The nearly ten years of war, the deterioration of the economy, and the erosion of governmental authority have provided ideal conditions for the growth in banditry, now general throughout the country. All of these crimes¾murders, rapes, ambushes on the road, looting of property, robberies, or kidnapping for ransom¾ have increased and contributed to the misery of the population.
In some cases, bandits operate in organized bands, like that of Eugène Bitaryumunyu mentioned above. These groups sometimes are associated with one rebel movement or another, combining common criminality with political objectives. As one victim commented about the rebel groups, “They have a lot of bad elements among them.”234 In some cases, the criminals who presented themselves as combatants were not in fact acting for the rebel movements. A group of bandits captured on the night of June 15 in Makamba, for example, admitted that they were only passing for FDD combatants.235 In the case of the parliamentary member assassinated in Makamba, mentioned above, the FDD said the killers were not members of their movement but just criminals.236
Armed individuals sometimes strike alone or with one or two others. Some are or were members of the government armed forces or of the Guardians of the Peace; others were once rebel combatants. The common element is that they almost always had easy access to firearms and knew how to use them for their own profit. Firearms are easily available and relatively cheap, with an AK-47 assault rifle costing under $20.237
Victims often cannot or do not dare identify the perpetrators of these crimes. An elderly grandmother, met at a hospital where she was caring for her seven-year-old granddaughter, deplored the insecurity in which she and her neighbors lived. The father of the child had been accosted by an armed group as he was returning home one night. When he called for help, his family came out of the house. His wife, with a baby on her back, was killed by a spear to her neck. The seven-year-old was struck with a machete in the head and had been hospitalized with the wound for some three weeks. The grandmother did not dare give any details that might help identify the assailants but, like many victims elsewhere, she concluded that authorities did nothing to protect the people and nothing to investigate crimes.238
In some communities people have resorted to mob justice to avenge themselves on criminals. In one recent case in Butihinda commune, Muyinga province, a crowd caught two armed bandits who had just shot two people and beat them so badly that one of them died.239
234 Human Rights Watch interview, Ruyigi, June 16, 2003.
235 Iteka, “Un parlementaire tué dans une attaque à Makamba,” June 16, 2003.
236 CNDD-FDD, “Un depute de l’Uprona et un soldat tué à Makamba,” June 23, 2003, consulted at their website www.Burundi-info.com.
237 Human Rights Watch observation notes, meeting at the European parliament, July 9, 2003.
238 Human Rights Watch interview, Ruyigi, June 16, 2003.
239 Iteka, “Deux personnes tuées par les bandits armées en province de Muyinga,” July 17, 2003.