Richard Wilson's blog

richardcameronwilson AT yahoo dot co dot UK

Marking time – December 28th 2010

with 8 comments

Video piece about Charlotte’s murder – “Rights Universal”, Channel 4, 2008

*UPDATE* – Amnesty International have issued an “Urgent Action” calling for Jean-Claude Kavumbagu’s release. The Committee to Protect Journalists have visited him in prison, where Jean-Claude told them that “international pressure” would be vital to secure his freedom.

It’s just short of a decade since my sister Charlotte was murdered. She was 27 – two years older than me. We had a close, if sometimes stormy, relationship, and for a long time the world felt a lot colder and less colourful than it had done before. While my life has changed a great deal since then, the nature of this sort of experience, I think, is that one never quite sees things in the same light again.

Charlotte’s death set my life on a new trajectory, of which this blog is a small part. I left my job, did a lot of campaigning, went abroad for a while, and ended up writing a book about my sister’s life and death, which in turn led to other writing opportunities. My second book, “Don’t Get Fooled Again”, covers a very different subject area, but Charlotte’s influence is there. My sister had been taking time out to teach science in a rural Rwanda school, after finishing a PhD in microbiology. She was haunted by the effect of AIDS on the community in which she was living, and planned to pursue a career in HIV research on her return to the UK. Her passion for this issue, and in particular her belief in the need to challenge the many myths around the disease – was one of the things that prompted me to look in depth at AIDS denialism when I came to write “Don’t Get Fooled Again”.

Charlotte was killed not in Rwanda, but in neighbouring Burundi. She had recently got engaged to a Burundian teacher, Richard Ndereyimana. They were travelling to meet his family when their bus was ambushed by a Hutu-extremist militia group, the “Forces Nationales de Libération” (FNL), high in the hills above the Burundian capital, Bujumbura. Hutu passengers were released unharmed. Those presumed to be Tutsi – including Richard Ndereyimana – were lined up and shot. Charlotte was killed with them. In all, 21 people died. The attack became known as the “Titanic Express” massacre, after the bizarre and ill-fated name of the bus in which they were travelling.

The 10th anniversary of the massacre falls on December 28th this year. I’ve decided to mark it with a 24-hour “Twitter marathon”. I’ll be knocking back a lot of coffee and posting a message every 15 minutes from 1.30pm on the 28th, the time that the attack began, to 1.30pm on December 29th.

There’s a rich array of material online about Burundi’s complex, albeit often-ignored, recent history. I’ll be aiming to profile the best of it over the course of the 24 hours – from eye-opening video footage and witness testimonies to niche blogs, bizarre quotes from Richard Nixon, and painstakingly-detailed human rights reports.

Alongside this, there are two particular issues that I’ll be seeking to highlight.

Firstly, despite compelling evidence, no serious effort has been made to prosecute those who carried out the massacre in which Charlotte died, amid a climate of near-total impunity for the elites on both sides. Despite being given numerous cash payments, offers of government jobs, and “provisional” immunity from prosecution, the FNL have continued to pose a threat, and are now reported to be mobilising for a new “holy war” in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Secondly, while the war criminals remain free, Burundi’s independent media has taken a massive hammering. Journalists are routinely harassed, attacked, threatened and jailed. One of those now languishing in prison is Jean-Claude Kavumbagu, who over the years has helped enormously with the campaign for justice over the Titanic Express massacre, and whose support was indispensable when I was researching my first book.

Jean-Claude was arrested in July this year and charged with “treason” after making critical comments about Burundi’s armed forces. The Burundian government has previously been responsive to international pressure in cases like these. Given all that Jean-Claude has done over the years it seems somehow appropriate that I mark the 10th anniversary of Charlotte’s death by doing what I can to highlight his case.

I’ll be available on the day to speak to any journalists who might want to cover the story, and can also be contacted beforehand via richardcameronwilson AT yahoo DOT co DOT uk, or 07969 802 830. See here, here and here for some previous media things I’ve done on this.

