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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:/www.hrw.org) 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 additional updates, see
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
- Facilitate access by humanitarian agencies to all civilians in
need and respect the neutrality and impartiality of humanitarian
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
- Direct the office to assist in developing and implementing a
human rights strategy for the African Mission and peacekeeping
- Direct the office to promptly issue public reports of
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.
Date distributed (ymd): 030302
Region: Central Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +security/peace+
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