June 19, 2006
Burundian Child Soldiers Languish in Detention
Another item to share that hasn’t received coverage in the press. Human Rights Watch has reported in A Long Way from Home that the Burundi government is detaining former child soldiers associated with the rebel National Liberation Forces. HRW previously reported on Rwandan children being detained as well.
Dozens of former FNL child soldiers are being held in prisons, jails, and a detention center without any clarity of their legal status or knowledge of when they might be returned to their families.
The human rights group has documented that the children in the prisons are kept in overcrowded cells and are not being properly feed. They are also housed with convicted adult criminals or seasoned combatants. This is in violation of national and international law.
“The lack of a consistent government policy for former FNL child soldiers has compounded their suffering. Government ministries must coordinate their policies to ensure equal treatment, assistance and rehabilitation to these children,” said Alison Des Forges, senior Africa advisor at Human Rights Watch.
Burundi is one of the poorest and most conflict-ridden countries in Africa and in the world with a GDP per capita of US $106 for last year and 68% of the population below the poverty level. The country’s economy is sustained by Western foreign aid.
Burundi has ended a civil was in recent years where Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader of the Hutu National Council was elected unopposed as president in 2005.
The FNL did not sign the peace accord and remains an opposition force still fighting the government. They continue to attack the western provinces of Burundi and uses children as soldiers. The government has forced some of the children to collaborate with the military. This endangers the children and puts any reintegration into their communities at a risk.
HRW has called President Pierre Nkurunziza to fulfill obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child to protect the rights of all children in Burundi, including former child combatants.
With yesterday being World Refugee Day–I wanted to mention–in regards to Burundi–about 150,000 Burundian refugees were repatriated last year. However, refugees still live in camps in western Tanzania and Congo-Kinshasa.