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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Burundi: Peace Process Threatened

Africa Policy E-Journal
March 2, 2003 (030302)

Burundi: Peace Process Threatened
(Reposted from sources cited below)

This issue contains a press release and selected excerpts of a Feb. 28 report from Human Rights Watch (http:/ on dangers to implementation of the peace process in Burundi. The full report and additional background is available at:

On Feb. 26, the African Union (AU) issued an urgent appeal to all the parties in Burundi to exercise restraint. Thirty-five AU observers from Burkina Faso, Mali, Togo and Tunisia have recently arrived to assist in implementaton of the peace agreement. Peacekeeping trooops from Ethiopia, Mozambique, and South Africa are also scheduled to be deployed, but have not yet arrived.

On Feb. 21, the International Crisis Group called for increased international aid to Burundi, both to assist in implementation of the the peace agreement and to provide desperately needed support for reconstruction.

For additional updates, see

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Burundi: Attacks on Civilians Growing

(New York, February 28, 2003) Recent attacks by government troops, and the pullout of the main rebel force from a ceasefire agreement, are combining to put civilians in Burundi in growing danger, Human Rights Watch said in a briefing paper released today.

Human Rights Watch urged the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Sergio de Mello, who arrives in Bujumbura today, to encourage the new African peacekeeping force in Burundi to protect civilians.

The Human Rights Watch briefing paper, "Burundi: Civilians Pay the Price of Faltering Peace Process," documents the recent massacre of at least thirty-two and possibly more than eighty civilians by Burundian army soldiers.

According to the briefing paper, Burundian soldiers attacked the hill Mwegereza in the eastern province of Ruyigi on January 19. After chasing rebel combatants from the hill, the army troops massacred civilians, including members of a Burundian church group who had gathered to pray together. Burundian soldiers also raped women from the area, burned and pillaged homes, and refused to allow people who fled to return to gather harvests and work their fields.

A ceasefire agreement signed on December 3, 2002 was supposed to end military operations, but its vague wording and lack of implementation left the way open to continuing clashes. On February 21, the rebel force, National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (Conseil National pour la Defense de la Democratie-Forces pour la Defense de la Democratie, CNDD-FDD), renounced the agreement and broke off negotiations with the Burundian government.

"Protecting civilians needs to be the top priority of the new African peacekeeping force," said Alison Des Forges, senior adviser to the Africa division of Human Rights Watch. "The international community should help to make that happen."

Burundian military authorities have prevented humanitarian agencies from delivering food and medicine to displaced persons in Ruyigi, claiming that insecurity makes it impossible for agency representatives to enter the region.

On February 21, a military court acquitted two officers accused of directing the massacre of 173 civilians at Itaba in September 2002. The president of the court said that he personally thought the operation had been well conducted and he sentenced the defendants to only four months in prison on charges of not having followed orders. Since the defendants had been in custody for five months, they were immediately released. They had spent less than one day in jail for each person killed. "With that kind of justice," said Des Forges, "soldiers will expect no punishment for their crimes and will keep on killing and otherwise abusing civilians."

According to the briefing paper, FDD combatants killed and raped civilians and pillaged and burned their homes. The rebel movement violated the ceasefire by continuing to enlist combatants, many of them children, and by trying to increase areas under its control.

Civilians Pay the Price of Faltering Peace Process

February 2003


A ceasefire signed on December 3, 2002 by the government of Burundi and the rebel movement, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (Conseil National pour la Defense de la Democratie-Forces pour la Defense de la Democratie, CNDD-FDD) raised hopes for an end to nine years of war in Burundi. The parties to the conflict re-affirmed their commitment to this agreement in a second document signed January 27, 2003. But after weeks of uncertainty and violations on both sides, the FDD suspended negotiations on February 21 accusing the government of blocking implementation and making decisions without consulting it.

Even while the ceasefire was in effect, combat continued and Burundian civilians suffered from the same deliberate killings, armed attacks, rapes, pillage and destruction of their homes that have been their lot for nearly a decade. As so often in the past, both sides ignored legal obligations to protect civilians in time of war.

As the peace process has faltered, fears have increased on all sides. Rumors abound about preparations for slaughter, such as the distribution of machetes or the massing of troops on the border, while the leading parties each accuse the other of violating the ceasefire.

This briefing paper, based on three weeks of investigations by Human Rights Watch researchers, details recent violations of human rights and humanitarian law committed by both sides to the conflict in Burundi and calls for the implementation of the ceasefire and a halt to the violence against civilians.

On January 19, 2003 government troops unlawfully killed at least thirty-two and probably more than eighty civilians at Mwegereza, Gisuru commune, in the eastern province of Ruyigi. They also reportedly deliberately killed civilians in the neighboring communes of Kinyinya and Nyabitsinda. Government soldiers also raped women, both after the combat and more recently. In addition, soldiers burned some 420 houses and pillaged more than 1,000 others. They have prevented local residents, who were forced to flee, from returning to their homes to gather food, harvest their crops, and work in their fields.

