Women in combat zones in Burundi have suffered increasingly from rape, a growing problem already in early 2003.183 In the province of Bubanza, where the population suffered the consequences of repeated military operations and thousands were displaced, one witness from the hill Rugazi said that rape had become so frequent that women did not dare step outside their houses.184 The governor of Kayanza province complained in late June of rapes committed in Kabarore and Muruta communes and Governor Isaac Bujaba of Ruyigi said that rape had become a new weapon used against the civilian population.185
The 1949 Geneva Conventions and their two Protocols implicitly and explicitly condemn rape and other forms of sexual violence as serious violations of humanitarian law in both international and internal conflicts. Through its prohibition of "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment," Common Article 3 implicitly condemns sexual violence.
Article 4 of Protocol II expressly forbids "violence to life, health and physical or mental well-being of persons, in particular murder as well as cruel treatment, such as torture, mutilation or any form of corporal punishment" and "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment, rape and enforced prostitution and any form of indecent assault." According to the official ICRC Commentary, this provision "reaffirms and supplements Common Article 3 ... [because] it became clear that it was necessary to strengthen ... the protection of women ... who may also be the victims of rape, enforced prostitution or indecent assault."186
One young mother, half-hiding behind her cloth, as if she felt the need for protection, told a Human Rights Watch researcher how extensive rape had become on her hill of Muyange, in the Ruyigi province. In a subdued voice she said she knew one pregnant woman and an eighteen-year-old girl who had both been raped recently. “They also raped a woman who was carrying her little baby on her back,” she added. The witness told of an acquaintance whom rebels caught and raped in her own home and in front of her husband who was himself beaten. Then the rebels looted all their belongings. “I know that older women have been raped too,” she said, “although I don’t know any such women myself.”187
An old woman said:
She concluded with despair, “There is no more authority in Burundi.”188
In many cases victims and witnesses cannot or will not identify the perpetrators. In a typical description a witness will say that the perpetrators were “men in uniform, with a weapon, and military boots.”189
But in Butezi, a commune some twenty miles from the provincial capital of Ruyigi town, victims and witnesses were able to identify the rapists who attacked women on May 18 as FDD combatants. One of the rapists was recognized by people who knew him to be a member of the FDD. The rapists struck on several hills including Kigamba, Musenga, Muyange and Sorero, all in Butezi. Based in the region known as Moso, this FDD group forced their way into houses, raped women and stole clothing, cattle and goats.
At least ten women raped that night came to Ruyigi for medical care in the days after the attack. One of them had been raped by several men with such brutality that she needed a long period of hospitalization and follow-up care. These women said they knew many others who had also been raped but who would not talk about it for fear of being rejected by their husbands. Several women from the hill Muyange had come to Ruyigi for medical help after having been raped; when they returned home, they were rejected by their husbands.190
In another attack in Ruyigi in mid-May, FDD combatants raped eight women. Several were gang raped, one by three men, another by ten. The youngest victim in this group was thirteen years old. One of the victims said,
A woman said that after rebels passed through the area known as Nyakabanka hill, many of the girls who were secondary school students became pregnant.192
When military operations are taking place in a region, women do not dare sleep in their own homes. If they do not seek refuge in the bush or in the woods, they spend the nights in public buildings. A Human Rights Watch researcher saw about twenty women, many with small children, come into the Ruyigi primary school at about 7 p.m. and prepare to spend the night on the concrete floor. As the cold night fell, one woman said, “In March armed men in uniform went through our area and looted everything on my hill. They raped women. Since then no woman dares to spend the night in her own home.”193 The others in the group confirmed what she had said.
