At the launch of its annual report, Jean-Marie Vianey Kavumbagu, head of the Burundi human rights group, ITEKA [Ligue Burundaise des Droits de l'Homme], said the inauguration of the government in 2005 should have helped to improve the situation.
Instead, the continuing circulation of weapons among civilians and the slow reintegration of demobilised fighters into society have led to daily reports of armed banditry in 2007.
The report, 'The challenge to set a culture of democracy, tolerance and good governorship', was compiled by ITEKA and covers 2006. It highlights widespread cases of summary executions and an alarming increase in sexual violence during the year. It cited 1,930 cases of sexual violence in 2006.
"What is of concern is that the majority of the victims are children younger than 12," Kavumbagu told reporters in the capital, Bujumbura, on Tuesday. "Contrary to preceding years where sexual violence was mainly blamed on the military and rebel groups, 63.2 percent of the rapes were blamed on neighbours [and] sometimes close relatives.
"Cases of incest where children are raped by their grandfathers, fathers and uncles are frequent," he added.
ITEKA urged families not to shield perpetrators of rape from justice, citing the case of a 12-year-old victim whose father accepted 60,000 francs (US$60) from the perpetrator to drop the case.
New leadership at fault, says report
The report criticises the new government. "Burundians expected the new leadership to improve the human rights record [and] break with previous massive violations," Kavumbagu said. "Instead of stepping up efforts to conclude negotiations with the remaining rebel movement, the FNL Palipehutu, they indulged in a manhunt of people suspected of siding with the movement."
The result of this, he added, was massive violations of rights blamed on the military, rebel groups and agents of the intelligence services.
Urging the government to rapidly conclude negotiations on implementing a peace accord with the FNL Palipehutu to ensure lasting peace, the report said this would protect civilians from armed banditry and shed light on who was behind ongoing summary executions.
Burundi's government reached a peace accord with the FNL Palipehutu on 7 September but the accord has not been fully implemented since the joint verification and monitoring mechanism suspended activities in March 2007.
The report cites extra-judicial executions of civilians in the northeastern provinces of Muyinga and Bujumbura Rural. It notes that a commission of inquiry set up by the Justice Ministry has yet to release its findings.
In November, Ismael Diallo, director of the human-rights division of the United Nations Operation in Burundi, warned that sexual violence was commonplace while arbitrary killings, arrests and torture were continuing.
"The human-rights situation has really not improved since the previous government; it has more or less remained the same, except for abuses by the intelligence services, which have become noticeably worse," Diallo said.
Even though 2006 was marked by limitations on freedom of expression and the imprisonment of journalists, civil society activists and opposition figures, ITEKA's report said there had been some improvement in relations between the government and civil society.
Burundi has just emerged from 13 years of civil strife during which human rights were regularly abused. The current government won a landslide election in August 2005 pledging to restore order.