Informe sobre el país: Burundi

Ultima revisión: 21 Jul 1998
21 Jul 1998

Ever since October 1993, when soldiers of the armed forces dominated by Tutsis overthrew Burundi's first democratically elected government and killed President Ndadaye and other government officials, Burundi has been the scene of large-scale massacres. This coup attempt lead to the formation of armed Hutu gangs killing Tutsi civilians, causing the armed forces to start 'protecting' the Tutsi minority by killing Hutu's. The armed forces have been held directly or indirectly responsible for the massacres. Total impunity for perpetrators was likely to encourage a recurrence of the massacres. [4]
The result has been an civil war between the Tutsi dominated armed forces and various armed Hutu groups, in which more than 200,000, most of them civilians, have been killed. Although a cease-fire agreement was reached in June 1998, the armed forces do not feel themselves bound by government agreements and continue 'to defend' the Tutsi minority. [11]

1 Conscription

conscription exists

Art. 50 of the constitution stipulates that it is a call of duty for every citizen to participate in the defence of his country. However, before 1996 all sources stated that Burundi has officially no conscription. [1] [2] [3]

According to Amnesty International military service for Tutsi youth, including students, was introduced in August 1996. Thousands of members of Tutsi armed groups have been incorporated into the armed forces. [6]

According to Human Rights Watch the government created a 'self-defence force' in 1996, for which young Tutsi recruits were being trained. [9]

In January 1997 it was reported that all Bujumbara University students in their first or second year of studies were called up for a year's service in the armed forces. Since Tutsi students killed 50 fellow students of Hutu origin in July 1995 and since the consequent fleeing of all Hutus, the university harbours only Tutsi students, most of whom are active in armed Tutsi groups. [10]

It therefore may be concluded that at present the government is conscripting selectively only Tutsi youth into the armed forces. It is not clear what the legal basis of this conscription is.


In 1989 the government wrote that recruitment into the armed forces is on a voluntary basis and is open to any young person who applies in writing. [2]

The minimum recruitment age is 16. Accepted candidates spend the first two years in a training centre where they receive military training. This means all members of the armed forces on active service are over 18. [7]

Only those with a primary school leaving certificate are accepted for military service. Non-commissioned officers must at least have had four years of post-primary education, and officers must have a diploma. Although female candidates are accepted, there are only a few female officers in the armed forces. [7]

Because it is considered to offer a good job perspective, the armed forces receive many applications. Traditionally, the armed forces have been recruited from the Tutsi minority, and there have been allegations that other ethnic groups are not admitted into the armed forces. The armed forces are almost exclusively Tutsi. [3] [7]

From the beginning of the conflict the armed forces have been largely responsible for the violence, justifying their reprisals by saying they have to defend the Tutsi minority against ethnic Hutu violence.

2 Conscientious objection

There is no mention in the military code of the right to leave the armed forces as a conscientious objector. Presumably, therefore, any soldier who has conscientious objection would therefore be treated as either insubordinate or a deserter. [3]

There are no known cases of COs.

3 Disobedience and desertion


Desertion and other military crimes are punishable under the 1980 military penal code (Decree-Law no. 1/8). The code does not mention imprisonment as a penalty, but refers to servitude penale which might be imprisonment as well as forced labour in a camp. In this report it is translated with 'penal servitude'.

Refusal to obey military orders is punishable by 6 months' to 5 years' penal servitude and/or a 5,000 francs fine in peacetime; 5 to 10 years' in wartime. In case of refusal to obey military orders in front of the enemy or an armed group the punishment may be as high as the death penalty (arts. 75-78).

The penalties for desertion are prescribed in arts. 7 to 26, depending on whether the deserter fled in the country, went abroad or deserted to the enemy and whether the deserter was alone or in a group.

Desertion inside the country is punishable by 2 months to 3 years' penal servitude and/or a 4,000 francs fine in peacetime; up to 10 years' in wartime or state of emergency (arts. 8-9). If more than two men desert together this is considered conspiracy and punishable by 2 to 10 years' penal servitude in peacetime; 10 to 20 years' in wartime (art. 10-11).

