Human Rights Watch (Washington, DC)

30 April 2003

Burundi: Fighting Intensifies Amid Power Shift

press release

New York — Fighting has intensified in Burundi in the months before the transfer of power to a new president today, Human Rights Watch said. There have been military operations in nine of Burundi's seventeen provinces in the last two months.

All parties to the war in Burundi need to deliver on their promises for peace and justice, Human Rights Watch urged as the new president, Domitien Ndayizeye, was due to take office in Bujumbura.

Under retiring president, Major Pierre Buyoya, the government and three of four rebel movements signed cease-fires to end the nine-year long civil war but failed to honor them.

On April 17, 19 and 20, the rebel Forces for the Defense of Democracy (FDD) shelled residential neighborhoods with no nearby military targets in the capital Bujumbura and the towns of Gitega and Ruyigi, killing at least six civilians and wounding more than forty others. An FDD spokesman declared they attacked in order to push the government to further negotiations.

On April 23, government troops reportedly massacred some twenty civilians at Kabezi just outside of Bujumbura in apparent reprisal for a rebel attack on a local military post.

"Burundians see this transition as a time of fear, not a time of hope," said Alison Des Forges, senior adviser to the Africa division of Human Rights Watch. "Civilians still have no faith that they won't become the targets of unpredictable violence, either from the government or from the rebels."

In the first-ever peacekeeping mission of the African Union, more than one hundred South African troops arrived in Bujumbura this week. They are the first of a force of some 3,500 soldiers, including some from Mozambique and Ethiopia, meant to monitor the shaky cease-fire. Despite general international praise for this effort, funders have contributed only a fraction of the millions needed for the operation.

The Buyoya government made little progress in rendering justice for crimes committed during the war, but last week lawmakers hurriedly passed four laws to deal with such crimes. One, a first step in ratification of the International Criminal Court, is clear, but the others propose having an international commission of inquiry, a national truth commission, and national courts all deal with ethnic slaughter over the past forty years. The broad and overlapping mandates leave it vague exactly how justice will be delivered.

"Promises have gotten Burundi nowhere," said Des Forges. "The government and rebels need to implement the cease-fire, international donors need to fund the peace-keepers, and legislative and judicial authorities need to make the new laws on justice workable."

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