effort to document abuses by all parties. Although unable to travel frequently outside the capital, they played an important role in gathering data and in confirming information from other sources, particularly concerning killings by the Burundi army. In July, the high commissioner requested funds to expand the number of monitors to twenty-five to staff in order to staff two provincial sites as well as a central office.

European Union

By the appointment of envoy Aldo Ajello as well as by a series of statements, the E.U. made clear its support for an end to the violence and human rights abuse. European Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs Emma Bonino visited Burundi together with USAID Administrator J. Brian Atwood in April to express concern over growing insecurity and to emphasize that the two funders, who give about 80 percent of the assistance received by the region, would refuse development aid unless progress were made toward peace and stability. This message was repeated at a donors meeting on Burundi in Geneva in June. Following the coup in July, the E.U. suspended its development aid to Burundi but continued its humanitarian aid program to the country. In September, the European Parliament passed a resolution urging the E.U. not to recognize the authority of the Bujumbura regime. The Parliament also supported the sanctions imposed on Burundi by neighboring African countries and urged them to extend the ban to weapons and ammunition.

Slow to honor its pledge to support U.N. human rights monitors, the E.U. did produce the funds necessary to field five of these observers in April, nearly a year after its original pledge of assistance. In addition, it provided US$1.87 million to fund the OAU monitors.

OAU and Regional Collaboration

The OAU had maintained a sixty person observer mission in Burundi since 1995. Nearly ended in March for lack of money, it finally received funding from the E.U. Some of the observers monitored the conduct of the Burundian army, but their effectiveness was limited by a regulation that a Burundian military escort accompany them wherever they go. Following the July coup, the OAU withdrew the military part of the observer team but left others who served in civilian, technical assistance capacities.

In late June, the Burundian president and prime minister, representing the two sides of the conflict, agreed to accept a force of Ugandan, Tanzanian and Ethiopian troops to help restore order. The agreement was reached at a meeting in Arusha of the OAU President and representatives from Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, Zaire, and Rwanda as well as Burundi. Although subsequent objections from Tutsi radicals and the July coup prevented its implementation, the agreement marked a significant step towards local actors taking the initiative to resolve conflicts in themselves internal but with consequences for the whole region.

On July 31, the presidents of Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda and the prime ministers of Ethiopia and Zaire, meeting with other African, U.S. and E.U. authorities, decided to impose a total economic blockade on Burundi to force an end to prohibitions of political party activity and meetings of the National Assembly and to oblige President Buyoya to undertake negotiations with the rebels. The blockade, first relaxed to permit deliveries of essential supplies to infants and the sick, later to permit supplies for displaced persons, did serious damage to the already weak economy. In mid-September, Buyoya lifted the ban on political parties and the National Assembly and a week later agreed to negotiations with the rebels, a concession opposed by other Tutsi leaders.

United States

From the time of a visit to Burundi by Ambassador Madeleine Albright early in the year, the U.S. insisted that it Awill not support a government installed by force or intimidation and reiterates that it will work actively to isolate any such regime.@ Confronted with the July coup, the U.S. restated this policy but was nonetheless reluctant to condemn Major Buyoya too harshly on the grounds that he was considered far more moderate than the other likely candidate for the post, Major Bagaza. In the last two years, USAID had provided a US$145,000 grant to a foundation established by Buyoya. The U.S. nonetheless suspended $1.7 million in development aid to Burundi, as well as $60,000 in self-help development funds, $10,000 in human rights and democracy funds and $50,000 for IMET military training. It continued to provide the $3.6 million in humanitarian aid scheduled for 1996.

President Sylvestre Ntibatunganya, deposed by Buyoya=s coup, sought refuge in the U.S. ambassador=s residence. The U.S. continued to recognize him as president and held that he should be allowed either to participate in national reconciliation efforts or to leave the country. At this writing, he remained in the residence.

The U.S. supported efforts at mediation by former presidents Nyerere and Carter and sent a number of high-ranking delegations to Bujumbura. It pressed for contingency planning at the U.N. for possible military intervention and for coordinating humanitarian aid in case of future catastrophe. It offered to provide airlift and other logistical assistance to support an international response to such a crisis.

Lawyers from the U.S. State Department found that much of the killing in Burundi constituted Aacts of genocide,@ but the U.S. had not yet shown any determination to suppress or punish such acts.

In September, the U.S. launched the initiative for an African Crisis Response Force described above. Although it was intended to assist in disasters anywhere on the continent, the chief and immediate impulse for its creation was the Burundi crisis.

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