Child Soldiers Global Report 2004 - Burundi

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 2004
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2004 - Burundi, 2004, available at: [accessed 22 July 2019]
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.

Republic of Burundi

Covers the period from April 2001 to March 2004.

Population: 6.6 million (3.6 million under 18)
Government armed forces: 50,500
Compulsory recruitment age: 16
Voluntary recruitment age: 16
Voting age: 18
Optional Protocol: signed 13 November 2001
Other treaties ratified (see glossary): CRC, GC AP I and II, ILO 138, ILO 182

Use of child soldiers was widespread in government forces and all active armed political groups. Children as young as ten served in the Burundi armed forces and militia, the Gardiens de la paix (Peace Guards), as combat troops, spies and domestic labour. Armed political groups abducted girls into sexual slavery. Child soldiers fought with Burundian armed political groups in Burundi, and with Burundian and Congolese armed political groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). A program began in January 2004 for the demobilization of 2,500 child soldiers, most of them from government forces, although an estimated 5,000 further child soldiers required demobilization. However, armed political groups, including those taking part in the demobilization project, continued to recruit children to their ranks.


A new transitional government headed by incumbent President Pierre Buyoya took office in November 2001, following signature of a peace agreement in Arusha, Tanzania, in August 2000. However, fighting escalated between government forces and armed political groups that had not signed the agreement, and serious human rights abuses were committed by all sides. A December 2002 ceasefire agreement, which included a commitment to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers, between the government and the Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie – Forces pour la défense de la démocratie (CNDDFDD (Nkurunziza)), National Council for the Defence of Democracy – Forces for the Defence of Democracy, the main active armed political group, was not implemented and failed to stop the fighting.

In April 2003 President Buyoya transferred power to Domitien Ndayizeye of the political party Front pour la démocratie au Burundi (FRODEBU), Front for Democracy in Burundi, thus beginning the second half of the political transition. In October 2003 a power-sharing agreement (Pretoria Agreement) was signed by the government and the CNDD-FDD (Nkurunziza), and in November a new inclusive government was established after a second Pretoria agreement granted the forces of both sides immunity from prosecution.1 In March 2004 only the Parti pour la liberation du peuple Hutu – Forces nationales de libération (PALIPEHUTU-FNL (Rwasa)), Party for the Liberation of the Hutu People – National Liberation Forces, which is commonly referred to as FNL (Rwasa), remained officially at war. Integration of members of the CNDD-FDD (Nkurunziza) into the security forces began in 2004. Rival armed political groups party to the agreements clashed periodically.

African Union military observers began arriving in Burundi in March 2003 to monitor the ceasefire agreements. Their mandate included assisting the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of former combatants and securing their cantonment zones.2 In March 2004 the UN Secretary-General proposed sending UN peacekeepers to the country.


National recruitment legislation

The age of compulsory recruitment remained 16, despite a 1999 government commitment made to the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict to raise the minimum recruitment age to 18.3 Legislation punishing and preventing the crime of genocide and crimes against humanity was passed in May 2003. The law classifies the recruitment of children under the age of 15 as a war crime and provides for the death penalty for those found guilty of the offence.4

Child recruitment and deployment

Child soldiers were recruited into the government armed forces, trained and sent into battle. Major recruitments of children appeared to have ended; however, other children, often very young, were used or recruited, sometimes forcibly, as unpaid spies, porters and cooks (referred to as "doriya"). They too risked being sent, untrained, into combat. Children were also recruited into an unpaid government militia, the Gardiens de la paix (Peace Guards).5

In 2004 children as young as ten years old continued to be used as domestic labour, porters, and spies as well as in combat in Burundi and DRC by the government armed forces. Other children were knowingly exposed to danger by government soldiers who forced or bribed them to provide intelligence on activities by armed political groups opposed to the government. In July 2003, for example, two children aged between 11 and 13 were summarily executed by the FNL after they admitted that government soldiers had bribed them with peanuts and bread to provide information on FNL positions.6

Child soldiers were often not paid, either because they belonged to the unpaid Peace Guards or because they were unable to prevent or challenge abuses of their rights. Some were arrested after turning to crime to compensate.7 A study by the International Labour Organization (ILO) found that 94 per cent of child soldiers had received no pay. It also found that children were ill-treated during military training.8 There appeared to be no estimates of the numbers of child soldiers killed in combat.