Desertion abroad is punishable by 6 months to 3 years' penal servitude and/or a 5,000 francs fine in peacetime; 5 to 10 years' in wartime or state of emergency. In aggravated circumstances, for instance in case of desertion with conspiracy, if the deserters carried arms or ammunition, if they had been convicted of desertion before, or if the desertion lasted longer than six months, the penalty may be from 10 to 20 years' penal servitude (arts. 12-19).

Deserting officers may be dismissed and will in most cases receive maximum punishments.

If deserters flee to the enemy or to an armed group the maximum penalty is 20 years' penal servitude. In aggravated circumstances a deserter may be executed (arts. 20-25).

Those imprisoned for desertion in wartime may also lose their civil rights for a period between 5 and 20 years (art. 26).

The maximum penalty for provocation to desertion is 5 years' penal servitude in peacetime; 10 years' in wartime (art. 27).


There are no known cases of desertion.

4 Recruitment by armed Hutu and Tutsi groups

After the 1993 assassination of the president, armed Hutu groups were formed, which claimed to defend the cause of the Hutu people. In some areas they are conducting a guerrilla warfare against the armed forces. According to armed forces' personnel the armed Hutu groups are increasingly made up of child soldiers, who received military training under the command of the former Rwandan Head of State. Most of them had belonged to the INTERAHAMWE militia who caused widespread killings in Rwanda. It is thought that former members of the Rwandan Armed Forces are fighting on the side of the armed Hutu opposition groups. [7]

The armed Hutu groups recruit their members either by ideological conviction or under threat. Every person of Hutu origin is supposed to contribute to the war, those unable to perform military service are pressed to contribute financially or in kind. Children under 15 (boys and girls) are recruited into the armed groups from the moment they can understand the lessons of the military training. Most of them are street children who had no one to take care of them. These child soldiers are often inexperienced when they are to fight the regular armed forces and are consequently massacred. Otherwise they are eliminated as a matter of course if they do not or cannot continue serving. [7]

In 1995 the National Council for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD) with its armed wing Forces for the Defence of Democracy (FDD) was formed and has since been waging war against government forces. Their ranks have been filled with those who have been forced to flee from their homes and although they are Hutu-dominated, they also comprise Tutsi politicians. [5]

More details about the recruitment practices of the FDD are not known.

Besides the regular armed forces, armed Tutsi groups, made up of young Tutsi aged 12 to 25, are active. They have no formal structure and terrorise the capital and other towns, justifying themselves as defenders of the Tutsi minority. They come from sports and school groups who were won over and armed by politicians, businessmen and serving and retired members of the security forces. [7] [5]

The formation of armed groups within the Tutsi community has been encouraged by government officials. The government has called for the formation of self-defence units and the Mayor of Bujumbura has called on youth to 'neutralise' strangers. [5]

6 Annual statistics

The armed forces comprise approximately 22,000 troops, including the 3,500-strong Gendarmerie - just over 0.3 percent of the population. [8]

Every year approximately 18,000 Tutsi's reach the age of 18. [8]

The strength of the FDD and the armed Hutu groups are not known.


[1] Eide, A., C. Mubanga-Chipoya 1985 Conscientious objection to military service, report prepared in pursuance of resolutions 14 (XXXIV) and 1982/30 of the Sub-Commission of Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities. United Nations, New York. [2] UN Commission on Human Rights 1991. Report of the Secretary-General prepared pursuant to Commission resolution 1989/59. United Nations, Geneva. [3] War Resisters' International 1994. Issues of conscience and military service. WRI, London, UK. [4] Amnesty International 1994. Burundi: Time for an action to end a cycle of mass murder. AI, London, UK. [5] Amnesty International 1996. Burundi: Armed groups kill without mercy. AI, London, UK. [6] Amnesty International 1996. Burundi: Refugees forced back to danger. AI, London, UK. [7] Rädda Barnen 1996. Case study on child soldiers in Burundi. Rädda Barnen, Stockholm. [8] Institute for Strategic Studies 1997. Military Balance 1997/98. ISS, London, UK. [9] Human Rights Watch 1997. Human Rights Watch International Report 1996. HRW, New York. [10] De Volkskrant (Dutch newspaper), 4 January 1997. [11] NRC Handelsblad (Dutch newspaper), 22 & 24 June 1998.