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Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 - Burundi

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 20 May 2008
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 - Burundi, 20 May 2008, available at: [accessed 25 November 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 7.5 million (4.0 million under 18)
Government Armed Forces: 35,000
Compulsary Recruitment Age: no conscription
Voluntary Recruitment Age: 16 (see text)
Voting Age: 18
Optional Protocol: signed 13 November 2001 (see text)
Other Treaties: GC AP I, GC AP II, CRC, ILO 138, ILO 182, ACRWC, ICC

Children were recruited and used by the armed opposition group FNL. Government forces continued to use captured child soldiers for intelligence-gathering. Scores of children accused of membership of or support for the FNL were illegally detained and some were tortured in detention.


The 2001 Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement for Burundi was the starting point for a political transition to end more than a decade of civil war. In October 2003 a power-sharing agreement (Pretoria Agreement) was signed by the government and the opposition National Council for the Defence of Democracy – Forces for the Defence of Democracy (Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie – Forces pour la Défense de la Démocratie, CNDD-FDD (Nkurunziza)). In November a new, inclusive government was established after a second Pretoria agreement granted the forces of both sides immunity from prosecution.1 In 2005 the CNDD-FDD won parliamentary and local administrative elections. Pierre Nkurunziza, head of the CNDD-FDD, was elected president in August 2005.2 Fighting between government forces and the one remaining armed group, the National Liberation Forces (Forces Nationales de Libération, FNL), continued sporadically. In June 2006 the government and the FNL signed an agreement on the restoration of peace and security. In September the same year a Comprehensive Ceasefire Agreement between the two parties set a date for the cessation of hostilities and established army integration and demobilization procedures. The agreement created a joint verification and monitoring mechanism (JVMM) and an African Union special task force to protect FNL leaders and move combatants to assembly areas.

The process stalled repeatedly, however. In March 2007 the FNL suspended participation in the JVMM until various demands were met, including the release of political prisoners and FNL incorporation into political institutions. In July, following further negotiations, the FNL delegation left the capital, saying that it would not return until army repression of its members had ceased and agreement was reached on its political status. The security situation deteriorated after the ceasefire agreement, with a reported upsurge in torture, arbitrary arrest and detention of children by government security forces, and an increase in incidents of rape and other sexual violence by FNL members.3

The United Nations peacekeeping operation (Opération des Nations Unies au Burundi, ONUB) was deployed in June 2004, replacing the African Mission in Burundi (AMIB). It was mandated, inter alia, to support the country's national disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) process, initiated in 2003, and to ensure human rights promotion and protection, especially with regard to women, children and other vulnerable persons.4 On 1 January 2007 ONUB was replaced by a UN Integrated Office in Burundi (Bureau Intégré des Nations Unies au Burundi, BINUB), mandated to support the government in its efforts towards long-term peace and stability.5


National recruitment legislation and practice

The February 2005 constitution stated that no child could be used in direct combat and that the protection of children during an armed conflict should be assured (Article 45). The constitution did not define the age of majority, but the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international human rights treaties ratified by the government were incorporated into it (Article 19). In its 1998 initial report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on implementing the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the government stated that recruitment into the armed forces "is set at between 16 and 25 years and that in practice that limit is 18 years and the recruit must have a primary-school leaving certificate".6 The 2004 armed forces law stated that recruitment was voluntary (Article 37), but no minimum recruitment age was specified.7 A revised criminal code was awaiting approval by the National Assembly in October 2007. It defined the military recruitment of children below the age of 16 as a war crime and raised the age of criminal responsibility from 13 to 15.8

Legislation punishing and preventing the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes came into force in May 2003. The law defined the conscription of children under 15 into national armed forces and their use in active hostilities as a war crime. It provided for the death penalty for those found guilty of the offence.9 In October 2005 the Senate and National Assembly issued a statement calling on the armed forces to stop using children as porters.10 Government soldiers and police regularly used former FNL fighters, including children, to identify suspected members of the FNL in 2006.11

