By Millicent Zighe
Burundi’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CRV) has uncovered six mass graves containing 6032 remains of people killed in ethnic clashes.
The discovery in Shombo Commune, Karusi Province is one of the largest since the Government launched the nationwide exhumation operation in January. The commission confirmed that the majority of the victims were Hutus killed by the Tutsi dominated army in the infamous 1972 massacre after the failed attempted coup against the then President Michel Micombero.
“During the first phase of the excavation work near the Ruvubu Bridge, in Karusi province, remains of 6,032 victims were exhumed. These victims were mostly of the same ethnic group and others perished as a result of interpersonal conflicts or settlements,” said the chairperson of Truth and Reconciliation Commission Chairman Pierre Claver Ndayicariye.
Bullets were also found at the scene as well as clothes, glasses and rosaries which were used to identify the victims. According to Ndayicariye, those buried in mass graves were teachers, civil servants, religious people, high ranking officials and agents of security forces. They had been detained in Gitega Central Police for some time before being executed. The remains will be transported to Gitega Province where victims will receive a proper sendoff.
Although family and friends of the victims have gotten closure, some people expressed dissatisfaction with the way the commission conducted its latest operation.
“Families of the Tutsi ethnic group were decimated in 1993 after the assassination of President Ndadaye. Bodies were thrown in the Ruvubu and Ruvyironza rivers. Hutus said that they will cross the Nyabarongo River (Rwanda) to the Nile (Egypt) where they would have come. I do not understand why the CVR did not investigate in two directions and was satisfied to say that the mass graves located at the edge of the Ruvubu River contain victims of 1972”, a survivor native of Karusi told SoS Medias Burundi.
The secretary of one of the Tutsis’ Organisation Emmanuel Nkurunziza seems to harbor the same thoughts. He called it “a shame to say thousands of thousands of dead bodies in Karusi are Hutus killed in 1972 while it is known that in 1993 Tutsis were exterminated in Karusi.”
As for the activists defending the victims and survivors, majority echoed the sentiments raised by Emmanuel Nkurunziza saying, “The CVR is far from reconciling the Burundians. After the exhumation of human bones in Kamenge (a district mainly inhabited by Hutus), now it is the turn of human remains from 1972, still believed to be Hutus “,
“It would be a political recovery from the work of reconciliation on the eve of the electoral meeting,” added another member.
While responding to critics, Ndayicariye insisted people should wait until the end of investigations before determining who the victims were and when the atrocities took place. Additionally he said Tutsis were murdered for trying to protect the Hutus.
Coalition of Political Parties in Exile (CNARED) urged CVR to cease operations until it regains public trust. Like many Burundians, CNARED members believe the commission was formed to serve interests of the ruling party.
So far CVR has mapped 4000 mass graves and identified more than 142,000 victims. Plans are underway to set up three monuments, one at a national, provincial and communal level which will serve as a memory.
CVR was established in 2014 to probe serious human rights violations that led to mass killings from 1885 when colonialists invaded the East African nation to 2008 when a peace treaty ended the civil war in the country. Surprisingly its mandate does not extend to the 2015 upheaval which claimed the lives of hundreds and displaced thousands, something that has angered many Burundians.