Burundi: Donors Must Fund Human Rights Protection

In two documents, 'Burundi: Commitment to Human Rights is Essential, An appeal to participants of the international donor conference', and its background briefing, 'Burundi: A Critical Time', published today to coincide with the donor conference (13-14 January), Amnesty International outlines a human rights agenda for international donors and the Government of Burundi involved in the country's peace and reconstruction efforts as well as providing up-to-date information on the critical human rights issues which must be addressed.

Amnesty International has observed that despite positive political changes many Burundians are yet to feel the benefit, and remain trapped in a seemingly endless cycle of violence, human rights abuses, poverty and humiliation.

In a country which has already seen a proliferation of small arms leading to numerous human rights abuses and crime, a dramatic increase in armed robbery in 2003 led to the further distribution of arms to the civilian population in some provinces by government authorities through the expansion of a poorly trained, unpaid and armed government militia, the 'Gardiens de la Paix' (peace guards). Amnesty International fears this can only fuel further violence and human rights abuses. The assassination on 29 December 2003 of the Apostolic Nuncio to Burundi, Mgr Michael Courtney, was yet another example of the precarious security conditions and widespread disregard for human life in the country.

Moreover, the words of one of the people approached by Amnesty International researchers in Burundi in September 2003, are another illustration of the diverse experiences and trauma of the whole of the Burundian people after 10 years of war and decades of massive human rights abuses. Amélie, a 30-year-old widow, told her story in these words: 'I was going with three Children's rights to get water when a soldier stopped us on the road. The Children's rights managed to escape, but I fell and he caught me. He took me to a church, which they had turned into some kind of bar with food and alcohol everywhere. The soldier raped me in the church, and he told me I would be blessed because it was a holy place? Another one refused to rape me. The first soldier forced a bottle of beer inside of me. I started bleeding and shouting. The soldiers covered me with a military coat and left me somewhere outside the church to die there. I managed to walk back, losing a lot of blood, and some Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights helped me.'

Amnesty International said: 'While the Burundian government bears primary responsibility for ensuring that its citizens are protected from human rights abuses, it needs sustained political support and substantial financial investment from the international community to ensure that these rights are protected and promoted as a matter of priority throughout the country.'

Amnesty International calls on all donors to consider seriously these human rights aspects in their decisions. They should insist on getting a clear commitment by the Burundian government that it will investigate those gross human abuses and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Amnesty International believes that initiatives by the international community focused on obtaining political settlement will be sustainable only if fundamental human rights issues are centrally addressed in every stage in the process.

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