Child recruitment and deployment

The FNDD-CDD (Nkrunziza), which joined the transitional government at the end of 2003, reportedly continued to recruit children for civil defence militias in 2004.12 Recruitment by the CNDD-FDD (Nkrunziza) was reported in refugee camps in Tanzania as late as September 2004, and at the end of that year they and other armed political groups were reported still to be demanding financial contributions from the refugee population.13

Armed Groups:


From November 2003 the FNL was the only remaining active armed group in Burundi. In 2004 it was reported to be forcibly recruiting and using children for frontline duties, to transport ammunition, to carry wounded or dead and for intelligence-gathering activities.14 Recruitment continued into 2006, and intensified in June and July, although this appeared to be linked to peace negotiations and the prospect of rapid demobilization packages for new recruits. The latter reportedly included street children from Bujumbura Mairie province, and there were anecdotal reports of recruitment through raids on schools by FNL members. Some captured child soldiers said that they had been promised cars and other luxury goods if they enlisted.15 A further upsurge of recruitment was reported immediately after the September 2006 ceasefire agreement, and some children reported being asked to pay to enlist voluntarily in the FNL. More than 48 schoolchildren were recruited in Bururi and Ngozi provinces in April and May 2007.16

Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR):

A DDR program for children recruited and used during the armed conflict began in 2003 under the auspices of a government national structure for child soldiers, with implementation support from UNICEF.17 A National Commission to manage the country's DDR program was subsequently established but did not begin work until September 2005.18 By June 2006 some 3,000 children had been demobilized from the former government's armed forces, the government-backed Peace Guardian militias, and all armed opposition groups except the FNL. The majority of those who took part in the program returned to farm and fish in their local communities, but nearly 600 returned to school. Some 1,800 former child soldiers received occupational training. Health care was provided for those with special needs and psychosocial support was provided through individual and group meetings.19 Concerns were expressed over the lack of initiatives to prevent future recruitment and the fact that many returning child soldiers were nearing the age of majority, with adult concerns and responsibilities. The lack of programs to facilitate sustainable reintegration was also noted as a flaw in the DDR process.20

In April 2006 the government assembled several hundred FNL fighters at a "welcome centre" in Randa, Bubanza province, in preparation for demobilization. By March 2007 preparations for the demobilization of an estimated 500 FNL child soldiers from Randa were under way.21 The children in Randa were transferred to a transit centre for demobilized FNL fighters in Gitega in November 2006 and their parents were traced. By 10 March 2007 all the children had been reunited with their families.22

Other treatment of child soldiers

After taking office in August 2005, government forces targeted real or suspected FNL supporters, arresting, torturing and even summarily executing those suspected of belonging to or supporting the FNL.23 Although the age of criminal responsibility was 13, children as young as nine were detained on suspicion of collaborating with the FNL. Over 170 cases of detention of alleged FNL child soldiers were reported to ONUB between November 2005 and July 2006.24 In early 2007, 51 FNL child soldiers, including one aged 14, were in detention.25 Captured child soldiers were reportedly severely beaten in detention, some with metal bars and hammers. Some were denied medical attention until human rights groups intervened on their behalf.26 Captured child soldiers injured during combat were also denied medical treatment while in detention.27 In February 2007 the Minister of National Solidarity was reported to have declared that all children accused of FNL participation would be released.28 More than 67 children detained at Mpimba prison for alleged association with FNL were released in March.29

Ramazani Nahimana, aged 16, was detained in November 2005 by the state intelligence agency after being identified by a former FNL combatant as a member of the FNL youth wing, the Patriotic Hutu Youth (Jeunesse patriotique hutu, JPH). He was reportedly severely beaten during his detention and was subsequently shot dead in the Kinama district of Bujumbura. The official version of events was that he had been shot either as he attempted to flee or in crossfire, although evidence at the scene strongly suggested he had been extrajudicially executed. No investigation into his death was carried out.30


The National Assembly on 28 January 2005 approved ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. However, the instruments of ratification had not been deposited with the UN at the end of October 2007.

