More on the general amnesty of the early 1990s, and other events that helped precipitate Burundi's decade-long war
Amnesty International Report 1994 - Burundi [looking at the events of 1993]
The newly elected President and other leading figures were brutally killed by soldiers who tried to seize power in October. This sparked off widespread intercommunal violence and political killings in which tens of thousands of people, including children, were killed and hundreds of thousands became refugees. Many of the victims were executed extrajudicially by the army. Earlier, there were arrests of suspected government opponents in the first half of the year, and others were brought to trial, some being sentenced after apparently unfair trials. However, all those still held were among some 500 political prisoners who were released as part of a general amnesty in September. Those freed also included 91 political prisoners sentenced after unfair trials in 1992. There were no executions: all death sentences were commuted under the September amnesty which also, however, gave immunity from prosecution to perpetrators of past human rights violations.
In February Burundi acceded to the UN Convention against Torture.
At the start of the year a multi-party electoral process began, raising hopes of an end to massive human rights violations which had been committed during 28 years of one-party military rule. However, there were violent incidents between supporters of the then ruling party, the Union pour le progrès national (UPRONA), Union for National Progress, and the main opposition party, the Front pour la démocratie au Burundi (FRODEBU), Front for Democracy in Burundi. In January the Minister of the Interior threatened to ban FRODEBU, accusing it of inciting violence and being a front for the banned Parti pour la libération du peuple hutu (PALIPEHUTU), Hutu People's Liberation Party.
President Pierre Buyoya, a member of the minority Tutsi ethnic group which dominates the armed forces, was defeated in presidential elections on 1 June. He had come to power in a coup in 1987. He was replaced by Melchior Ndadaye, a former prisoner of conscience and the first member of the majority Hutu ethnic group to become President. National Assembly elections on 29 June were won by FRODEBU. President Ndadaye said the new government was committed to the promotion of human rights and would abolish the death penalty. In a move apparently designed to foster national unity, he appointed a Tutsi member of UPRONA as Prime Minister to head a government which included Tutsi ministers. However, there were demonstrations by Tutsi students and UPRONA supporters against the transfer of power to a Hutu-dominated government.
On 21 October the President and other senior officials were killed by soldiers who attempted to overthrow the government. Other members of the government took refuge in the French Embassy. Those responsible for the coup, Tutsi members of the army, announced the formation of a National Public Salvation Council with Hutu former minister François Ngeze as its President. However, their actions were condemned by the UN, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and governments around the world, and received a hostile reaction from the majority Hutu population. After several days the army's commanders said that the coup had been carried out by low-ranking soldiers and asked surviving members of the government to return to power.
The attempted coup, and the murder of the President and others, sparked off a wave of intercommunal violence which engulfed the country for the following month. Tens of thousands of civilians, including children, were killed in violence between Hutu and Tutsi. Hutu attacked Tutsi and Hutu supporters of UPRONA to avenge the killing of Hutu leaders by Tutsi soldiers. Tutsi civilians killed Hutu either in self-defence or in revenge attacks for the killing of Tutsi. Members of the security forces carried out reprisal attacks on Hutu villagers or failed to intervene to stop the violence. Approximately 700,000 refugees fled to neighbouring countries, and some 250,000 people were displaced within Burundi.
Surviving members of the government called on the UN and the OAU to help them put an end to the violence, set up a commission of inquiry to establish responsibility for the coup and related human rights abuses, and bring those found responsible to justice. In December the government headed by Prime Minister Sylvie Kinigi appointed a commission of inquiry headed by the Procurator General to investigate the human rights abuses which had occurred after the October coup attempt. However, the commission of inquiry had not started its work by the end of the year because of objections to its appointment from the opposition. The UN said it would send a team to Burundi to investigate the execution by soldiers of President Ndadaye and other government officials and to complement the work of the government's commission of inquiry, and the OAU offered to send soldiers to protect ministers, but none had been deployed by the end of the year.
No steps were known to have been taken by the military high command to identify those involved in the coup attempt and the killings and other violations linked to it. The government refused to agree to an amnesty for the killers of President Ndadaye and other senior officials and for those responsible for the coup attempt. Eight soldiers suspected of involvement in the October coup attempt were arrested in the days after the attempt. They were still held without charge or trial at the end of the year. Other soldiers suspected of having had a leading role fled the country. In December the Burundi Government demanded the extradition of two of these soldiers from Uganda.
In addition to President Ndadaye, the President and Deputy President of the National Assembly, the Minister of the Interior, the head of the security police and other officials were killed by soldiers during the coup attempt, as were the wife of a government minister and that of a National Assembly member. The President was reportedly stabbed to death with bayonets at a military barracks in Bujumbura, the capital, on 21 October. The same day, soldiers opened fire on people taking part in a peaceful demonstration in Bujumbura to protest against the attempted coup, killing about 10.
