Reform in Burundi has seen progress with the advancing peace process, establishment of a truth and reconciliation committee, and new government. However, Burundi continues to be plagued with an unstable infrastructure, security concerns and a fragmented population due to the remnants of intergroup conflict and a persistently high number of IDPs and refugees. Burundi’s justice system remains inadequate and underdeveloped, especially where children are concerned. Harsh weather conditions have decimated food sources and housing, contributing to an increasingly urgent humanitarian crisis and exacerbating ethnic tensions. Plans to move the capital from Bujumbura to Gitega are also underway.
In May 2003, Burundi’s parliament decided that a truth and reconciliation commission was to be set up to look into crimes committed since independence in 1962. The transitional national parliament also passed a bill that put genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes onto Burundi’s criminal statutes. The Burundian government announced in May of 2007, that it would soon set up this commission and that it would not grant amnesties to any side for war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity and other serious violations.
Refugees and IDPs
From the early 1990s, hundreds of thousands of Burundians fled their homes to escape fighting between the government and Hutu rebel groups seeking to end political dominance by the Tutsi minority. Many others, predominantly Hutus, were forcibly displaced in the second half of the 1990s. Following the signing of a ceasefire agreement between the government and a major rebel group in 2003, as well as the election of a national unity government in 2005, hundreds of thousands of refugees and IDPs returned home.
However, some 100,000 internally-displaced people (IDPs) remain in limbo, living in settlements throughout Burundi or with host families; according to the latest monthly report from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC). Many Burundians still live as refugees outside the country - some 152,000 Burundians live in UNHCR-administered camps in Tanzania alone. Many of these refugees are reluctant to return home because of a severe land and housing crisis, in addition to lingering security concerns. In September 2006, the last remaining rebel group, the National Liberation Forces (FNL), signed a ceasefire agreement with the government. Many provisions of this accord have not been implemented, and tensions are still high in Bujumbura Rural and the provinces surrounding it. There have also been reports of ceasefire violations through arbitrary arrests and executions of people suspected to be allied with the FNL. The government is investigating these allegations. In addition to these fears, refugees in Tanzania - many of whom have lived there since ethnic violence drove them from their home in 1972 - have formed strong community networks they are reluctant to relinquish.
Extreme weather in late 2006 has resulted in the destruction of livelihoods for many Burundians. Droughts and severe flooding have destroyed a vast number of crops and homes, leaving tens of thousands of people without shelter. With more than seventy percent of farmlands destroyed by the floodwaters, there is a threat of a major food crisis.
Human Rights/Legal System
Burundi is still lacking a solid foundation of rule of law and respect for human rights, according to a December 2006 report by Human Rights Watch. Investigators report numerous accounts of torture and killings of civilians in official custody. A few dozen have disappeared and are presumed dead. In Burundi’s legal system, children are treated as adults, often have no access to legal advice or representation, are incarcerated alongside adults where many suffer from physical and sexual abuse, and receive no reintegration services upon their release from detention. Burundi’s parliament is currently looking to propose amendment to their criminal law in order to improve children’s rights.