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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 Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.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: Recent Documents

Burundi: Recent Documents
Date distributed (ymd): 980116
Document reposted by APIC

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

Region: Central Africa
Issue Areas: +security/peace+
Summary Contents:
This posting contains a statement by the UN Special Rapporteur on the recent escalation of violence in Burundi. It also contains the announcement of a Human Rights Watch report released in December, documenting the continuing sale of arms to both sides in the conflict in Burundi, with the knowledge or complicity of a number of governments, and calling for international action to bar these sales. A short note also indicates other sources for current information.

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Special Rapporteur Strongly Condemns Violence of Jan. 1

January 8, 1998

Geneva - The Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Burundi, Mr. Paulo Sergio Pinheiro (Brazil), who carried out his fourth mission to Burundi from 7 to 20 December 1997, has heard with profound dismay of the tragic events which took place at dawn on 1 January 1998 near the international airport of Bujumbura in which more than 200 persons were killed.

According to the information which the Special Rapporteur received, rebel groups carried out the attacks on Gakumbu military camp and the international airport of Bujumbura in the district of Mutimbuzi, zone of Rukaramu, province of Bujumbura, around 10 kilometres from the capital. The Burundise army reacted vigorously to the attack. In addition to the losses of the army and the rebels, more than 200 unarmed civilians, most of them children, women and elderly persons who could not flee the fighting, lost their lives. Some 2,000 rebels, mostly militia men and former Rwandan and Zaïrian soldiers, apparently participated in these incidents which are the worse in Bujumbura since the Special Rapporteur took up his duties in May 1995.

In addition, the Special Rapporteur was informed of another incident on 6 January 1998 in the village of Maramvya where around 2,000 persons had taken refuge after the Rukaramu massacre. According to preliminary figures, 15 assailants were killed and 4 soldiers were wounded, two of them seriously. During this incident, which took place early in the morning, the health centre of Maramvya was ransacked and 87 civilians who were in the vicinity were injured.

As these clashes continue, the Special Rapporteur expressed his strong concern about the displacement of some 7,000 persons from the combat zones since the incidents started who took refuge in the hotel club of Tanganyika on the road to Gatumba where they had no water or food. The Special Rapporteur also expressed his condolences to the mourning families, including those who had not found the bodies of their deceased relatives.

The Special Rapporteur strongly condemned these unspeakable acts, whoever the perpetrators were, and solemnly reminded all the protagonists in the Burundi conflict of their obligation to follow the international humanitarian and human rights instruments, of which Burundi was a party to, and to respect the minimal humanitarian rules.

Mr. Pinheiro also wished to drawn the attention of Burundi to the fact that these recent incidents only underlined once again the imperative necessity to establish a cease-fire between all the conflicting parties as soon as possible. He was convinced that there was no solution to resolve Burundi crisis other than to immediately and unconditionally end all hostilities and violence and start a dialogue between all the concerned parties. The conflicting parties had no alternative but to accept to negotiate with the support of the international community.

The Special Rapporteur asked all international parties concerned with the situation in Burundi, especially those countries with historic responsibilities in the Grand Lakes region, to support the ongoing mediation and the upcoming meeting in Arusha. He said these countries should express their strong commitment to end the proliferation and sale of arms in the Great Lakes region.

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(8 December 1997)--In "Stoking the Fires: Military Assistance, Arms Trafficking, and the Civil War in Burundi," released today, Human Rights Watch charges that members of the international community have blithely continued to supply arms or other forms of military assistance to the parties to the civil war in Burundi, or have allowed their territories to be used as transshipment points for weapons.

The report documents how, during the past four years, a seemingly unstoppable flow of arms has reached all parties to the Burundian conflict and contributed to serious abuses of human rights and humanitarian law. Tens of thousands of unarmed civilians have been killed in this war, often solely because of their ethnicity, and hundreds of thousands of others have been forcibly displaced.

Human Rights Watch calls on the international community to impose an international arms embargo on both sides of the conflict, and on individual states to investigate and prosecute persons who, in their deadly commerce, have violated national and international laws.

The report, summing up an extensive field investigation in central Africa, describes the routes and the networks through which weapons are supplied to the Burundian combatants. Stoking the Fires also reveals that China, France, North Korea, the Russian Federation, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, the United States, and Zaire (the pre-May-1997 Congo) have directly provided military support to abusive Burundian forces (though France and the United States maintain that their assistance ceased in 1996). Angola, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zaire permitted the transshipment of weapons through their territories or allowed insurgents to establish bases on their soil. Most commonly, private arms merchants took and continue to take advantage of loose restrictions on arms transfers, poor controls at border points and corrupt officials.

"Governments and arms traffickers through much of the region have supported or supplied both Hutu rebels and Tutsi forces in Burundi," says Kathi Austin, Human Rights Watch investigator and co-author of the report. "There are, however, instances in which states have clearly taken sides. The Mobutu government's support for the Hutu rebel forces in eastern Zaire and elsewhere in the region extended both to hosting these forces and facilitating their resupply. At the same time, some of Mobutu's cronies have offered supplies to the Burundian government." In contrast, continues Austin, Uganda and Rwanda appear to have served as conduits primarily to Burundian government forces and associated Tutsi militia. Arms flows through Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Mozambique, and on direct flights from European suppliers tended to be less partisan. While the Tutsi-dominated government in Burundi as well as the Hutu rebels each had procurers operating in Europe and in east and southern Africa, some arms suppliers appear to have catered to either side motivated exclusively by profit.

