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Human Rights Watch Calls For Fair Treatment of All Former Child Soldiers

On this “Day of the African Child,” the group Human Rights Watch accuses Burundi of allowing some former child soldiers to languish in prison. It says the Burundi government is detaining rather than rehabilitating former child soldiers of the FNL, the only rebel group still fighting the government.

Tony Tate is a researcher for Human Rights Watch. From Bujumbura, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the former child soldiers.

“Human Rights Watch has issued a briefing paper which calls on the government to come up with a coordinated plan to deal with children who are child soldiers in the FNL. At present, you have children associated with the FNL who are in two places. Some are sitting in a demobilization site waiting for programs of assistance, while others are charged with the crime of participating in a rebel group and are in prison. So you have two sets of children, who have the same history, who are being treated very differently.”

The HRW briefing paper also raises the issue of prison conditions for some of the former FNL members. “They’re together with adult prisoners. They have very meager rations. They have little assistances. They have no medical assistance. The conditions are just terrible.”

Tate says the human rights group has been in contact with the Burundian government about the issue: “We’ve had some meetings yesterday and today with various ministries. I think the will is there. It’s just a question of coordination because those who are held at the demobilization site are under the authority of the minister of defense, while those who are in prison are under the authority of the minister of justice. So it’s simply a question of coordination on the part of the government. And I think some real assurances on the part of the international community that once these children are released that they will be successfully reintegrated.”

Tate also says that HRW has complained repeatedly to the FNL over its use of child soldiers.