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IX. Displacement, Pillage, and Interference with Humanitarian Assistance

The war created misery for civilians as well as insecurity for the humanitarian workers who tried to help them. Even as the peace process was supposedly moving forward, ordinary Burundians were subject daily to violations of their rights and to conditions of the worst misery. As one despairing man said, “You know, it’s every day that we are victims. Every day we are looted by soldiers and by rebels.”222

Even as the cantonment site was receiving the first combatants, the FDD and government soldiers were fighting in the adjacent Kayanza province, forcing between 35,000 and 50,000 civilians to flee their homes. A week later, some 32,500 of these persons remained displaced, some of them hiding in marshes.223

Those who fled were generally too rushed or too frightened to take much with them. Many had no food or, if they had food, they had no utensils in which to cook it. They often had no clothes but what they were wearing and no blankets to cover themselves at night. With thousands spending cold nights outside without shelter or covers, cases of pneumonia and other respiratory diseases have increased.224

The people of Bubanza, province where the Muyange cantonment site is located, suffered greatly from the increased insecurity of the last few months. One man from Ruce, near the Kibira forest, said that he had not slept in his home since the month of April. “I used to go back during the day,” he said, “but since the month of May, I don’t dare do that either. I know eight people who went back to Ruce to harvest their fields, but seven of them were killed.” Pointing to his tattered clothes, he explained that they were all that he had, having abandoned everything else that he owned in his flight. He warned that there would be a serious lack of food in his region in the coming months. “Either we can’t get to our fields to harvest them because of the insecurity or we find the crops destroyed by bombs and shells.”225

The displaced people in this area, like those elsewhere in the country, denounced “daily and systematic pillaging by people in uniform.” “Not a night passes that we don’t hear gunfire,” said one man bitterly.226 Another commented, “What they didn’t take the first time, they stole the second time they struck.”227

Government troops sometimes warned civilians of impending military operations by firing in the air, but in some cases, they fired their arms when there was no enemy in the area. One man said:

The soldiers often come with the pretext that there will be a rebel attack and shoot in the air to scare the people who then flee. The soldiers then loot everything in our houses. As for the rebels, they force us to give them contributions. Every day we are victims. We are the people forgotten by the capital of Bujumbura.228

Fighting between the FNL and the FDD forced nearly 50,000 persons to flee their homes in September 2003.229 Families from the nearby zone of Mageyo and from the hills of Kirama, Gatebe, Kavia in Muramvya province spent the night at Kinama center in Bujumbura rural. Others hid in the banana plantations with no shelter from the downpours of the rainy season. There was nothing for them to do but wait the end of their misery, dependent on humanitarian aid for every meal. One described how the soldiers came to see what was happening on the hills but then did nothing about it. One woman said:

We are in a situation where we don’t know what to do. They are fighting right in the middle of us. We have to flee. It is the season to cultivate our fields and we are not cultivating. They have robbed us even to the point of taking our seeds. I see no future.230

Humanitarian workers are often unable to deliver food and services to the displaced and other needy people because of military activity in an area. Under article 18 of Protocol II, parties to an internal conflict must allow impartial humanitarian agencies to deliver food, medical supplies and other relief to civilian populations suffering undue hardship. At the time of the attack on Bujumbura, the World Food Program (WFP) was unable to dispatch food to Rutana, Ruyigi, Gitega, and parts of Bujumbura rural provinces where some 250,000 people depend on such aid to survive. 231 In a recent report, the WFP noted that in some cases “lack of government clearance” limited the humanitarian assistance that they could deliver.232 In Ruyigi, where Human Rights Watch documented apparently unnecessary restrictions on humanitarian aid in January and February 2003, authorities still permitted only limited services in parts of the Moso region six months later. The WPF could not deliver food to some 21,165 persons in Nyabitsinda in May 2003. In some cases where military authorities opposed the delivery of assistance, humanitarian workers went into the areas at their own risk and found no evidence of military activity.233

222 Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, June 7, 2003.

223 Agence France Presse, “De 35,000 à 50,000 déplacés par les combats dans le nord du Burundi,” June 23, 2003 and “Trois morts et 32,000 déplacés dans le nord du Burundi en une semaine, ” June 27, 2003.

224 IRIN, “Burundi: WPP food relief for displaced civilians in Kayanza,” June 26, 2003.

225 Human Rights Watch interview, Musenyi, province Bubanza, June 11, 2003.

226 Human Rights Watch interview, Musenyi, province Bubanza, June 11. 2003.

227 IRIN, “Civilians losing the war,” May 14, 2003.

228 Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, June 7, 2003.

229 IRIN, “Burundi: Rebel fighting displaces 47,500 civilians,” September 25, 2003.

230 Human Rights Watch Interview, Kinama, Bujumbura rural, October 7, 2003.

231 IRIN, “Burundi: UN agency steps up efforts to feed thousands of displaced civilians,” July 18, 2003.

232 Human Rights Watch, “Burundi: Civilians losing the war,” May 14, 2003.

233 Human Rights Watch interviews, Ruyigi, June 16 and 17, 2003.

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December 2003