Military officers in the region, claiming security concerns, have refused to allow humanitarian aid organizations to enter large areas of Ruyigi province since mid-January, making it impossible for them to assist the sick, the hungry, and the homeless.

The Burundian army has rarely prosecuted soldiers accused of having violated international humanitarian law. In the most egregious recent case of impunity for such crimes, a military court on February 21 acquitted two officers of responsibility for the massacre of 173 civilians at Itaba on September 9, 2002. It found them guilty only of "failure to follow orders," and imposed a sentence of four months, less than the time already served.

FDD rebels have deliberately killed civilians, raped women and stolen cattle, goats, and other goods in many parts of Burundi, particularly in the central provinces of Gitega and Muramvya as well as in the eastern province of Ruyigi. The FDD has apparently not held its combatants accountable for violations of international humanitarian law.

The nine year old civil war has a strong ethnic component: Tutsi, a minority in the country, dominate the army while the most important rebel group, the FDD, is predominantly Hutu, as is the National Forces of Liberation (Forces Nationales de Liberation, FNL), the one party which has not yet signed any form of agreement with the government.

As the struggle moves from the battlefield to the political arena, the parties that have dominated the government face new challenges. The Front of Burundian Democrats (Front pour la democratie au Burundi, FRODEBU) has been the major Hutu-led political party in the country but now must contend with the arrival of the more militant CNDD, the political wing of the FDD forces that have played a leading role in the rebellion. Similarly, FRODEBU and even the CNDD may find the FNL a powerful rival, particularly in areas around the capital, should it too decide to accept a ceasefire and enter the political process.

Leaders of two smaller and dissident wings of the CNDD-FDD and FNL returned to Burundi from exile in early February, an event which underlined recent changes in the political context. The CNDD once referred to by officials as "the assailants" or the "genocidal terrorists" is now to be recognized as a legitimate political party, according to the ceasefire agreement.

The return of the leaders highlights also the possibility of an imminent political reconfiguration. With several Hutu-led parties struggling for dominance, the Tutsi-led Party for National Unity and Progress (Union pour le Progres National,UPRONA) of President Pierre Buyoya, may find opportunities for new alliances and for playing the Hutu parties off against each other. But UPRONA itself is challenged by the growth of another more radical Tutsi-led group, the Party for National Recovery (Parti pour le Redressement National, PARENA) headed by former president Jean-Baptiste Bagaza, held under house arrest since November 2002.

The international community is anxious to promote stability in the region and, above all, to avoid a genocide like that which killed at least half a million Tutsi and moderate Hutu in neighboring Rwanda. It has consistently though not always effectively pressured all parties to reach accords. In late December, the European Union took the unusual step of providing food to FDD combatants. This initiative, meant to encourage their further cooperation with the peace process, has not yet achieved the desired result.

Other African nations, including South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda, have facilitated peace negotiations, and South Africa supplied soldiers to provide security to leaders involved in the transitional government established by the August 2000 Arusha Accords. Tunisia, Mozambique, and Ethiopia agreed also to provide observers and a peacekeeping force under the aegis of the African Union. Both parties to the war accepted the presence of the observers and peacekeepers, known as the African Mission, in the early December agreement, but in its February 21 statement, the FDD protested that it had not been consulted on the nations from which troops would be drawn. It rejected the participation of soldiers from Mozambique and Ethiopia and said that they would be seen as "elements who are coming to disturb the peace."5 By late February only a small group of observers had arrived and they had not yet been deployed at the time of writing. Slowness in organizing the African Mission was due in part to the delay in naming a chairperson for the implementation commission, the responsibility of the U.N. Secretary-General. On February 25, Col. El Hadj Alioun Samba arrived to take this post, but only on a temporary basis.

Attempts to stimulate the peace process by providing material incentives to the FDD forces, delays in positioning the peace-keeping force, and the vagueness of the ceasefire agreement itself have heightened tensions and opened the way to further abuses of civilians such as those which were committed at Mwegereza.


The war in Burundi began following the October 1993 assassination by a group of Tutsi army officers of President Melchior Ndadaye. Ndadaye, freely and fairly elected some months before, was the first Hutu to serve as head of state in Burundi. His victory followed reforms instituted by Tutsi President Pierre Buyoya who had been the first to name a substantial number of Hutu to ministerial posts. Earlier attempts by the majority Hutu to win a share in power had been put down by the Tutsi, a minority of some 15 percent of the population, who have dominated political, economic, and social structures since the colonial period. After Ndadaye's assassination, Hutu, sometimes under the orders of local administrative or political leaders, slaughtered thousands of Tutsi and the Tutsi-dominated army massacred thousands of Hutu.

