- The election of a new government in Burundi has not brought an end to human rights violations by all sides in the country's brutal civil war, human rights groups revealed today. A new study documents war crimes such as "torture and summary executions" in the ongoing conflict.
The New York-based group Human Rights Watch today presented a new report, titled "Burundi: Missteps at a Crucial Moment". The report documents that civilians still are subjected to torture and executions although Burundi now has a new democratically elected government.
"The armed conflict in Burundi is no excuse for torture and summary execution," said Alison Des Forges of Human Rights Watch when presenting the new report. "The government and the rebels alike must abide by their obligations under international law to treat anyone in their custody humanely," she added.
The report documents cases where Burundian soldiers summarily executed five civilians and tortured others whom they suspected of being collaborators with the last active rebel group in the war ravaged nation, the National Liberation Forces (FNL).
The human rights group also describes cases where agents of the intelligence service, known as the Documentation Nationale, detained more than fifty civilians without regard for legal procedures and tortured some of them while they were in custody. Intelligence agents had apprehended civilians and suspected rebels in Kinama, an area where the FNL is sometimes active.
Four of the detained are recently elected officials of the Front for Democracy in Burundi (Frodebu) or their spouses. Witnesses in Kinama report that demobilised combatants of the Forces for the Defense of Democracy (FDD) are now armed and acting as informants for the Documentation Nationale.
The FDD won local and national elections in many areas of Burundi and dominates the government, installed in August. The newly elected president, Pierre Nkurunziza, is a member of the FDD, and General Adolphe Nshimirimana, director of the intelligence service, was formerly a FDD combatant.
The report further documents that armed hostilities continue between the rebel FNL and the new government, with skirmishes occurring around the capital of Bujumbura. It documents FNL killings of four civilians who held government posts or who were thought by rebels to be otherwise tied to the authorities. Two of the victims were decapitated and a third had his arm cut off, mutilations occasionally practiced by the FNL on their victims.
Human Rights Watch called on the international community, particularly members of the UN Security Council who are travelling to the region today, to urge the Burundian government to follow both Burundian and international law and to ensure UN human rights monitors access to detainees suspected of FNL collaboration.
"When the new government took power in August, it promised to protect human rights," said Ms Des Forges. "But in some parts of the country it is not delivering on that promise," she added.
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