The authorities said there was no policy of recruiting children but that sometimes they lied about their ages in order to join the armed forces.9 As part of a demobilization program with UNICEF, the Ministries of Defence and Interior established that the number of child soldiers in the armed forces and the Peace Guards were 1,000 and 1,500 respectively. In December 2003 the Ministry of Human Rights acknowledged that the real figures might be higher.10 The figure of children to be demobilized from the armed forces did not include children trained as soldiers, only those used in other capacities such as intelligence gathering.11

The Peace Guards militia

The Peace Guards, an unpaid and largely untrained militia, were responsible for numerous human rights abuses since they were established in the late 1990s. Although in theory under the control of the Ministry of Interior and formed to support the local administration in protecting local communities, in practice they often received limited training from the armed forces and served in frontline military duties. Many members were former opposition child soldiers who were forced to join under threat of being accused of belonging to armed political groups opposed to the government.12 Other children were recruited directly. In late 2003 some provinces announced an expansion of the Peace Guards program in response to an increase in armed crime.13 The authorities claimed that mistakes in the previous program would be avoided and that children would not be recruited.14

Armed political groups

All Burundi's armed political groups recruited and used child soldiers. Many children were abducted. Others joined armed groups after seeing their parents or neighbours killed or after indoctrination. They sometimes moved from group to group, fighting with armed groups in DRC and Burundi. As in previous years, some children were reportedly recruited from refugee camps in Tanzania.15 Throughout 2003 the CNDDFDD (Ndayikengurukiye), FNL (Mugabarabona), CNDD-FDD (Nkurunziza) and FNL (Rwasa) either actively recruited or used child soldiers. Young girls were forced into sexual servitude for periods ranging from days to years. All armed groups were accused of rape and other forms of sexual violence.16 Minor groups such as the CNDD (Nyangoma), Front pour la libération nationale (FROLINA), National Liberation Front, and PALIPEHUTU (Karatasi) also recruited child soldiers in an effort to boost the numbers under their command prior to demobilization.17

CNDD-FDD (Ndayikengurukiye) and FNL (Mugabarabona)

Under the leadership of Jean-Bosco Ndayikengurukiye, the CNDD-FDD recruited large numbers of child soldiers. Ousted and replaced by Pierre Nkurunziza in October 2001, he and a breakaway FNL leader, Alain Mugabarabona, signed ceasefire agreements with the government in October 2002. Following their return to Burundi in February 2003, both leaders actively recruited child soldiers, some as young as 12, in an attempt to live up to their claims of having fighters to command.18 New recruits were promised large sums of money to join, and some were reportedly beaten during training, receiving little medical care for their injuries.19

CNDD-FDD (Nkurunziza)

When the CNDD-FDD (Nkurunziza) arrived in the capital, Bujumbura, to join the government in November 2003 it was accompanied by scores of child soldiers, some estimated at no more than ten years old. Young child soldiers formed part of commanders' bodyguard.20

The CNDD-FDD (Nkurunziza) recruited and abducted hundreds of children, many from schools, others from refugee camps in Tanzania. In November 2001 nearly 300 children were abducted from schools in Ruyigi and Kayanza provinces, many of them forced to carry equipment or assist wounded soldiers. Most returned home shortly afterwards.21

As well as fighting in Burundi, CNDD-FDD (Nkurunziza) child soldiers were in combat against the Burundian army in eastern DRC and took part in operations with Congolese armed political groups. In 2003 and 2004 the rape and abduction of women and girls by CNDD-FDD (Nkurunziza) troops increased.22

FNL (Rwasa)

The FNL under Agathon Rwasa denied having child soldiers in its ranks, despite eyewitness reports of children in its ranks and of children being persuaded to join its youth wing, the Jeunesse patriotique hutu, Patriotic Hutu Youth, or abducted as porters. Children were made to carry the wounded and the dead. Weapons were said to have been modified for operation by children. On 13 July 2003, after a week-long FNL occupation of Bujumbura, at least 28 of its combatants, most of them children aged between about 10 and 14, were killed in an attack on the Gatoke district. At least two were killed by government soldiers as they tried to surrender.23 Both boys and girls took part in the attack, and were heard singing religious songs to invoke divine protection as they passed through the streets.24 A small number of child soldiers who have returned from DRC are reported to have subsequently joined the FNL (Rwasa).25

