The Gatumba Massacre One Year On

A letter in the Guardian that deserves some wider dissemination (links added):

On August 13 2004, 152 Congolese Tutsis were shot, hacked and burned to death, by members of the Hutu-extremist group Palipehutu-FNL at the Gatumba refugee camp in western Burundi. The attack was the largest of a series of FNL atrocities. In December 2000, my sister Charlotte Wilson was among 21 people killed in an attack on a bus close to the Burundi capital. When the FNL claimed responsibility for Gatumba, they boasted the international community was powerless to stop them. A year on, it looks as if they were right.

The UN launched an investigation and passed two resolutions urging that the killers be brought to justice. The Burundi government produced an arrest warrant for the FNL leader Agathon Rwasa and declared its intention to refer the case to the international criminal court. Yet the UN investigation has now been suspended and the US has blocked efforts to refer the case to the ICC. When Rwasa appeared in Tanzania earlier this year, the Tanzanian president shook his hand, declaring that the FNL leader’s emergence was a great step forward for peace. At the end of May, the FNL signed a ceasefire with the Burundi government. Days later, the FNL launched mortar attacks on the Burundi capital.

The FNL has repeatedly attacked civilians since my sister was killed. The UN’s policy of quietly forgetting such crimes has not worked.

Richard Wilson
London

A blog devoted to bringing Rwasa to justice can be seen here, and it has an article about Charlotte Wilson’s death here. A full account of the attack on Gatumba can be found on the website of Human Rights Watch. HRW includes this detail:

The attackers came across the marsh from the direction of the border…Then they moved towards the refugee camp, playing drums, ringing bells, blowing whistles, and singing religious songs in Kirundi. At least two local residents heard them sing, “God will show us how to get to you and where to find you.”36 One other heard shouts of “Ingabo Z’Imana,” “[We are] the army of God.” Many reported hearing attackers sing choruses of “Allelluia” and “Amen.”37

Rwasa is reportedly a minister of religion, but details are weirdly vague. Early in 2003 United Methodist Bishop J. Alfred Ndoricimpa addressed a cross-party group of British MPs on the subject of Burundi; the meeting included the following exchange:

Mel McNulty: In order to move forward with the peace process, the Palipehutu-FNL need to be brought in [Remember, this was before the massacre – RB]. Is Agathon Rwasa a 7th Day Adventist? Are the FNL religious in ideology or is religion simply used to motivate the troops? Can the Inter-Religious council help to reach the fighters?

Bishop Ndoricimpa: Rwasa says that he is a Roman Catholic, the Burundian Government say that he is a 7th Day Adventist.

(Ndoricimpa died just a few days ago, as it happens. This obit notes that he “repeatedly had been denied a visa to enter the United States”)

The Global IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) Project claims that the FNL is “driven by a Protestant Christian ideology claiming that the Hutus have a divine right over the country”. Quoting the International Crisis Group (from a 2002 document), it adds that:

There is also a strong suspicion that millenarist religious movements as well as some local adventist churches fund the FNL, which claims to be fighting to realise a millenarist prophecy of liberation from Tutsi oppression.”

In December 2003 Archbishop Simon Ntamwana (himself a Hutu) accused the FNL of the fatal shooting of Monsignor Michael Courtney, the Papal Nuncio (and an Irish citizen) – which the FNL denied, while simultaneously ordering Ntamwana to leave the country (an order he has ignored); Hutu rebels had murdered his (Tutsi) predecessor, Joachim Ruhuna, in 1996 (later, a captured rebel claimed the Courtney killing had been an accident).

*****

HRW footnotes:

[36] Human Rights Watch interviews, Bujumbura August 19 and Gatumba, August 22, 2004.

[37] Human Rights Watch interviews, Gatumba, August 18, 2004.

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