Background Briefing

<<previous  |  index  |  next>>


Burundi’s new government, led by President Pierre Nkurunziza and the former rebel National Council for the Defense of Democracy–Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) party, has been in power for six months.

While much of the country is now at peace, armed conflict continues sporadically between Burundi’s armed forces (Forces de la Defense Nationale, FDN) and the last remaining rebel group, the National Liberation Forces (Forces Nationales pour la Libération, FNL) in the provinces of Bujumbura-rural, Cibitoke and Bubanza.1 Throughout this armed conflict, FNL combatants and government soldiers and police have willfully killed civilians and committed other atrocities with little or no sanction for their misconduct.

Representatives of donor nations gathering to meet with the Burundian government on February 28 to discuss financial assistance to Burundi need to go beyond merely pledging funds if they hope to see real improvements in the country. They must also set clear goals for the government’s conduct to meet its human rights obligations. And they must impress upon both the government and the FNL that human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law must cease, and that both parties will be held accountable for current and past crimes in violation of international law.  To make the current political settlement viable in the long term, Burundi must deal with the many serious violations of international humanitarian law that were committed by all parties during the armed conflict.

The fighting in Burundi between government and rebel forces is considered a non-international armed conflict under international humanitarian law, and is governed by article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Second Additional Protocol of 1977 to the Geneva Conventions (Protocol II).2  International law prohibits state forces and rebel groups from committing willful killing, torture and other ill-treatment of civilians and captured combatants, among other abuses. The government of Burundi is also bound by international human rights law, which prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and other mistreatment, and prosecutions that do not meet international fair trial standards.3

[1] On February 15, 2006, for example, fighting between the army and the FNL at Rweza (Kanyosha Commune, Bujumbura-rural province) caused 3,500 families to flee their homes. Radio Publique Africaine, Radio Transmission, February 16, 2006, and Agence Burundaise de Presse, “La FDN débusque des FNL près de Bujumbura,” February 16, 2006.

[2] Burundi ratified the 1949 Geneva Conventions in 1971 and Protocol II in 1993.

[3] Among the human rights treaties to which Burundi is bound is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Burundi ratified in 1990.

<<previous  |  index  |  next>>February 2006