The government of Burundi and the rebel group, the Forces for the Defence of Democracy (FDD) signed the Pretoria Protocols on October 8 and November 2, 2003, agreeing yet again to end a civil war that has continued for ten years. Combatants of the two forces generally observed a ceasefire throughout October and in some places even shared beer or food as proof of their new camraderie. But, as of early November, peace remained a hope rather than a reality, in part because some important questions, such as the composition of the rank and file of the new national army, remained unresolved.
In addition, a second rebel group, the Forces for National Liberation (FNL), vehemently rejectednegotiations with the government and, since early September, clashed also with the FDD. From Bujumbura Rural and neighbouring parts of the provinces of Bubanza and Muramvya, the two rebel forces have fought in some districts of the capital of Bujumbura, each hunting down those who supposedly supported the rival movement.
Once the FDD joins the government, as provided by the Pretoria Protocols, the government will include the largely Tutsi Uprona party and two predominantly Hutu parties, the Frodebu and the FDD. Despite the multiethnic nature of the government, the Hutu FNL persists in defining the war in ethnic terms, treating the Tutsi as its real enemy and the Hutu members of government as mere pawns of the Tutsi.
During recent fighting, government soldiers and rebels have been responsible for deliberate attacks on civilians in violation of international humanitarian law, including killings, rape and other violence to persons, looting, and causing forced flight. As one victim remarked, “We are victims every day. We are truly the forgotten ones.”
According to the November 2 Pretoria Protocol, justice for many of these victims may well be forgotten too. At the least, justice will be delayed because the protocol provides provisional immunity, an otherwise undefined protection from prosecution, to both FDD combatants and government soldiers.
This report documents a military operation at Kabezi in April where FNL combatants and Burundian army soldiers fired at each other without regard for a crowd of civilians attempting to flee the combat zone. Burundian army soldiers subsequently deliberately killed civilians in the area, apparently in reprisal for the ambush on their troops by rebels.
In other cases at Ruziba and Muyira in September, Burundian army soldiers massacred civilians, apparently in reprisal for killings of government soldiers by FNL combatants in the vicinity.
Since the end of April FDD combatants have deliberately killed administrative officials and other civilians. They also abducted some civilians, including four members of parliament and representatives of humanitarian agencies and forcibly recruited others to serve as combatants.
Rebel combatants and Burundian army soldiers raped women in many parts of the country, including in the provinces of Ruyigi, Bubanza, Kayanza, and Bujumbura rural.
Throughout the country, rebels and Burundian army soldiers looted the property of civilians, sometimes driving them from their homes for this purpose.Rebel and government forces alike forced civilians to work for them without pay, often as porters or guides, sometimes in areas where they were exposed to injury by their passage.
Humanitarian agencies had trouble gaining access to areas where civilians badly needed their services. In some cases combat made the areas insecure, but in other cases military officials prohibited them from entering a region that seemed to have been safe. In several cases armed groups ambushed and sometimes abducted humanitarian workers.
The African Mission in Burundi (AMIB), the first peacekeeping force mounted by the African Union, deployed some 2,800 troops by mid-October but these soldiers were meant to oversee implementation of the peace accords and did not protect civilians.
The government detained opposition political leaders on three separate occasions during the last five months. All were eventually released without trial. The minister of communication ordered journalists not to broadcast or paraphrase statements by rebel leaders and in September suspended the operation of two private radios for having made such broadcasts.
In the crucial field of justice, the government pursued a zigzag course. The Transitional National Assembly passed a resolution approving ratification of the Rome Treaty of the International Criminal Court, but the president failed to promulgate the law, leaving its fate unclear. In April a law to punish genocide was adopted and promulgated, as demanded by Tutsi parties, but in August the Transitional National Assembly passed a provisional immunity law meant to protect a limited number of Hutu leaders from immediate prosecution. A reciprocal deal for political ends, the arrangement appeared intended to satisfy conflicting demands of Tutsi and Hutu parties rather than to facilitate delivery of justice. The November 2 protocol extended the immunity to all members of the armed forces and FDD combatants and set no time limit to this protection. The ministry of justice worked on ambitious reforms for the judicial system, but made little progress in disposing of pending cases, in part because a strike by judges closed the courts for nearly two months. In one welcome development, judicial authorities arrested some high-ranking officials in a long-pending case involving corruption and the murder of the head of the World Health Organization in Burundi.
Military prosecutors failed to investigate and bring to trial soldiers involved in the crimes described in this and previous Human Rights Watch reports.
Parties to the first peace treaty in this war, the Arusha Accords of 2000, asked the United Nations Security Council to establish an international commission to investigate genocide and other crimes against humanity committed in Burundi, but, despite a subsequent request from the Burundian government, the UN has yet to dispatch even a preliminary assessment mission to examine the feasibility of such an investigatory commission.
The international community has given Burundi only intermittent attention, reacting most strongly when rebel advances threatened the capital. Anxious to move towards settlement, various international actors supported initiatives that seemed to signal progress, like the cantonment of rebel forces, even when the groundwork had not been done to make these efforts succeed. Committed in the abstract to African peacekeeping efforts, donor nations failed to provide the funding needed to ensure effective operation of AMIB throughout its mandate.
This report covers the period from April through mid-November 2003 and results from investigations carried out in Burundi in June, August, September and October, 2003. Human Rights Watch wishes to thank Burundian colleagues and witnesses who contributed to this report and whose names are not published for their own security.