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Killing civilians

Guardians of the peace violated international humanitarian law in the gravest and most widespread way during operations to relocate rural residents into regroupment sites. According to one guardian,

We spent a lot of time looking for people who hadn't gone into the camps as they were told to do. We killed anyone who was not in the camps. We killed a lot of people, we all did, just like the military. We killed most with guns and others with machetes, bayonets, and even old hoes.46

A guardian said that the some of the worst massacres of civilians took place in Buyengero commune, estimating that hundreds had died there. "The soldiers and the guardians of the peace killed many people," he said, "not all were rebels, but civilians too, we killed women and children." He said that in some cases guardians decided to take the women and children back to the relocation sites instead of killing them, but he did not explain why they did so. He described some of the people they had hunted down as nearly white in color, their skin badly bleached by the malnutrition suffered during their months in hiding. Asked by Human Rights Watch researchers if soldiers witnessed the killings of civilians, he confirmed that they had. Asked further if any soldiers had reminded them of the rules of war taught in some of the training sessions for guardians, he answered that they had not. And he smiled.47

Guardians who refused to kill civilians in these circumstances were suspected of sympathizing with the rebels and could be punished severely, even by death. According to a guardian, "If you refused to kill people because they were civilians, women and children, then you would be killed." As an example, he provided convincing details of the killing of a young guardian, executed because he had refused the order to kill his sister who was married to a rebel and who had been found outside the designated site.48

As the FDD presence and the intensity of combat diminished in the region in late 1998 and 1999, some guardians adopted a more lenient attitude towards civilians found outside the sites. One guardian who admits having allowed civilians to ransom themselves for 5,000 or 10,000 Burundian francs said he suggested that others do the same. "I told the other guardians, look they are people just like you," he said. "There is no reason to kill them. Instead just get them to pay up and take them back to camp."49 The ransom was ordinarily required only of men because women and children were known to have no cash to meet such demands. Some soldiers knew that ransoms were paid. They collected their share of the cash and took no other action.

Guardians have also reportedly killed civilians in the course of robbery and extortion. Two guardians reportedly beat an old man to death in Musongati commune, Rutana province, because he refused to give them money. In a similar incident at Gatete zone, Rumonge commune, two guardians allegedly shot a middle-aged man named Pamphile Barayunguye after he refused to hand over his money to them. On August 3, three guardians shot and killed a fish seller named Nzeyimana on the main road from the lakeshore to the center of Bururi, apparently in order to rob him of his catch and equipment.50 Others died as a result of beatings after having been detained for alleged petty offenses. On June 12, 2001 guardians from Minago zone, Rumonge commune, arrested a seventeen-year-old named Bihawe after he had been involved in a scuffle at the market with another person. They detained him in a lockup next to the market where they kicked him repeatedly and beat him with sticks and belts. They released him on June 15 and he died the next day from his injuries.


One guardian said that many of his fellows had raped women. He said they did not do this in the course of military operations but rather when they were either on duty or at leisure in the regroupment camps. He explained,

We would come upon the women in the sites and threaten to report them for some infraction. We had guns and it would be our word against theirs. They could no nothing but comply.51

Guardians and soldiers also reportedly raped women caught on paths going to fetch water outside the sites.52

Robbery and Extortion

Several guardians admitted that they or their comrades used their weapons or grenades to rob or extort goods from the very people whom they were supposed to protect. One guardian said, "We would steal and loot from the houses and this way we could come back and have something to eat. Many of us liked to smoke and this would give us money to buy cigarettes.53 Another indicated that they felt justified in taking what they needed because they were not paid. This lack of salary is the reason why "there is a lot of stealing and looting in the area."54 One said bluntly, "We are poor, we need money, so we stole and extorted money."55

An observer who has watched guardians operate in several parts of Burundi commented:

The people themselves hate the guardians because they steal from them. The guardians collect informal taxes, say 100 Burundian francs, a few pieces of manioc, a fish, some rice from those who pass by on the road. No one can refuse because they are carrying guns. . . . They don't have much work to do and they get to take what they want. Many of them used to be unemployed. Now they work only once in a while and they get prestige and free food.56

In one case three guardians reportedly threw a grenade into a house to make the residents flee so that they could pillage the place. One woman was badly burned in the attack. In another case, three guardians from Gatumba, outside of Bujumbura, made repeated forays across the border into the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where they committed armed robberies. Guardians regularly appropriated fish from fishermen along the lakeshore or produce from women sellers in the market. They collected money from travelers along the road on the pretext that their papers were not in order. Beginning in 2000 authorities closed most of the regroupment camps in Burundi, but during 2001 some residents of Bururi were still prohibited from working in their fields in certain areas, supposedly because they were insecure. Guardians who found residents in zones that were officially closed to normal activities made them pay to be allowed to return to the camp.57

According to one guardian from an area where combat is less frequent than before, the guardians do more stealing now because they have fewer other things to keep them occupied.58

Some guardians said that soldiers too robbed and extorted from civilians and sometimes used the guardians to carry out these abuses for them. As an example, one said, "They would order us to remove pieces of metal roofing [from vacant houses] and collect them together. Then they would sell them for money."59 In some cases, soldiers directed guardians to harvest palm oil nuts from the rich and temporarily deserted fields in Rumonge. They then had the nuts pressed and sold the oil.60 Guardians and military personnel working together were suspected of several ambushes along roads in southern Burundi. In one incident such a group reportedly ordered a pickup truck carrying fish and other merchandise to stop en route to the town of Bururi. When the driver continued without stopping, the guardians opened fire. The driver and his passenger fled unhurt and the guardians and the soldiers seized all the abandoned merchandise. When the local military commander learned of the attack, he had the guardians arrested, but the soldiers continued to sell the stolen merchandise, apparently undisturbed.61

46 Human Rights Watch interview, June, 2001. A used hoe, agafuni, has been frequently used as a weapon in this region in the last few years. Cheap and easily obtainable in an agricultural society, the old hoe is used to kill by a blow to the head.

47 Human Rights Watch interview, June, 2001.

48 Human Rights Watch interview, June, 2001.

49 Human Rights Watch interview, June, 2001.

50 Human Rights Watch interviews, Bujumbura, September 29 and October 4, 2000; July 6 and August 30 and 31, 2001.

51 Human Rights Watch interview, June, 2001.

52 Human Rights Watch interview, July, 2001; Human Rights Watch, "Emptying the Hills: Regroupment in Burundi," pp. 18-19.

53 Human Rights Watch interview, June, 2001.

54 Human Rights Watch interview, Bururi, August 18, 2000.

55 Human Rights Watch interview, June, 2001.

56 Human Rights Watch interview, July, 2001.

57 Human Rights Watch interviews, Bururi, August 18, 2000; Bujumbura, August 28 and October 17, 2000; June and July 2001.

58 Human Rights Watch interview, June, 2001.

59 Human Rights Watch interview, June, 2001.

60 Human Rights Watch interviews, Bururi, August 18, 2000; June 2001.

61 Human Rights Watch interviews, July, 2001.

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