Some of Ndadaye's followers and others took up arms in three rebel movements. By 2002, two of those movements remained active: the Forces for the Defense of Democracy (FDD) with some 10,000 combatants and the National Liberation Forces (FNL), with fewer than 3,000 fighters. ...

The current government, installed in November 2001, includes seventeen political parties and a careful balance of Hutu and Tutsi. It results from the Arusha Accord of August 2000, hailed at the time as a major step towards ending the war because it brought important opposition parties together with the government. But neither the FDD nor the FNL signed the agreement and the fighting continued. In August 2002 the government and the smaller FDD branch, that under Ndayikengurukiye, signed an accord, but it was only in December 2002 that the major FDD group, that of Nkurunziza, agreed to a ceasefire and the cantonment of FDD combatants in certain areas.


The Ceasefire of December 2002

According to the December 3 ceasefire agreement, Burundian President Pierre Buyoya and FDD leader Pierre Nkurunziza agreed to halt military activities, including combat operations, recruitment of new forces, resupply of combatants, and the laying of mines. They said that all combatants should have finished assembling in cantonment zones by the end of December. They undertook to halt all propaganda and particularly the incitation to ethnic hatred as well as "all acts of violence against the population," including killings, torture, the use of child soldiers, and sexual violence. They agreed also to accept all the principles specified in the August 2000 Arusha Accords including the formation of a state based on the rule of law with respect for human rights.

The agreement, however, left essential matters of implementation for later discussion. The failure to resolve pressing questions, such as where the belligerent forces were to be cantoned, as well as longer-term issues such as how the FDD was to be integrated into a new army, heightened tensions, particularly among government soldiers.



With the zones of cantonment undefined by the ceasefire, both sides pushed to obtain maximum control in disputed areas. The civilians massacred at Mwegereza were sacrificed to this struggle for military and political advantage. ...

The arrival of an interim chairperson for the implementation commission may give impetus to the stalled peace process, but it is unclear whether the commission can execute its task rapidly enough to prevent further and even more serious combat.

What is clear is that any such combat will inevitably cause more suffering to the civilians at risk of attack and further deprivation of humanitarian assistance. ...


To the Government of Burundi:

  • Immediately order all government armed forces to adhere strictly to the provisions of international humanitarian law concerning treatment of civilians and other non-combatants in wartime.
  • Investigate and bring to justice all soldiers and officers accused of violating international humanitarian law in the unlawful killings in Ruyigi and elsewhere in Burundi.
  • Discipline or prosecute, as appropriate, persons implicated in violations of international humanitarian law in accordance with international fair trial standards, including access to defense counsel.
  • Facilitate access by humanitarian agencies to all civilians in need and respect the neutrality and impartiality of humanitarian agencies.

To the FDD:

  • Order all combatants under your authority to adhere strictly to the provisions of international humanitarian law concerning treatment of civilians in wartime.
  • Hold accountable all FDD members accused of violating international humanitarian law, including the murder of civilians, rape, looting, and the destruction of property.
  • Cease the recruitment of children under the age of 18 as stipulated in the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

To the United Nations and governments responsible for the African Mission and peacekeeping force:

  • Speed the deployment of observers and peacekeeping troops.
  • Insist that peacekeeping forces protect civilians and provide the training necessary for them to do so. Create a unit to monitor and report on all human rights abuses by Burundian government, FDD, or African Mission troops.

To the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights:

  • Increase the scope and resources of the office in Burundi so that it can effectively monitor ongoing violations of international humanitarian law.
  • Direct the office to assist in developing and implementing a human rights strategy for the African Mission and peacekeeping force.
  • Direct the office to promptly issue public reports of investigations.

To donors assisting the Burundian government and those in contact with FDD leaders:

  • Use your influence to persuade the Burundian government to immediately direct its armed forces to adhere strictly to international humanitarian law concerning the treatment of civilians during armed conflict.
  • Use your influence to persuade the FDD to order combatants under its authority to adhere strictly to international humanitarian law concerning the treatment of civilians in wartime.
  • Insist upon the full and rapid implementation of provisions in the Arusha Accord of August 2000, reaffirmed by the December 2002 ceasefire agreement, including those for bringing to justice those accused of violations of international humanitarian law.
  • Assist the Burundian government with the resources needed to implement such justice programs.

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Date distributed (ymd): 030302
Region: Central Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +security/peace+

The Africa Action E-Journal is a free information service provided by Africa Action, including both original commentary and reposted documents. Africa Action provides this information and analysis in order to promote U.S. and international policies toward Africa that advance economic, political and social justice and the full spectrum of human rights.

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