- Sexual violence, including rape, against girls and women in Burundi is growing into a widespread problem as the situation otherwise gets more peaceful. The perpetrators are largely members of the Burundian armed forces and armed political groups, as well as armed criminal gangs who not only rob but also rape.
The government of Burundi and the international community should take urgent action to stop widespread sexual violence, including rape, against women in Burundi, the human rights group Amnesty International urged today in a new report entitled 'Burundi: Rape - the hidden human rights abuse'.
The report discloses that the growing incidence of rape has been exacerbated by widespread discrimination against women, and its consequences aggravated by poverty, population displacement and a failing health care system. The perpetrators are largely members of armed Burundian groups.
- Rape, like all human rights abuses, has become an entrenched feature of the Burundian crisis, the human rights group said, "because the perpetrators - whether government soldiers, members of armed political groups, or private individuals - have not been brought to justice. The Burundian authorities and leaders of armed political groups have shown an alarming lack of will to hold their forces accountable."
From the evidence available, the report concluded that the scale of rape indicated "a deliberate strategy at times by belligerents to use rape and other forms of sexual violence against women as a weapon of war, to instil terror among the civilian population, and to degrade and humiliate people."
In one of the worst affected areas during 2003, government armed forces and the armed political group CNDD-FDD Nkurunziza committed scores of rapes in Ruyigi province, as well as other human rights abuses and looting, in a pattern of reprisal and counter-reprisal. Many women were also raped in front of their families including their children, adding to the trauma.
Most victims of rape in Burundi currently face insurmountable obstacles in trying to bring suspected perpetrators to justice, the Amnesty researchers found. Many women who have been victims of rape or other forms of sexual abuse are too intimidated by certain cultural attitudes and state inaction to seek redress. To do so can often lead to hostility from the family, the community and the police, with little hope of success.
- Those who do seek justice are confronted by a system that ignores, denies and even condones violence against women and protects perpetrators, whether they are state officials or private individuals, the report says. "The near total impunity granted to members of the armed forces - whatever their crime - discourages many from even attempting to begin legal action against members of the armed forces."
While stigma and fear mean that many cases go unreported, the scale of the violence forced rape out into the open in 2003. The increase in the incidence of rape has been confirmed by national and international organisations working in Burundi and acknowledged by government authorities.
Amnesty today is calling national and international cooperation to protect Burundian women and girls from rape. "As a matter of priority, the political and military leaders of all armed political groups, and the Burundian authorities, must issue immediate public instructions to their combatants to end human rights abuses, including rape," the group urged.
Despite increased attention to the problem, many women still do not have access to appropriate health care in the immediate aftermath of the rape. Additionally, the continuing stigma attached to sexual violence and fear of coming forward prevents some victims of sexual violence from accessing these services. Amnesty therefore also called for improved medical and law enforcement structures for women in the most affected areas.
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