Government soldiers also committed rapes in Ruyigi. One woman from the hill of Buhinda said that soldiers had come into the area in October 2002 chasing rebels and had stayed to rape women.194 Several witnesses from the hills Muyange, Ciyando and Rugoti all spontaneously said that they were sure government soldiers from the Mubira military post had raped many women. The number of rapes in the proximity of the post increased so dramatically that military authorities transferred the soldiers to the nearby town of Butezi.195 Women in Bubanza province also complained of rapes by soldiers. In some cases women who were ordered to go gather firewood for soldiers were raped while gathering the wood.196
Rape has also increased as a result of the conflict between the FNL and the FDD. In the commune of Mubimbi, Bujumbura rural, FDD combatants reportedly raped several women and at least two girls as they went to their fields to gather food to eat. One was about to be married and may now face rejection by her husband-to-be. Both were so brutally raped that they had to seek treatment at a hospital in Bujumbura. Other women were raped on the hill Nyankuba. “And there have been others,” said one woman bitterly. “No one dares go home. And if we go to our fields, they catch us.”197
In early November FNL combatants raped four women at Vyimuka, Kayange, Rugazi commune. The women, displaced from their homes by the fighting, were caught as they were searching for bananas to feed their hungry children.198
Government soldiers have been posted at the hill Gisagara since the start of skirmishes between the two rebel groups. In September the soldiers reportedly raped five women on two successive days. They also destroyed seven houses and took the roofing to cover their own shelter. According to local people, government soldiers took no action against the FDD even before the signing of the Pretoria Protocols.199
Brigadier General Niyoyankana, army chief of staff, told a Human Rights Watch researcher that he did not believe that government soldiers committed rapes. He said that had there been such cases, women would not have reported them because of a cultural reticence against discussing such matters. He suggested instead that women who accused soldiers of rape had probably engaged voluntarily in sex with them with the expectation of receiving some form of payment to alleviate their dire poverty. When the payment was not forthcoming, the women accused the soldiers of rape. He did state, however, that the first soldier to be named as having committed such a crime would be immediately prosecuted, and punished if found guilty.200 In September the head of the military justice system said that he had no cases of rape among his current files.201 In at least one case, a woman notified the lieutenant in charge of the military post at Musenyi, Bubanza that one of his soldiers had raped her. The lieutenant refused to believe her and did not investigate the case. The affair became generally known and the woman was so shamed by public discussion of it that she moved to another community.202
In general Human Rights Watch researchers have received few reports of disciplinary measures taken by the rebel movements to deal with cases of rape by their combatants. But in mid-October when the FDD was negotiating for a place in governmental institutions, there was one case of a FDD commander in Rugazi commune urging local people at a public meeting to bring him reports of rapes committed by his combatants. He told local people that some of the men who had recently joined FDD ranks behaved badly and lacked discipline. According to one resident of Rugazi, a young FDD combatant—probably under the age of eighteen years—raped a girl from the hill of Bugume shortly before this meeting. The girl was so badly injured that she needed medical attention. The witness said that the young man who was accused of the rape was seen at the FDD post at Kyange being punished by having his arms tied behind his back and not being allowed to eat for a week.203 At about the same time a FDD leader in Mubimbi commune told residents that his movement dealt with cases of rape in its own way and that they should not forward information about such cases to authorities or others. He also told them that raped women should not seek medical attention in Bujumbura, an order that could result in raped women not receiving necessary care for their injuries.204
According to a child soldier who spent some months in the ranks of the FNL, this movement punished combatants who committed infractions of their rules, including those who committed rapes. The FNL reportedly prohibits even consensual sexual relations for its combatants, believing this is God’s decree.205
183 Human Rights Watch, “Burundi: Civilians Pay the Price of Faltering Peace Process,” A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper, February 2003
184 Human Rights Watch interview, Musenyi, Bubanza, June 11, 2003.
185 OCHA Situation Report, 16-22 June 2003; IRIN, “Burundi: Civilians Losing the War,” May 14, 2003.
186 Yves Sandoz, Christophe Swinarski, Bruno Zimmerman (eds.), ICRC Commentary on the Additional Protocols of June 1977 to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 (Geneva: Martinus Nijhoff, 1987), p. 1375, para. 4539. As the above language highlights, crimes of sexual violence under international humanitarian law have been mischaracterized as attacks against the honor of women or as an outrage on personal dignity, as opposed to attacks on physical integrity. This mischaracterization diminishes the serious nature of the crime and contributes to the widespread misperception of rape as an attack on honor that is an “incidental” or “lesser” crime relative to crimes such as torture or enslavement. While it is true that rape is an assault on human dignity, rape should primarily be viewed as a violent assault on bodily integrity as well as one that dishonors the perpetrator and not the victim.
187 Human Rights Watch interview, Butezi, Ruyigi province, June 17, 2003.
188 Human Rights Watch interview, Butezi, June 17, 2003.
189 Human Rights Watch interviews, Ruyigi, June 16 and 17 and Butezi, June 17, 2003.
190 Human Rights Watch interview, Ruyigi, June 16, 2003.
191 IRIN, “Burundi: Civilians losing the war,” May 14, 2003.
192 Human Rights Watch interview, Ruyigi, June 16, 2003.
193 Human Rights Watch interview, Ruyigi, June 16, 2003.
194 Human Rights Watch interview, Ruyigi, June 16, 2003.
195 Human Rights Watch interview, Butezi, June 17, 2003.
196 Human Rights Watch interview, Musenyi, Bubanza, June 11, 2003.
197 Human Rights Watch interview, Kinama, Mubimba, Bujumbura Rural, October 7, 2003.
198 Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, November 6, 2003.
199 Human Rights Watch interview, Kinama, Bujumbura Rural October 7, 2003.
200 Human Rights Watch interview with Brigadier General Niyoyankana, Bujumbura, October 3, 2003.
201 Human Rights Watch interview with the auditeur militaire, Bujumbura, September 5, 2003.
202 Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, June 18, 2003.
203 Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, October 30, 2003.
204 Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, October 23, 2003.
205 Human Rights Watch interview, Uvira, November 5, 2003.