Covering events from January - December 2004

Conflict was largely restricted to the province around the capital and a precarious calm prevailed in other parts of the country. Serious human rights abuses by all parties were reported, including unlawful killings, torture including rape and other sexual violence, abductions and unlawful detentions. Some 4,788 people remained in detention without trial. At the end of 2004, at least 95,000 people remained internally displaced. At least 90,000 refugees returned home, largely from Tanzania, although people continued to flee Burundi. Over 150 Congolese refugees were killed in an attack on a transit camp close to Bujumbura. At least 44 death sentences were passed.


Little was done to organize elections scheduled for October 2004 under the August 2000 Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Burundi (Peace Agreement). The second phase of the transition, due to be ended by the elections, was extended for six months in October. An interim constitution was adopted and adhered to by virtually all political parties, narrowly avoiding a constitutional vacuum. Despite rising political and ethnic tension as October drew near, manipulated by some political leaders, widespread violence did not break out. Local, legislative and presidential elections were postponed until 2005. A national referendum on the constitution was postponed on several occasions and had not taken place by the end of the year.

Armed conflict continued throughout the year in Rural Bujumbura between one armed group, PALIPEHUTU-FNL (Rwasa), commonly referred to as the FNL, and government armed forces and the CNDD-FDD (Nkurunziza). In June the UN Operation in Burundi (ONUB) took over from the African Union mission. A UN programme to address sexual exploitation by its peacekeepers was initiated.

Progress in implementing agreements between armed groups and the government continued to be slow. Members of various armed groups continued to return from exile, in preparation for demobilization, disarmament and reintegration (DDR). All armed groups recruited fighters, including some child soldiers, to boost their numbers prior to demobilization. Some were also reported to be training for combat, both in southern Burundi and outside the country. Fighters were slow to join pre-assigned cantonment sites. The CNDD-FDD (Nkurunziza) set up a parallel administration in other parts of the country as well as taking part in pro-government military operations. There were a number of clashes between rival armed groups, in particular between the CNDD (Nyangoma) and the CNDD-FDD (Nkurunziza). A DDR programme was launched in December.

Arms were reportedly distributed by various factions to the population, raising fears of further violence. The government took no action to counter the proliferation of small arms.

Between May and August, at least 80 people were arrested in northern Burundi, allegedly on their way to or from Rwanda, and accused of belonging to an armed movement aiming to destabilize the state. Around 30 of them were members of a Tutsi movement, PA Amasekanya, frequently accused of inciting violence. Others were linked to the Tutsi-dominated PARENA party of former President Bagaza. A former Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture, Bonaventure Gasutwa, was arrested in Rwanda and handed over to the Burundian authorities in connection with PA Amasekanya. Over 30 alleged members of the movement were provisionally released in October.

Burundi's economic crisis continued, and the country relied heavily on outside assistance and aid, although many donor pledges did not materialize or fell short of the target. Armed crime increased. Access to health care was extremely difficult for the majority of the population.

Human rights abuses in conflict zones

Government armed forces were responsible for serious human rights abuses against the civilian population in Rural Bujumbura, including routine looting and the destruction of property, rape and extrajudicial executions. Civilians were caught in cross-fire as well as deliberately attacked. CNDD-FDD (Nkurunziza) fighters, who maintained separate bases in Rural Bujumbura operating under an ambiguous command structure, were repeatedly accused of rape, beatings, looting and killings of civilians in the area.

An unknown number of suspected FNL sympathizers were killed by government forces and members of the CNDD-FDD (Nkurunziza), often in arbitrary or reprisal attacks following or during military operations.

  • A five-year-old boy, a 72-year-old man, Ncahonankwa, and two others were killed by soldiers from Mubone military position in Kabezi commune on 28 July. The soldiers ordered people to come out from their houses in Gakungwe before opening fire. Two of those killed, including Ncahonankwa, were reportedly bayoneted to death.

In Rural Bujumbura, low-level government officials and civilians suspected of collaborating with the CNDD-FDD (Nkurunziza) were killed by the FNL. The FNL also reportedly recruited child soldiers and continued to administer a parallel justice system, with punishments including beatings and killings.

  • On 13 August, more than 150 Congolese refugees were killed and more than 100 others injured in an attack on Gatumba transit camp in Rural Bujumbura. The refugees had arrived in Burundi in June and were almost all from the Banyamulenge ethnic group. Nearby Burundian returnees were not harmed. The FNL claimed sole responsibility for the attack. Despite investigations by the UN, the government, Burundian and international human rights groups, at the end of 2004 there was still doubt over whether the FNL had in fact acted alone.

Arrests and abductions by CNDD-FDD (Nkurunziza)

Throughout 2004, the CNDD-FDD (Nkurunziza) operated a parallel "police" force which issued summonses, conducted searches and detained scores of people. Most of those detained appeared to be suspected by local CNDD-FDD (Nkurunziza) commanders of armed robbery or links with the FNL. Some were made to pay "fines" before being released. Others were beaten and had their property looted. All were unlawfully detained and outside the protection of the law. Many suspects were beaten, often severely, and several were reported missing or killed.

  • Three men – Apollinaire Ndayiziga, Augustin Barakamfitiye and Ntabatamwaka – were beaten to death by members of the CNDD-FDD (Nkurunziza) in June.
  • Zacharie Ndiwenumuryango, alias Hussein, aged 23, reportedly died on 24 September in a CNDD-FDD (Nkurunziza) place of detention after being badly ill-treated.

