Continuing abuses of civilians by all parties, the growing regionalization of the Central African conflict, and the threat of increased violence from extremist organizations underscore the urgency of ending the war in Burundi. But a peace without accountability for past crimes offers little hope for future stability within Burundi or the larger region.
More than one hundred thousand civilians have been slain in Burundi, both by Hutu and by Tutsi. Many of these killings are crimes against humanity and some have been described as genocide by a U.N. commission of inquiry. They must be prosecuted promptly and effectively by an international tribunal as well as by Burundian courts. Some Burundians and foreign observers now propose yet another international investigation as well as a Burundian Truth and Reconciliation commission. Such commissions may add greater detail to what is already known of this tragic past, but they serve a different purpose from that of prosecutions and must not become a pretext for delaying them.
The two major insurgent groups-both predominantly Hutu-the National Liberation Forces (Forces Nationales de Libération, FNL) and 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, CNDD-FDD, or in shortened form, the FDD), continue to make war on civilians, both Hutu and Tutsi, and on humanitarian agencies which try to help them.
Members of the predominantly Tutsi Burundian armed forces continue to slaughter and otherwise abuse civilians, particularly those Hutu whom they accuse of supporting the insurgents. The authorities also hold hundreds of thousands of civilians in miserable conditions in regroupment camps, to which they were forcibly relocated in September 1999.1 Despite promises made two months ago to close the camps, only four have been disbanded.
The regional aspects of the war are increasingly clear as Burundian insurgents raid across the border from Tanzania on one side and participate in combat in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on the other. Soldiers of the Burundian armed forces also engage in combat in the DRC, supposedly in an effort to eliminate the FDD. The FNL and the FDD have recruited Rwandan Hutu in Rwanda, in the DRC, and in Burundi to help them make war against the Burundian government. The DRC reportedly has provided arms to the FDD and arms traders have been caught shipping weapons apparently originally from Zimbabwe through Zambia to Burundian insurgents. Rwandan combatants played an important role in the FNL until late January and early February, when Burundian insurgents turned against them and slaughtered more than one hundred of them.
Burundian Tutsi opposed to compromise with the insurgents are reportedly seeking to recruit demobilized Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) soldiers inside Rwanda for a militia to oppose President Buyoya, the Burundian head of state. The possibility that such a new group might forcibly resist a peace settlement raises the specter of increased violence in this already disastrous conflict.1 Human Rights Watch will shortly publish a report on the regroupment camps.