BURUNDI: Between hope and fear

Amnesty International's report, Burundi: Between hope and fear, paints a deeply disturbing picture of the inexorable rise in killings of unarmed civilians, 'disappearances' , torture arbitrary arrests and massive population displacement. The report also looks at the legal protection the peace agreement should provide, and argues that 'without justice, there can be no future accountability, and no long term security.'

Since the signing of the Arusha peace agreement on August 28 2000, violence has escalated leaving hundreds of civilians killed. 'Signature of the peace agreement has in no way changed patterns of human rights abuse in Burundi,' the organization said. 'However, whatever its shortcomings, the peace agreement represents a key moment in Burundi's political history which could serve as an opportunity to break decades of violence and impunity '

The peace agreement, which is yet to come into force, represents the best opportunity in recent years to ensure better respect for human rights in Burundi. It provides a framework to acknowledge and investigate past human rights abuses and to reform and strengthen institutions such as the judiciary and armed forces.

'The alternative of continued and escalating conflict, of generalized violence and further human rights crisis, must be avoided at all costs', said Amnesty International. 'The hundreds of incidents of human rights abuses and violence since August underline the desperate need to find a solution to Burundi's precarious situation.'

Recommendations

The Amnesty International report calls on all parties in the conflict to:

- take immediate action to prevent further unlawful killings of unarmed civilians;

- investigate allegations of human rights abuses made by the security forces and armed opposition groups, and bring the perpetrators to justice;

- stop recruiting Children's rights or forcing them to perform work in support of the military or armed opposition operations;

- undertake reforms to ensure a functioning and impartial legal system;

- protect the rights of internally displaced persons and refugees;

- guarantee that employees of humanitarian and human rights organizations are not threatened, arrested or killed, and can freely carry out their work.

The report also calls on the international community to use their political influence and financial resources to support programs to promote and protect human rights in Burundi. 'The ability of the Government of Burundi and inter-governmental agencies to implement these recommendations will be seriously diminished without the support of key donor agencies,' Amnesty International added. 'We also urge the international community to recognize and support the key role which national human rights groups play in defending human rights.'

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