Child soldiers

A DDR programme for child soldiers in government forces and two minor armed groups was launched in January. More than 2,300 child soldiers, some as young as 11, had been demobilized by November. Provisional figures for the number of child soldiers to be demobilized under a general DDR programme that started in December were submitted by other armed groups but the combined figure of approximately 500 was considerably lower than expected. The Ministry of Human Rights acknowledged that child soldiers were probably still within government ranks.

Rape and other sexual violence

Despite increasing awareness and condemnation of widespread rape, both within the home and by combatants, numerous cases of rape and sexual violence were reported. The victims included very young girls, men and young boys. Some women were forced into military barracks before being raped; others were raped as they fled attacks or while collecting firewood or working in their fields.

Partly as a result of collaboration between national human rights groups, international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the judiciary, an increasing number of victims received medical care and more cases were brought to court. A medical centre run by Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) in Bujumbura was reportedly receiving over 100 cases a month of sexual violence by November 2004.

Administration of justice

The justice system continued to suffer from inadequate resources and training, corruption, lack of belief in the rule of law and a lack of political will to end impunity. Lynchings and cases of ill-treatment continued to be reported. Some 4,788 people remained in detention without trial. Trials of people accused of participating in the violence which followed the 1993 assassination of former President Melchior Ndadaye continued. In April, 36 people, of whom two were civilians, were convicted of participating in an attempted coup in July 2001. Sixty-four others were acquitted.

At least 2,202 detainees held for long periods without trial, or detained in relation to certain offences linked to the conflict, were released. These included six CNDD-FDD (Nkurunziza) prisoners who had been sentenced to death. There was a series of strikes by prisoners in July over the issue of which detainees were selected for release.

In November, the Senate adopted legislation reforming the Supreme Court, and allowing it to review earlier court verdicts. The criteria for review included rulings by a national or international jurisdiction on errors in the original trial. The President had not approved the law by the end of 2004.

The new legislation could potentially assist hundreds of defendants who were tried, often after unfair trials and without legal assistance, by courts of appeal from 1996 until September 2003. A plea, on technical grounds, to the cassation chamber of the Supreme Court, was the only appeal mechanism available. If successful, the case was sent back for retrial. Since many defendants had no legal assistance, virtually no such pleas were deemed admissible.

Kassi Manlan trial

The trial of those accused of the November 2001 murder of the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Burundi, Dr Kassi Manlan, re-opened in May. Four security guards detained since November 2001, who were originally charged with the murder, appeared on a lesser charge. Eight new defendants (one of whom subsequently died) were charged with planning or executing the murder. They included senior intelligence officials and the heads of two police forces at the time of the murder. Two defendants, both convicted murderers serving sentences in Mpimba central prison at the time, stated in court that they had carried out the murder after being promised a large sum of money and release from prison. A verdict had not been reached by the end of 2004.

Death penalty

At least 44 death sentences were passed. At the end of 2004, 533 people were under sentence of death. No executions took place. However, in February 2004, during the trial of four men accused of a bank robbery in Bujumbura, President Ndayizeye raised fears that executions might resume. The men were subsequently sentenced to death and the sentence confirmed on appeal.

In November, the President ordered new legislation to be drawn up to tackle an apparent increase in violent crime including armed robbery and rape. He made clear his own preference for wide application of the death penalty. In the same month legislation was submitted to parliament providing a special radically shortened procedure for people caught committing such crimes. The new procedures fell far short of international standards for fair trial. They allowed a maximum of 40 days between arrest and execution or clemency, including a retrial. By the end of 2004, Parliament had not debated the draft legislation.

International and transitional justice

In September, Burundi ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Legislation establishing a National Truth and Reconciliation Commission (NTRC) was adopted by the National Assembly and Senate. Concern was expressed by Burundian human rights groups that the law did not provide mechanisms to protect the independence of commission members, and that lack of clarity over the roles of the NTRC and an international judicial commission of inquiry provided for under the Peace Agreement could jeopardize the work of both.

Refugees and the internally displaced

Pressure from the Tanzanian authorities and Burundian government on refugees to return increased. More than 90,000 refugees returned from Tanzania during 2004. While some refugees genuinely wanted to return, others returned because of increasingly harsh conditions in the camps and fear of being forcibly returned by the Tanzanian authorities. Some feared that they would lose their land in Burundi if they did not repatriate. Many returnees appeared to have been ill-informed about the situation in Burundi, some because they had received false assurances from Burundian government officials visiting the camps. Land disputes increased. Government bodies to assist in the rehabilitation of refugees and resolve land issues were inadequate and did not function properly.

At least 95,000 people remained internally displaced at the end of 2004, some since 1993, although about 160,000 returned to their home areas during 2004. The population of Rural Bujumbura continued to face short-term conflict-related displacement, repeatedly disrupting their lives. In several parts of the country people, including returnees, were too frightened to spend the night in their homes.

The killing in August of more than 150 refugees at Gatumba transit centre underlined the government's failure to protect refugees. Only after the massacre did the government agree to move the refugees away from the border with the DRC. The Burundian army, which has several nearby bases, did not intervene at the camp to protect the refugees.

AI country visits

An AI delegate attended the launch of the Burundi network of the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers in April.

AI delegates visited refugee camps housing mainly Burundian refugees in western Tanzania in October and a settlement of Burundian refugees from 1972 in Tabora region in December.

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