XII. "SELF-DEFENSE IN SOLIDARITY": OVERCOMING THE ETHNIC DIVISIONS?
After the FNL took and briefly held parts of Bujumbura in February 2001, the government decided to reorganize "civilian self-defense" on a new basis. Authorities recognized that Hutu residents of urban areas feared that "Tutsi were being trained to shoot them," according to one officer who worked on the new version of the program. They wanted to change that perception. They also sought to avert a resurgence of militant Tutsi activism. There were reports in March that militia like PA-Amasekanya were organizing weapons training for Tutsi, perhaps with the aid of some soldiers. 82 "Groups were organizing into militia within neighborhoods," said one high ranking official. "Authorities had to take control of this situation to avoid possible conflict on an ethnic basis."83
Authorities called the program launched in April 2001 "self-defense in solidarity" ("auto-défense solidaire"), recycling a name used to little effect four years before and meant to underline the multi-ethnic nature of the new effort. The training sessions began with little public fanfare, allowing doubts to persist about the objectives of the program. But the training concluded on June 16, 2001 with a public ceremony and distribution of certificates to 1,000 graduates in the presence of the ministers of defense and interior, indicating that national authorities now publicly took responsibility for the "self-defense" program. According to press accounts, they stated that "self-defense" would henceforth be a permanent part of national defense and would be extended to the rest of Burundi. They said also that participants were expected to serve for an undetermined length of time.84
According to authorities, participants remain civilians subject to the civilian courts as they did in the older version of the program. Although now recognized as a government initiative and in the process of expanding throughout the country, the self-defense program still has no body of regulations to govern its operation.85
One high-ranking military officer stressed that in contrast to the previous program the new effort devoted much more attention to "civic" education and correspondingly less to "technical" matters-i.e., actually learning to handle firearms. The objective, he said, was to convince everyone "that the people must stand together in defense of their neighborhoods."86 Others, including some trained in the program, confirmed this information.87 Another officer writing about the program said it was meant to diminish the "attractiveness of tribo-genocide."88
In its operations, the new version of "civilian self-defense" differed little from the old. Graduates of the program patrolled in the neighborhoods at night and sometimes also kept watch at public places, like markets. Those who were armed collected their weapons from military posts at the start of work and returned them at the end. In regions of relatively high risk, they patrolled together with soldiers. In others, they supposedly worked under the supervision of a resident who was a former soldier or, if such a person was not available, at least a government official or employee. Officially all were volunteers, although some were reported to have joined as a result of pressure and to avoid being fined or imprisoned.89 In one case, a young man who did not want to join was warned by others in the program that he might not receive protection in the future should he need it, given his refusal to participate.90 Participants were not paid, although in some areas administrative officials collected money from residents to pay expenses for any who needed medical attention.91 According to one sixteen-year-old recruited for the program, participants were supposed to be aged fifteen to twenty-five.92 According to another, boys as young as thirteen took part in the training but reportedly were not subsequently assigned any duties.93 Participants wore no uniform, except the occasional piece of military clothing received from a soldier, and carried no identification.94
Beneath the gloss of "solidarity" serious ethnic tensions and inequities persist within the self-defense program. In part this results from the program being organized within the limits of residential units which have become largely monoethnic as a result of seven years of conflict between Hutu and Tutsi. Although some training sessions apparently brought together groups from several neighborhoods, this was not always the case. And once operating in neighborhood units, Hutu and Tutsi rarely served together.95 Said one critic, "If the government is serious about assuring security to everyone, then the program has to be organized across neighborhood boundaries."96
In addition, some officials reflected continuing distrust of Hutu called upon to serve in the units. One explained that as recruits were trained in the new program, they would replace those previously responsible for local security. He stated that the eventual goal was to advance all current patrol members to the point of active armed assistance to the military, but not until they had received proper preparation. Some people of the neighborhood, he said, "were close to Bujumbura-rurale," meaning they were Hutu with likely sympathies for the rebels known to be based in the rural areas outside the city. "It will take some time," he added, "before arms could be trusted to everyone."97 In some areas, authorities preferred to distribute arms only to those who owned property in the neighborhood.98 According to one observer, "This ensures that they will not run off to the bush with the weapons, because they have land and houses to protect."99
Local variations have fed the distrust with which some Hutu view the "self-defense" program. Although national authorities have taken responsibility for the "self-defense in solidarity" program, they have limited central direction in its implementation. In June 2001 one high-ranking officer stated that local military commanders and administrative officials determine the extent and kind of program in their jurisdictions, a position that echoed statements of military authorities dating back to 1997.100 Variations result, he said, from "the differences in energy, intelligence, dynamism, and commitment" of those in charge in each locality.101 Hutu, both participants in the program and observers, have remarked differences in the kind and availability of arms in various localities. Self-defense units in some predominantly Hutu neighborhoods were armed with rifles that fire only a single shot at a time, while groups that were largely or exclusively Tutsi were armed by the military with more lethal Kalashnikovs or other automatic weapons. In addition, Hutu participants patrolled with arms received from and returned to military control, while some Tutsi participants used their own weapons which they kept in their homes. Given the highly polarized ethnic situation in Burundi, such variations led some Hutu to conclude that authorities were providing Tutsi areas with added protection meant to give them the advantage should conflict develop between them.102
"Self-defense in solidarity" programs were begun also at urban centers outside the capital, including Cankuzo in the east and Bubanza in the north.103 One witness speaking of Bubanza said that "Arms are being distributed in areas where there is a Hutu population that is considered `trustworthy.'"104
82 Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, June 12, 2001.
83 Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, June 15, 2001.
84 Human Rights Watch interviews, Bujumbura, June 15 and July 7, 2001; Le Renouveau no. 5661, "Lancement d'un "système" d'auto-défense civile solidaire", Serge Gahungu, June 27-28, 2001, p. 5.
85 Human Rights Watch interviews, Bujumbura, June 15 and July 12, 2001.
86 Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, June 15, 2001.
87 Human Rights Watch interviews, Bujumbura, June 12, July 12, and August 30,2001.
88 Letter seen by Human Rights Watch researchers, September 27, 2001.
89 Human Rights Watch interviews, Bujumbura, June 12, July 11 and 13, and August 24 and 28, 2001.
90 Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, July 5, 2001.
91 Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, July 12, 2001.
92 Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, August 28, 2001.
93 Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, August 24, 2001.
94 Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, July 12 and August 24 and 28, 2001.
95 Human Rights Watch interviews, July 12 and 13 and August 30, 2001.
96 Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, July 13, 2001.
97 Human Rights Watch, Bujumbura, July 12, 2001.
98 Human Rights Watch interviews, Bujumbura, June 12 and August 24, 2001.
99 Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, August 24, 2001.
100 Human Rights Watch interviews, Bujumbura, June 15 and August 24, 2001; Human Rights Watch, Proxy Targets, p. 116.
101 Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, June 15, 2001.
102 Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, July 12, August 4 and 30, 2001.
103 Human Rights Watch interviews, Bujumbura, July 18, 2001.
104 Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, May 17, 2001.