The Twitter stint will begin at 1.30pm UK time (3.30pm in Burundi) on December 28th – www.twitter.com/dontgetfooled

Written by Richard Wilson

November 30, 2010 at 11:05 pm

8 Responses

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  1. You probably want to add “http://” to the start of your Twitter link.

    Ed Davies

    December 1, 2010 at 8:35 am

  2. Linked your post to my Blog,Richard.

    Desire Katihabwa

    December 2, 2010 at 7:51 am

  3. [...] this week I wrote about my plans for marking the 10th anniversary of the December 2000 massacre in which my sister Charlotte…. Today I was sent a UN report suggesting that the group responsible, Burundi’s hardline Hutu [...]

    • violence,hate,tyranny should not be conditions for peace, rule of Law is what is needed in Burundi, unless we use the rule of law, violent groups like FNL Palipehutu,Rwandan Hutu militia FDLR,Ugandan Militia LRA, will always feel that they are justified in killing so as to be heard.Let us be clear, UN’s approach was wrong, if a tribunal was created for other War crimes/Genocide around the World, Burundi should not be an exception, help us achieve reconciliation, but justice should be a pre-condition for peace,reconciliation and development.

      Desire Katihabwa

      December 3, 2010 at 2:06 pm

  4. [...] leave a comment » Alexis Sinduhije is an award-winning former journalist and political prisoner, now the leader of Burundi’s “Movement for Security and Democracy”. I’ve been in touch with him since 2002, when he was director of Burundi’s groundbreaking Radio Publique Africaine. During Burundi’s long civil war, RPA took the lead in investigating and reporting on the abuses on both sides, including the December 2000 “Titanic Express” massacre, in which my sister Charlotte was killed. [...]

  5. [...] whose forces carried the December 28th 2000 “Titanic Express” massacre in Burundi, of which my sister Charlotte was one of 21 victims. The UN recently reported that Rwasa was remobilising his forces from bases in the Democratic [...]

  6. In few hours, Richard’s family, Charlotte’s friends, family’s friends, Rwandan and Burundian relatives to those who were killed on the same day together with the whole community of those who have been campaigning for prosecution against those who carried out the massacre will be commemorating in pain and sadness the tenth anniversary of the mass killing of innocent people based on their ethnic group or presumed link with the targeted ethnic group.

    Despite the obvious lack of political will from the ruling party in Burundi to pursue the path of justice as the only credible vehicle to restore trust, peace and political stability in Burundi, I strongly believe that the cycle of violence will repeat if we are not addressing the issue of individual accountability.
    Individual responsibility is intrinsic to the war crime, crime against humanity or crime of genocide.
    Such an emphasis on individual accountability is especially important for Burundi, as it undermines the belief that all
    Tutsi acted in the same way and can be held responsible for each other´s actions, a belief
    central to the ideology of genocide. Equally, an emphasis on individual responsibility will
    prevent any suggestion that each and every Hutu is responsible for the genocide.

    This is a time for meditation on what each and every person can do to encourage Justice to be done so that the perpetrators could be prosecuted.
    During this time of rememberance, I would like to pay a special tribute to Richard and Charlotte’s parents to the contribution they have made in the education of their children. To have raised children and instilled in them to believe in their ideas and to stand for their conviction is something which I admire. I have never meat Charlotte but I feel so close to her because of the voluntary work she was involved in Rwanda, the sacrifice she endured during her stay in Rwanda when she could have stayed in London and be doing research work in a quiet and unchallenging place. Her spirit has and will survive her and for this reason I beleive that she deserves that those who took upon themselves to take her life should pay for what they did. Justice is the only path towards a peaceful solution in Burundi.

    Pacelli Ndikumana

    December 27, 2010 at 7:15 pm

  7. [...] Cross-posted from Richard Wilson’s blog: [...]


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