The current regroupment policy, which began this summer in response to Hutu rebel attacks against Bujumbura, has displaced an additional 300,000 Burundian citizens from their homes. This is in addition to the 800,000 people who have been stuck in camps for months or years. Although access to the regroupment camps is significantly improved, relief agencies are still struggling to provide the basics for life.
Health conditions in the camps continue to be precarious. Bloody diarrhea, dysentery, cholera, and respiratory illnesses are prevalent. Although minimum health care services are being provided to most camps (for example, a successful measles vaccination program is underway), relief staff and financial resources still remain stretched to the limit. And another problem will soon arise. Latrines built under the emergency conditions of the forced regroupment will soon be overflowing. There is neither staff, nor time, nor resources available to address this problem as relief agencies struggle to provide the health care, water, and food required to maintain life under the harsh regroupment camp conditions.
Malnutrition is on the rise. In many camps, people are allowed access to their fields for only a half-a-day per week. This is not nearly enough time for a rural population whose diet depends on what they can grow in their small plots. Even before the draconian imposition of the regroupment policy, food security in Burundi was a serious problem for the donors. Now the population risks becoming a permanent ward of the international community unless full access to fields is permitted at once.
Once again many Burundians are fleeing for the perceived safety of Tanzania since the recent massive relocation of the population in Bujumbura Rural and other provinces. In December alone, UNHCR reported that over 21,000 Burundians had arrived along the Tanzanian border and requested asylum. These camps are reported to provide a base of operations for the Hutu rebels, although no clear evidence exists to support this contention.
RI notes with concern the limited presence of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Burundi. The number of human rights monitors should be significantly increased in the regroupment camps and in the countryside. They must have complete and secure access throughout Burundi. This is essential to reduce the violence and encourage the refugees to return home.
The large numbers of people in internally displaced camps and refugee camps in neighboring countries threatens the peace process. The harsh treatment of the majority Hutu population at the hands of their own government after years of repression, the assassination of the first democratically elected president by elements within the Tutsi dominated military, the current policy of regroupment, all play into the hands of the Hutu extremists. In addition, attacks upon the moderate center by extremist Hutu and Tutsi elements put civil society and the internal peace dialogue under enormous pressure.
To relieve the suffering of the Burundian people and improve the chance for a peaceful resolution of the conflict RI recommends that:
The government of Burundi:
- Immediately begin closing regroupment camps.
- Allow those remaining in regroupment camps daily access to their fields.
- Negotiate an immediate cease-fire in place with the Hutu rebel groups.
- Halt all attacks against the government of Burundi and especially civilians.
- Negotiate an immediate cease-fire in place.
- Allow free access to the Burundian population by relief agencies.
- Focus on reform and integration of the Tutsi-dominated army with elements of the Hutu rebel forces.
- Encourage the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) to deploy additional human rights monitors in the regroupment camps and in the countryside. Assist UNHCHR speed the deployment of additional monitors through in-kind transfer of vehicles, radios, and other essential equipment.
- Increase financial assistance to existing relief to development programs (which may also bolster the peace process).
- Commit to significant development, demobilization, and reconstruction assistance as soon as a peace agreement is reached.
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