Burundi: HRW calls for justice over Gatumba Massacre

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Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called upon authorities in Burundi to complete criminal proceedings over the 2004 Gatumba refugee camp attack that killed more than 150 Congolese civilians.

The rights group accuses the government of failing to deliver justice, in accordance with Burundian and international law, for the attack which took place 15 years ago. National Forces of Liberation (FNL) leader Agathon Rwasa, who was arrested after the FNL claimed responsibility for the attack remains a prominent figure in Burundian politics after his court case was delayed indefinitely in 2014.

HRW calls upon Burundi to deliver justice

On August 13, 2004, members of the National Forces of Liberation (FNL) attacked the Gatumba refugee camp near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The attackers targeted mostly Banyamulenge refugees – Congolese Tutsi from the province of South Kivu in the DRC.

The FNL members shot and burned the victims to death while allowing refugees from other ethnic groups to live.

The Banyamulenge refugees had fled armed conflict in Congo and were living in the refugee camp, only to find greater horrors awaited.

Human Rights Watch investigations found that soldiers and police of the Burundian armed forces failed to intervene in the attack, even though the slaughter took place within a few hundred meters of their camps. Meanwhile, soldiers of a United Nations peacekeeping force were unable to save the civilians because they were told of the attack only when it was over.

Despite the FNL promptly claiming responsibility for the attack, a criminal case wasn’t opened until 2013 and proceedings stalled in 2014.

FNL leader Agathon Rwasa continues to act with impunity as a prominent figure in Burundian politics but Human Rights Watch is calling upon authorities to push ahead with criminal proceedings.

“The government has a responsibility to deliver justice to survivors and victims’ families,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Ending impunity for this benchmark case would help bring closure after years of suffering for those affected by the attack and would demonstrate that accountability is taken seriously in Burundi.”

Featured image: Human Rights Watch

About Aaron Brooks

Aaron Brooks is a UK journalist who wants to cut out the international agendas in news. Spending his early years in both England and Northern Ireland he saw the difference between reality and media coverage at an early age. After graduating from the University of Chester with a BA in journalism, his travels revealed just how large the gap between news and the real world can be. As Editor-in-Chief at East Africa Monitor, it’s his job to provide a balanced view of what’s going on in the region for English-speaking audiences.