At a February 2007 ministerial meeting in Paris, Burundi and 58 other states endorsed the Paris Commitments to protect children from unlawful recruitment or use by armed forces or armed groups and the Paris Principles and guidelines on children associated with armed forces or armed groups. The documents reaffirmed international standards and operational principles for protecting and assisting child soldiers and followed a wide-ranging global consultation jointly sponsored by the French government and UNICEF.

The UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict visited Burundi in March 2007. She commended the government for its progress on the DDR of children, but said that more needed to be done to protect children in detention and called for the release of FNL child soldiers.31 The FNL was listed as a party recruiting and using child soldiers in the Secretary-General's annual reports between 2002 and 2008.

1 Amnesty International (AI), Burundi: Child soldiers – the challenge of demobilization, March 2004.

2 Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict in Burundi, UN Doc. S/2006/851, 27 October 2006.

3 Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict in Burundi, UN Doc. S/2007/686, 28 November 2007; International Crisis Group (ICG), Burundi: Finalising Peace with the FNL, 28 August 2007.

4 UN Security Council Resolution 1545, The Situation in Burundi, UN Doc. S/RES/1545 (2004), 21 May 2004.

5 UN Security Council Resolution 1719, The Situation in Burundi, UN Doc: S/RES/1719 (2006), 25 October 2006.

6 Initial report of Burundi to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Doc. CRC/C/3/Add.58, 31 July 1998.

7 Loi No.1/019 du 31 décembre 2004 portant Création, Organisation, Missions, Composition et Fonctionnement de la force de Défense Nationale.

8 "Burundi: Government committed to child protection", UN press release, 13 March 2007,; Human Rights Watch (HRW), Paying the Price – Violations of the Rights of Children in Burundi, March 2007.

9 Loi No. 1/004 du 8 mai 2003, portant Répression du Crime de Génocide, des Crimes contre l'Humanité et des Crimes de Guerre.

10 Child Soldiers Coalition meeting with the President of the Senate, Bujumbura, October 2005.

11 HRW, A Long Way from Home: FNL Child Soldiers in Burundi, June 2006.

12 Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict, UN Doc. A/59/695-S/2005/72, 9 February 2005.

13 AI, "Burundi: refugee rights at risk: human rights abuses in returns to and from Burundi", AI Index: AFR 16/006/2005, 27 June 2005.

14 Amnesty International (AI), "Burundi: child soldiers – the challenge of demobilisation", AI Index: AFR 16/011/2004, 24 March 2004.

15 Report of the Secretary-General, above note 2.

16 Report of the Secretary-General, above note 3.

17 "Ex-combatants in Burundi: Why they joined, why they left, how they fared", Multi Country Demobilization and Reintegration Program (MDRP), Working Paper No. 3, October 2007, at

18 Action Aid, "BINUB: Good governance, security sector reform and enhancing human rights – establishing priorities", October 2006,

19 Report of the Secretary-General, above note 2.

20 Confidential source, May 2006.

21 World Bank, MDRP,

22 Information provided by MDRP World Bank country office, November 2007.

23 Children and armed conflict, Report of the Secretary-General, UN Doc. A/61/529-S/2006/826, 26 October 2006; HRW, "Warning signs: continuing abuses in Burundi", 27 February 2006.

24 Report of the Secretary-General, above note 2.

25 Confidential source, April 2007.

26 HRW, above note 23.

27 HRW, above note 11.

28 HRW, above note 8.

29 Report of the Secretary-General, above note 2.

30 HRW, above note 23.

31 "UN Special Representative commends demobilization of child soldiers in Burundi", ReliefWeb, 27 March 2007,

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