N.R., from Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, explained to representatives of ACAT-Burundi that a shopkeeper in her neighbourhood had raped a thirteen-year-old girl and had paid 50 000 Burundi francs (approximately 32 euros) to the victim’s mother so that she would not press charges.
In Burundi, the practice of ’’amicable arrangements’’ also allows rape victims’ families to negotiate a marriage between the victim and the perpetrator of the rape in return for social and financial assistance. Such arrangements, which are comparable to forced marriages, do not take the victim’s opinion and feelings into account, particularly if the girl is an orphan in the care of distant guardians who do not support her. In such cases, she has little or no voice in society.
During the civil war, between 1993 and 2003, rape and sexual violence became commonplace and were used as a weapon of war by both rebel and government forces. The official end of hostilities did not put a stop to these crimes. Between 2004 and 2006, Médecins sans frontières registered an average of 1 346 cases of rape per year, which means 26 per week. The actual figure is likely to be much higher, since many cases of sexual violence are never reported. Young women and girls are particularly at risk.
Many victims, fearing social stigma and reprisals, prefer to remain silent and cover up the fact that they have been raped. Indeed, society often condemns the victim rather than the perpetrator of the crime. Some women who have been raped do not receive any psychological or legal support ; sometimes they are not even aware that they can seek justice. With the victims too fearful or unable to institute judicial proceedings, a climate of impunity prevails and often the rapists are not pursued at all. Accounts of rapes committed by members of the police or armed forces add to the victims’ suspicion of the authorities. Those responsible for law enforcement were allegedly behind 5.8% of the rapes reported in 2006.
The discriminatory attitude of society, which is dominated by a patriarchal culture, and the unwillingness of the police force to take this kind of violence seriously reinforce the victims’ reluctance to institute proceedings. Other factors, such as poverty, a lack of access to education, information and medical care, increase the vulnerability of women.
ACAT-Burundi has studied these issues in-depth, in partnership with Amnesty International. Our ACAT joins them in asking the Government of Burundi to immediately take measures to protect women and young girls against sexual violence.
TRANSLATION OF THE LETTER
L’ACAT-Luxembourg has informed me of the plight of women and young girls who have been victims of rape in your country. Reports indicate that the incidence of rape and sexual violence since the end of the civil war remains alarmingly high and that the victims encounter almost insuperable obstacles to obtaining justice and compensation.
Between 2004 and 2006, the non-governmental organisation Médecins sans frontières received each year an average of 1 346 testimonies from women claiming to have been raped. Many of the rape victims (up to 60%) were minors.
The Burundi authorities are not making the necessary efforts to prevent these rapes or to conduct investigations leading to prosecutions. Therefore, those responsible for these crimes usually escape punishment. Discouraged by the futility of initiating judicial proceedings and fearing reprisals and social stigma, the victims are even reluctant to report that they have been raped.
In view of the gravity of the situation, I strongly urge the Government of Burundi to take all the necessary steps to :
• categorically and publically condemn violence against women, particularly rape, the perpetrators of which must be judged and punished in accordance with the law ;
• reform the behaviour and practices of the police and judiciary, so that they actually perform their role by thoroughly investigating reported cases of rape, in order to bring those responsible to justice and grant compensation to the victims ;
• establish throughout the country, including rural areas, a programme of support, protection and legal assistance for the victims of rape in support of and collaboration with the specialist NGOs.
Thank you for heeding my concerns.