Wednesday, September 1, 2010



Six years have passed since 164 Congolese citizens under the protection of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in the Gatumba refugee camp in Burundi were killed, some burned alive, on 13 August 2004. Hundreds of others were injured. The overwhelming majority of victims – many of them women and children - belonged to the Banyamulenge community. The victims had sought refuge in Burundi to escape from political oppression in South Kivu, Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

A report dated 18 October 2004 jointly produced by the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), the United Nations Operation in Burundi (ONUB) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) concluded that the attack was clearly directed against the Banyamulenge refugees and, apparently, ethnically and politically motivated. Various sources, including the above UN report but also a report by Human Rights Watch, compiled credible evidence leaving little doubts over the responsibilities in the massacre. The available evidence clearly indicated that the Burundian Forces Nationales de Libération (PALIPEHUTU-FNL), the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), the Congolese army (FARDC) and Mayi Mayi militia were directly involved in the Gatumba massacre. The UN report asserted that many of these foreign armed groups operating in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi border region harbour resentments against the targeted group and others such as FARDC and Mayi Mayi militia may have political motives for preventing the refugees from returning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. PALIPEHUTU-FNL, then a rebel movement led by Agathon Rwasa, openly confessed its responsibility in this massacre. The ideology underlying the commission of the genocide in Rwanda one decade earlier was evident in the perpetration of the Gatumba massacre in August 2004. The UN report documented the fact that the attackers chanted such slogans as “we will exterminate all the Tutsis in Central Africa”; “kill these dogs, these Tutsis”; “today, you Tutsis, whether you are Rwandese, Congolese or Burundian, you will be killed”.

The massacre was widely condemned by several countries from around the globe as well as by supranational institutions such as the African Union, the European Union and the United Nations. Many of them pledged to support endeavours aimed at bringing the perpetrators to justice. The United Nations urged the countries in the sub-region to cooperate in investigating the massacre and bringing perpetrators to justice. Six years after the event, no single step has been taken to deliver justice for the slain and surviving victims of the Gatumba massacre. The uproar that accompanied the commission of the crime has faded and victims face the sad prospect of never seeing justice done. The peculiar circumstances of a crime committed against Congolese citizens, on Burundian territory, by Congolese national army and armed groups reportedly originating from three different or neighbouring countries of the region complicate, if not annihilate any prospects of domestic prosecutions against perpetrators of the crime. Victims are nonetheless still crying for justice. The inaction of Burundian, Congolese and other sub-regional authorities imposes a duty on the international community to get actively involved in delivering on the promise of justice made to them in the aftermath of the crime.

UBUNTU is one of the only few actors who have constantly tried to remind the international community of this unfulfilled promise. It is an international peace-building and non-profit organization based in Brussels. The organization aims at promoting sustainable peace and development in the Great Lakes region. Since its creation, UBUNTU has been actively involved in initiatives aimed at preventing violence, sustainable peace and conflict resolution in the Great Lakes region of Africa. UBUNTU membership includes individuals who survived the massacre.

Taking note of the fact that perpetrators of this massacre continue to enjoy impunity, UBUNTU, on the sixth anniversary commemoration of the Gatumba Massacre of Banyamulenge Refugees in Burundi, urges:

The international community to deliver on the promise of justice made to survivors of the Gatumba atrocities.
The United Nations to use all appropriate means to bring Agathon Rwasa and other perpetrators of the massacres to justice.
The Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and other sub-regional countries to cooperate in rehabilitating the victims.


No comments: