By Millicent Zighe.
Burundi Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has uncovered 4000 mass graves containing remains of people killed in ethnic clashes.
While presenting a report to parliament, the commission confirmed it had identified 142,505 victims who died in mass killings dating back to 1965. The revelation comes a week after a mass grave with 270 bodies was opened to the public in Bujumbura City. Many of the victims are believed to have been killed after the assassination of Melchior Ndadaye, the country’s first democratically elected Hutu President in 1993.
“Many more mass graves are yet to be found because people who know about them are afraid to talk or are traumatized. Finding out the truth of what happened would lead to forgiveness between the perpetrators and the families of the victims to forge a peaceful future for Burundi’s generations”, stated the chairperson of TRC Pierre-Claver Ndayicariye.
The commission which was formed in 2018 to probe serious human rights violations which led to mass killings has faced backlash with critics questioning its mandate. Many were angered upon finding out it will not look into the 2015 political upheaval that led to hundreds of deaths. Charles Nditije has particularly been vocal saying the crisis has not been investigated because the crimes were carried out by President Pierre Nkurunzinza’s allies.
After the findings, the chairperson of CNL Agathan Rwasa blasted TRC, citing current cases of political intolerance.
“Since the country independence, how have we benefitted from this independence? Today Burundians kill each other. Has someone ever heard a citizen kidnapped by the whites? No. Why do we continue to live in the past? Respect each other’s rights. In less than two weeks, three of our activists have been killed, and the alleged perpetrators are known but the justice crosses its arms. It is true that the responsibility is personal but if the power does not act, it leads to mass crimes,” he stated.
His sentiments were echoed by MP Nor Mbonigaba who said reconciliation will not be achieved when human rights are not respected. He was referring to recent cases of murder, torture and arbitrary arrests castigated by the ruling party in collaboration with the Imbonerakure militia group.
However, the President of Senate Reverien Ndikuryo is of a different opinion, he like many Nkurunzinza’s allies, believes the ethnic clashes in the country were fueled by white settlers.
“Go investigate if there is a mass grave dating from the 1700s or 1800s before their arrival. You will never find it. They (colonialists) are the ones who introduced the ethnic groups, the division and the crimes,” he said.
During his speech, TRC president assured Burundians that former colonial powers namely Belgium and Germany have accepted to collaborate with the commission in search of truth. Nonetheless he noted that reconciliation will not be achieved soon as “there are still phases of work to explore”.
So far, some people have successfully identified their loved one from the cloths and identification cards founds at the mass graves. “People were crying in shock,” deputy chairperson of TRC Noah Clement Ninzinza told BBC.
Recently, President Pierre Nkurunzinza declared six days of national prayers, with hopes of finding a lasting solution to the problems engulfing the landlocked country.