Elsewhere in the country, in the days and weeks following the coup, Hutu local government officials and supporters of the murdered President killed thousands of defenceless Tutsi civilians. For example, on 22 October a local government official in Mututa commune, Kayanza province, reportedly organized the execution of 90 Tutsi at Mungara trading centre. In reprisal for killings of Tutsi, serving and former members of the security forces attacked Hutu civilians. In some cases members of the security forces distributed arms to Tutsi civilians to use against Hutu. For instance, in Ruyigi province Tutsi students from a local secondary school, who had been armed by a Gendarmerie commander, attacked Hutu civilians at Ruyigi bishopric, killing about 70. The governor of Ruyigi province, who attempted to stop the killings, was imprisoned for a week by the local military commander.
Earlier, about 50 government opponents were arrested between January and May but none of these had been tried when the new National Assembly passed a general amnesty for all political prisoners. Most of those detained were members of FRODEBU accused of inciting violence or of involvement in killing political opponents. Seven others were alleged members of PALIPEHUTU who the authorities said were insurgents who had entered the country from neighbouring Rwanda.
On 3 July, seven army officers were arrested in connection with an alleged coup attempt and detained on the orders of the military procurator. They included Lieutenant-Colonel Sylvestre Ningaba, former President Buyoya's Principal Private Secretary. They had not been brought to trial when they were freed by other soldiers at the time of the October coup attempt.
Eight soldiers, including Major Hilère Ntakiyica, who had been arrested in connection with the alleged coup attempt in July and freed in October, were rearrested by military authorities at the end of October. They were held in Mpimba prison and accused of attempting to murder the Head of State but it remained unclear at the end of the year whether they had been formally charged.
About 500 political prisoners and detainees arrested during the previous two years were released in September, along with some 4,000 criminal prisoners, following the ratification by the National Assembly of a general amnesty. Death sentences were also commuted. Those released included about 400 prisoners who had been accused of involvement in attacks by Hutu insurgents at the end of 1991 (see Amnesty International Report 1993). The amnesty also applied to members of the security forces who were thereby given immunity from possible prosecution for tens of thousands of past human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions, which remained uninvestigated.
There were several trials of people who had been arrested in 1991 and 1992 in connection with political violence at the end of 1991, but some were still in progress in September when most political prisoners were released under the amnesty. Those tried included about 140 civilians whose trial began in May 1992 before the Court of Appeal in Ngozi. The prosecution reportedly failed three times to provide evidence to the court that the defendants had been involved in the violence, which had not directly affected northern Burundi where the defendants lived. In March the Court of Appeal submitted the case to the High Court in Ngozi, which subsequently convicted about 60 people who had been arrested in Kayanza province: the court ruled that they had been involved in planning the 1991 violence. They were sentenced to between five and 20 years' imprisonment. However, the impartiality of the court was in question: it was alleged that the defendants were convicted after unofficial consultation between the court and government officials. Trials were subsequently suspended and about 80 defendants remained untried in custody until their release in September.
Earlier, about 30 people were brought to trial in March before the Court of Appeal in Bujumbura. They included Alexandre Sindakira, a PALIPEHUTU leader, who denied involvement in or advocating violence. Defence lawyers alleged that most of the defendants had been tortured to make them confess (see Amnesty International Report 1993). The trial was adjourned and had not resumed by the time of the September amnesty, when they were released.
Other trials in connection with an alleged coup attempt in early 1992 began in March and April. The defendants included Cyprien Mbonimpa, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs, and more than 100 soldiers (see Amnesty International Report 1993). The soldiers were tried by court-martial: 60 were convicted and sentenced to between one and 20 years' imprisonment and the others were acquitted. Cyprien Mbonimpa appeared before the Supreme Court in April and his trial had not resumed when he was released in July. Other soldiers and civilians had been released without trial in previous months.
All prisoners sentenced to death before mid-1993 were released or had their sentences commuted as a result of the general amnesty in September. No new death sentences were reported and there were no executions.
Amnesty International was greatly concerned by the mass killings sparked off by the October
coup attempt and murder of the President and others. An Amnesty International delegation was in Bujumbura at the time of the coup to discuss human rights with government officials, including the problem of impunity. Both before and after the October events, Amnesty International called on the authorities to ensure that all human rights violations were fully and impartially investigated, and that those responsible for perpetrating torture, extrajudicial executions or other grave violations were brought to justice.
Burundi, human rights, Current Affairs, Politics, Africa