CNDD (Nyangoma)

The CNDD (Nyangoma), like other formerly active armed groups, claimed no longer to have child soldiers as they had all reached the age of 18 or older. However, it was known to be recruiting and re-recruiting combatants, including child soldiers, ahead of demobilization.26 In March 2004, three recruits aged between 15 and 17 escaped from one of the group's camps in southern Burundi. They and other new recruits had been promised large sums of money in return for joining the CNDD.27 Child soldiers returning from DRC also reportedly were re-recruited by the CNDD (Nyangoma).28

Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR)

In October 2001 the government and UNICEF signed an agreement on a program for the demobilization and reintegration of child soldiers.29 The program involved the participation of the Ministries of Human Rights, Defence, Interior, Public Security and Social Action, as well as the indirect involvement of the Education, Crafts, Labour, Health and AIDS Ministries. The reintegration program aimed to provide sustainable support to each family through appropriate assistance decided on an individual basis, including the possibility to provide vocational and professional education for an 18-month period, and psychosocial support and medical care for those with severe illnesses and injuries.30

The program was launched in January 2004 with the demobilization of 23 child soldiers, aged between 14 and 17, from the CNDD-FDD (Ndayikengurukiye). In March 2004 Alain Mugabarabona was continuing to oppose the demobilization of nine child soldiers from the FNL (Mugabarabona), who had been in a camp for nearly one year, despite their expressed wish to leave the force.31 Over 500 government child soldiers, some as young as 11, were demobilized by late March 2004, and most of them reintegrated with their families.32 Some children showed signs of trauma and were hostile to the concept of demobilization.33 The number of girls identified was very low, and armed political groups and the Peace Guards reportedly continued to recruit child soldiers to their ranks.34

The program targeted at that stage only child soldiers from the government, civil defence forces and the CNDD-FDD (Ndayikengurukiye) and FNL (Mugabarabona). Child soldiers with other armed movements, estimated to number around 3,000, were to be covered under the general DDR program. Concern was expressed that this might lead to children not being covered by either program. There were also concerns as to whether the special needs of girl child soldiers would be adequately addressed,35 and whether child soldiers officially recruited into the government armed forces and not considered as children "accompanying" the military (doriya), were indeed all demobilized. Some of the demobilized children expressed concern that adequate preparations had not been made for their reintegration into civilian society, leading to fears they might rejoin armed political groups.36 Efforts by UNICEF and others to disengage children from all forces in advance of the general demobilization program, which had not started in March 2004, were therefore only partially successful.37

Over 3,000 Burundian fighters, mainly from the FDD (Nkurunziza), returned from the DRC, about 500 of them repatriated by the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC).38 They included an unknown number of child soldiers. Some were reunited with their families by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and then brought into the DDR program.39 Some former child soldiers who had left their forces spontaneously were placed in foster homes in the DRC, after attempts to trace their families failed.40 The UN estimated that up to 1,500 Burundian fighters remained in the DRC in March 2004.41

Detention of child soldiers

Under Burundian law, a child under the age of 13 is not criminally responsible for their actions and cannot be detained. Children between the ages of 13 and 18 receive reduced sentences and may not be sentenced to death. In practice the law is not always respected and many children have difficulty in proving their age. Government child soldiers faced trial by military courts (conseils de guerre) which fell far short of international standards for fair trial.42

Approximately 160 of Burundi's 8,000 prison population were juveniles, a minority of them former child soldiers. Several from government forces were detained on accusations or charges of murder or acts of violence. In some of these cases, it appeared that the children had been traumatized by their war experiences.43 Other children were arrested, often arbitrarily, and accused of links with an armed political group, tortured and detained for long periods without trial. All potentially faced years of detention before being tried and were at risk of ill-treatment and torture. In September 2002 Amnesty International reported on the case of Mossi Rukundo, who had not been charged three years after his arrest in 1999, aged 14, on suspicion of involvement with an armed political group.44 He was released shortly afterwards. Another 14-year-old child, arrested in June 2001 on suspicion of FNL membership and involvement in the murder of a Bujumbura local government official, was stabbed and beaten during a period of incommunicado detention following his arrest. In March 2004 he had not been tried.45 By March 2004, under the UNICEF-supported government program for demobilization and reintegration of child soldiers, at least 12 child soldiers had been released from detention.46

