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Authorities involved with the new self-defense program claim that it has improved security in Bujumbura. In fact, raids by armed rebels or government troops continue largely unabated, as do such widespread common crimes as robberies and rape.

In some cases, the armed participants in the self-defense program themselves perpetrated abuses on the people they were supposed to protect. One knowledgeable observer believes that a criminal gang that carried out many armed robberies in the zone of Kinama included participants in the self-defense program.105 Several witnesses from Kinama zone complained that patrol members harassed local residents, sometimes on the pretext that they had violated the 11 p.m. curfew. 106 He said:

The patrols go around beating people up at night even before the curfew has started, demanding money. They catch you, they beat you, and they ask for any money that you have. If you don't have any they beat you more. Or they come to your house and do the same thing.

He concluded, "Because these men have guns, there is no way to work with them, to negotiate with them."107

In the evening of September 27 a self-defense patrol came across three teen-agers outside a house in Kinama. Two were school students, reportedly preparing their lessons. The patrol ordered them to go inside, saying they were violating the curfew. The three teen-agers did not respond readily and may have taunted the patrol, made up largely of youngsters like themselves. One of the patrol, himself apparently aged fifteen or sixteen, shot the three, wounding all of them in the legs. He was imprisoned at the local lockup but several days later, no investigation had been done of the incident. On September 29, the person responsible for the patrols said that the young detainee had been imprisoned briefly for "misbehavior," but would soon be released.108

Commenting on the incident, a witness said that the patrol had come from Ngozi quartier to his area of Muramvya as they often did, but that he did not know if they were officially designated to work there. "They don't have any laws, rules, or regulations," he said, "so it is impossible to know where they have the right to patrol. It seems that they make their own decisions and do just what they want."109

A resident of another part of Kinama zone complained about the men who patrol his neighborhood, saying that they "ask money from property owners and hit people for not paying up."110 At least one member of the self-defense program in Kanyosha zone was reportedly guilty of similar behavior.111

One resident of the frequently troubled northern area of the city said that residents had hoped security would improve with the establishment of the self-defense program. "But," he continued, "giving guns to people has not brought peace. . . . all it has done for the moment is to increase the poverty of the people and sometimes even produce killings."112 Another remarked that some participants in the self-defense program abused the residents even more than did the military. He explained, "It is because they are poor and have nothing. So they abuse people in order to get by."113

Just a month after the newly trained members of the self-defense program began working in Kinama, one of them was accused of having shot to death a twenty-five-year old man known by the nickname of Toto. The case illustrates both the latitude given to members of the self-defense program and the extent to which administrative and national police back them up. The victim and a friend were returning home on the night of August 17 when the two were stopped by a patrol of six armed men, purportedly led by someone named Kirombo. The patrol members took the two to a partially constructed church on Sixth Avenue in the Muyinga quarter and began to beat them and ask them for money. After they had beaten Toto for ten minutes with sticks and electric wire, he fled from the church, pursued by three patrol members. On Seventh Avenue one of the patrol shot Toto, apparently in the back, and killed him.

Patrol members tied the second man with his arms behind his back and brought him to the lockup at the zone office. On the way, they passed Toto's body and patrol members taunted the second man that he would be killed next. They detained him briefly in the lockup and then brought him outside to an adjacent national police (gendarmes) post. Four policemen and members of the patrol used their fists and sticks to beat the man, who still had his arms tied tightly behind his back. They also cut his arms and a leg with a bayonet. They asked him repeatedly for money, but he had none to give. After the beating, he was locked up for two more days until a family member secured his release with a bribe of 2,000 Burundian francs. Four days later the zone leader had him detained once more, but he was released the following day.114

As the day began on August 18, many local residents saw Toto's body still on Seventh Avenue being guarded by patrol members. One who reported this in a radio interview later that day was arrested for having spoken out. On August 20, twelve members of a self-defense patrol armed with firearms took him from his home to the national police post next to the lockup. The officer in charge hit him and accused him of having revealed military secrets in the radio interview. Several patrol members who were there also beat him. Later that morning the zone leader also interrogated the witness about the radio interview and then ordered the six patrol members who were present to beat him. They did so with sticks and electric wire, leaving wounds two inches long on his back. He was kept in the lockup until August 24 when he was released on the order of the zone leader, perhaps because the same radio station which had earlier broadcast the interview reported on his subsequent arrest.115

105 Human Rights Watch interview, August 27, 2001.

106 Human Rights Watch interviews, Bujumbura, September 28 and 29, 2001.

107 Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, August 24, 2001.

108 Human Rights Watch interviews, Bujumbura, September 28 and 29, 2001.

109 Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, September 29, 2001.

110 Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, August 28, 2001.

111 Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, July 12, 2001.

112 Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, August 24, 2001.

113 Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, August 30, 2001.

114 Human Rights Watch interviews, Bujumbura, August 24 and 30, 2001.

115 Human Rights Watch interviews, Bujumbura, August 24 and 30, 2001.

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