Typically, the Burundian security forces and Tutsi militia and gangs received weapons overland via Tanzania, Uganda or Rwanda, by air into Bujumbura from central and southern African states, including Zaire and South Africa, and across the lake from Zaire. The Hutu insurgents were supplied in Tanzania and, at least until the end of 1996, in eastern Zaire, usually via Angola, South Africa, Zambia and Zaire.

Whether motivated by profit or acting on a political agenda, governments and private weapons suppliers share responsibility in the Burundian civil war and the human rights abuses that it has engendered. Now raging in several provinces of that country, this recent round of conflict was ignited in October 1993 when the predominantly Tutsi army assassinated Hutu president Melchior Ndadaye and effectively put an end to Burundi's brief experiment with democracy. The cycle of ethnic strife and reprisal that ensued saw the emergence of a steadily growing insurgency organized on behalf of the Hutu majority. The rebellion intensified after the July 1996 coup d'etat that dissolved a transitional government and, with the army's backing, installed Pierre Buyoya to the presidency.

"We believe that nations as well as individuals continue to stoke the fires despite a regional embargo imposed against Burundi in August 1996," observes Joost Hiltermann, director of the Human Rights Watch Arms Project and the other co-author of the report. "This ongoing pattern is fully consistent with information we have collected in the Great Lakes region over the past four years. But the international community, while noting almost as a matter of bureaucratic routine the serious abuses that have occurred, has taken precious few steps to stop them." Hiltermann adds that when it comes to official responsibilities, research conducted by Human Rights Watch shows that governments were either involved in the direct supply of military assistance, or have wittingly failed to inhibit the trade, while some have simply adopted a laissez-faire attitude, tolerating corruption and illegal activities by private actors.

Human Rights Watch has asked several governments to provide answers to these issues. "We certainly did not expect a choral mea culpa," says Loretta Bond , advocacy coordinator of the Human Rights Watch Arms Project. "However, the outright denials we have received blatantly clash with the evidence from the field. Meanwhile, the Burundian government remains defiant in the face of regional sanctions, knowing that the one-sided embargo can be and is circumvented."

In light of the evidence collected by Human Rights Watch of continuing transfers of weapons to Burundian belligerent parties, Human Rights Watch provides an extensive list of recommendations. These include:

  • Imposition of an international arms embargo on the sale or supply of arms and ammunition, as well as military materiel and services, against all sides in the war.
  • Deployment of U.N. or Organization of African Unity (OAU) military observers at key border crossings and airstrips in the Great Lakes region, including, and especially, in Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, Angola and Congo.
  • Reactivation of the U.N.-established International Commission of Inquiry (Rwanda), known as UNICOI, and extension of its mandate to include Burundi; and the immediate and public release of the commission's yet-unpublished final report dated October 29, 1996.
  • Imposition of an OAU moratorium on arms sales to the Great Lakes region as proposed by the U.N. special rapporteur on Burundi.
  • Convening of a regional conference on arms trafficking, security and human rights in the Great Lakes region.
  • Establishment of a regional arms control agency, with representation from all states in the Great Lakes region, empowered to investigate members' compliance with the international arms embargo and other arms control mechanisms.
  • Creation of national mechanisms to support an international arms embargo, including the establishment of offices by states neighboring Burundi whose tasks would be to monitor, implement and enforce the operation of the embargo on their own territory.
  • Enaction and implementation of domestic legislation enabling the prosecution of nationals who sell weapons, ammunition, military materiel (including dual-use equipment) or military services to the warring sides in Burundi, even if such nationals operate on the territory of other states.
  • Creation of a voluntary register of movements and acquisitions of small arms, ammunition, and military materiel and personnel to which all states in the Great Lakes region would submit full information about their purchases and knowledge of transactions on an annual basis.
  • Funding for serious institutional attempts in the Great Lakes region to improve control of weapons transfers through stricter border controls and regular information exchanges between senior security and customs personnel of states in the region.
  • Funding for a disarmament commission to study the feasibility of demobilization and ethnic integration of Burundi's security forces, and of possible weapons destruction and buy-back programs.
  • Active enforcement of measures to prevent armed organizations with a record of gross abuses from operating from the territories of states in the region.
  • Publication of all information on arms transfers to Burundi since 1993, including types and quantities of weapons, ammunition, military materiel (including dual-use equipment), and military services.
  • Strict enforcement of existing export controls on weapons (especially light weapons and small arms) and military services.
  • Creation of a voluntary U.N. register of light weapons and small arms that would complement the existing U.N. conventional arms register.
  • Adoption of a code of conduct on arms transfers by regional entities like the European Union, the Organization of African Unity, the South African Development Community, and others.
  • Support for new initiatives aimed at curbing the flow of arms into conflict-ridden zones, such as the E.U. "Programme for preventing and combating illicit trafficking in conventional arms".

Human Rights Watch calls on the international community and individual member states to implement the above measures to prevent further abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law in the tragic conflict in Burundi.

APIC Note: For additional current information on the conflict in Burundi, see and Daily and weekly bulletins on Central and Eastern Africa are available by e-mail from the UN's Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) in Nairobi. For more information or to subscribe, write

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC), the educational affiliate of the Washington Office on Africa. APIC's primary objective is to widen the policy debate in the United States around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups individuals.

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