Other developments

The National Assembly adopted the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, without debate, in April 2003.47 However, in June 2003 the government withdrew the bill after it became apparent that the Senate would not support a last-minute proposal to prevent the court from exercising its jurisdiction over war crimes for the first seven years. Although the National Assembly issued a successful legal challenge that enabled the bill to be forwarded to the President for signature, it had not been signed into law as of March 2004.48

The UN made several appeals on behalf of child soldiers to the government and to the leaders of armed political groups. The UN Commission on Human Rights and the UN Special Rapporteur on Burundi urged all parties to the conflict to end the use of children as soldiers.49

* see glossary for information about internet sources

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

2 Human Rights Watch (HRW), Everyday victims: Civilians in the Burundian war, December 2003,

3 Protection of children affected by armed conflict, Report of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, UN Doc. A/54/430, 1 October 1999,

4 Information from Burundi Child Soldiers Coalition, May 2004.

5 Information from HRW, May 2004.

6 AI, Burundi: Child soldiers, op. cit.

7 AI, Poverty, isolation and ill-treatment – juvenile justice in Burundi, 1 December 2002.

8 International Labour Organization (ILO), Wounded childhood: The use of children in armed conflict in Central Africa, April 2003,

9 IRIN, "Winning back Burundi's child soldiers", 12 May 2004,

10 IRIN, "Burundi: Grappling with the effects of war on young lives", 12 December 2003.

11 Information from HRW, May 2004.

12 ILO, Wounded childhood, op. cit., HRW, To protect the people: The government-sponsored "selfdefence" program in Burundi, December 2001.

13 AI, Burundi: A critical time, January 2004.

14 Information from AI, August 2003.

15 AI, Burundi: Child soldiers, op. cit.

16 AI, Burundi: Rape – the hidden human rights abuse, February 2004.

17 Confidential source, May 2004.

18 Information from HRW, May 2004.

19 AI, Burundi: Child soldiers, op. cit.

20 Information from the Association burundaise pour la protection des droits humains et des personnes détenues (APRODH), Burundian Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detainees, March 2004.

21 AI, Burundi: Child soldiers, op. cit. 22 AI, Burundi: Rape – the hidden human rights abuse, op. cit.

23 AI, Burundi: Child soldiers, op. cit.

24 HRW, Everyday victims, op. cit.

25 Confidential source, May 2004.

26 AI, Burundi: Child soldiers, op. cit.

27 Ligue Burundaise des Droits de l'Homme ITEKA, Six enfants enrolés dans le Cndd de Nyangoma ont déserté les rangs de ce mouvement, 27 March 2004,

28 Confidential source, May 2004.

29 AI, Burundi: Child soldiers, op. cit.

30 Information from UNICEF, May 2004.

31 Confidential source, May 2004.

32 UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Burundi, Situation report, 16-21 March 2004,

33 Confidential source, May 2004.

34 Rapport de la revue à mi parcours du projet enfants soldats au Burundi, 28-30 avril 2004, Bujumbura, Projet du Gouvernement du Burundi appuyé par l'UNICEF.

35 Information from HRW, May 2004.

36 ITEKA, 29 child-soldiers working for the national army have been demobilized, 16 February 2004.

37 Information from UNICEF, May 2004.

38 IRIN, "RDC: 9,775 rwandais, ougandais et

burundais rapatriés dans le cadre du DDRRR", 25 March 2004.

39 ICRC, "Burundi: Former child soldiers reunited with families", 16 February 2004 with additional information from UNICEF, May 2004.

40 Confidential source, May 2004

41 IRIN, "8,000 Rwandan militia still in DR Congo: UN", 31 March 2004.

42 AI, Poverty, isolation and ill-treatment – Juvenile justice in Burundi, September 2003.

43 AI, Burundi: Child soldiers, op. cit.

44 AI, Poverty, isolation and ill-treatment, op. cit.

45 Information from APRODH, March 2003.

46 AI, Burundi: Child soldiers, op. cit.

47 ITEKA, Burundi: Cour Penale Internationale – Pour une ratification sans exception du Statut de Rome de la CPI, 12 June 2003.

48 Information received from Burundi Child Soldiers Coalition, May 2004.

49 UN Commission on Human Rights, Resolutions 2002/12 and 2003/16,

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