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Posts Tagged ‘Titanic Express

Guest post by “Kabonesho”: TENTH COMMEMORATON OF THE TITANIC EXPRESS MASSACRE : WILL JUSTICE EVER PREVAIL IN BURUNDI?

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Sorting ethnic victims as under the Nazis, grouping the Tutsi on one side, the executioners strip victims of their property, rape women, machine-gun all the Tutsi, whoever looks like them (at least according to the stereotypes dating from the colonial racist now and still in force), all Tutsi’s friends and those who take their defense, then go quietly to write up a report for the genocidal hierarchy as this would be shown in documents that were later seized in the den of these bloodthirsty criminals…

This took place in Burundi in 2000, on December 28th to be precise,  when the PALIPEHUTU-FNL terrorist organization attacked the Titanic Express bus linking Kigali (Rwanda) to Bujumbura (Burundi). It was one of many terrorist acts by these neo-Nazi genocidal militias, now in power in Burundi and which genocide denials shamefully call ‘democrats,’ ‘peace pillars,’ and ‘peacemakers,’ ….
One of the victims, Miss Charlotte Wilson, was a British citizen and a professor at Nyamirambo, Rwanda. She was making the trip together with her fiancé from Burundi, Ndereyimana Richard, a professor at the same school. She was be introduced to his family in view of their future marriage.

Riahcrd is handsome and tall; for the terrorists under the command of Agathon Rwasa, the commandeer of the carnage, he must be a Tutsi and it doesn’t matter whether the characterization was wrongful. His physique is sufficient ‘reason’ for him to be savagely mutilated and then murdered together with his fiancée, while the executioners rejoice in singing “IBIKUNDANYE BIRAJANA” (those who love must die together).

There was also a Canadian citizen of Burundi origin aboard that Titanic Express bus that was linking Kigali, rwanda to Bujumbura, Burundi. His name was Arthur Kabunda. He was Tutsi, and as for the others, this was sufficient to justify his murder.

There is no doubt that the attack was committed by the PALIPEHUTU militia, now in power with the other racist, terrorist and genocidal organization CNDD-FDD. In his December 2000 monthly report dated January 12, 2001, the then commander of the PALIPEHUTU terrorist militias operating from Tenga, SIBOMANA Albert, wrote that the attack was scheduled for December 27, 2000 but the bus had not shown up. It was therefore postponed to the next day at Mageyo on RN1 highway. In the meantime, the terrorists had reinforced both material and human resources that they needed for the ambush. Therefore, this attack was a carefully planned terrorist act.

What is surprising is the fact that Canada and Britain, two nations who claim to be the avant-garde position in the fight against terrorism, acts of genocide and crimes against humanity, support the impunity of the organizations and individuals who have commandeered and carried out these crimes. The stand is even paradoxical if we consider that the victims were not from Burundi alone, but they included also of citizens of Canada, Great Britain two other countries.

It should be recalled that many other international figures have been deliberately massacred in Burundi by these organizations. The international community’s reaction, if any, was more support for these criminals against humanity now in power in Burundi. Obviously, the consequences could be but more institutionalization of impunity as well as violation of international law and universal morality.

One such example is the murders of Representatives of UNICEF, WHO, and the Apostolic Nuncio in Burundi, to mention but the most senior dignitaries. Yet, neither the UN nor the Vatican does promote in Burundi the badly needed rule of law that would curb impunity and establish for peace a foundation that is stronger than the institutionalization of terrorism and racism that were inherited from the Arusha process.

However, that these acts and their perpetrators are of racist, terrorist and criminal nature, is established beyond any possible doubt:

§37 “Effective impunity generates political violence and is a serious destabilizing element in all contexts of the Burundi socio-political system. Respect for the rule of law is essential to maintain order and stability and to protect human rights in any country. Impunity encourages and perpetuates the mass violations of human rights. There have been periodical mass killings, but extremely few perpetrators have been brought to justice. Furthermore, impunity is an obstacle to democratic development and peace negotiations, and makes reconciliation difficult.”[1]

“An amnesty in Burundi is exactly the wrong direction to take,” said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch. “Many of the killings in Burundi, whether perpetrated by Tutsi or by Hutu, were crimes against humanity. A U.N. Commission has described some of them as genocide. How can there be any hope of justice and order in Burundi if crimes of this magnitude are left unpunished?

Human Rights Watch urged the creation of a new division of the existing International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to prosecute crimes committed in Burundi. It also recommended using foreign jurists within Burundian courts to speed judging the thousands of persons accused of ethnic killings and other attacks since 1993.[2]

§496. “[3]Having concluded that acts of genocide against the Tutsi minority were committed in Burundi in October 1993, the Commission believes that international jurisdiction should be asserted with respect to these acts.”

It should recalled also that the FNL are the result of a merger between the PALIPEHUTU militias and the ex-FAR/Interahamwe. The agreement to implement that fusion was signed in Cibitoke, Burundi on May 28, 1997. The FDD also cooperate closely with the ex-FAR/Interahamwe, following other agreements signed between then CNDD-FDD’ chairman Leonard Nyangoma and ex-FAR’s Commander in Chief, General Augustin Bizimungu. The UN released these agreements, and reports by Human Rights Watch revealed that nearly 60% of the militia that were terrorizing the neighborhood of Bujumbura were half-Burundian, half-Rwandan …

International Crisis Group report dated 18.05.2001 confirms that cooperation or merger: ” The presence of armed elements of the Rwandan Hutu opposition in Burundi and the rebel PALIPEHUTU association with the RAF is old. “

Cooperation between genocidal militias is limitless. The same report from International Crisis Group warns that “contacts between the political branches and the staffs FDD of Jean Bosco Ndayikengurukiye and FNL of Agathon Rwasa are now regular. In addition to a meeting in late March Mayotte between politicians from two movements, Rwasa also visited Lubumbashi at the same time for a congress of the FDD in order to devote the alliance of two rebel movements. The FDD and FNL refuel in uniforms, weapons and ammunition via Kivu, are doing a hand if necessary and exchange information on the positioning and movement of the Burundian army [28].

In 1997, the UN published the report S/1997/1010 proving that “there is close link between the Rwandan and Burundian insurgent forces, including increasing coordination, cooperation and joint planning between the former Rwandan government forces/Interahamwe and the Burundian Conseil National pour la Defense de la Démocratie and its military wing, the Front pour la Défense de la Démocratier (CNDD-FDD (§ 108 d) The following year, in 1998 the same UN published another report, S/1998/777 proving once again that ” very close co-operation exists between the ex-FAR and two of the Burundian rebel groups: CNDD/FDD and the Parti pour la libération du peuple hutu (PALIPEHUTU) and its military wing, the Forces Nationales de Libération (FNL).” (paragraph 46)

The same report publishes the ” Cooperation Agreement (in Appendix II) signed May 22, 1995 in Bukavu (Democratic Republic of Congo) by the high command of the FAR and the CNDD, formalizing cooperation between the two parties. It was signed by Leonard Nyangoma, President of the CNDD, and Major General Augustin Bizimungu, Commander and Chief of Staff of the ex-FAR. In the preamble to this document, both sides say they are “convinced of the benefits of pooling resources, both material and financial, and coordination of all actions that are needed to ensure a final victory of the FAR and FDD. “(paragraph 47)

On May 21, 1997, another cooperation agreement was signed in DRC between the FNL’s Kagoma battalion and the FAR. It translates as: “We, the delegations of the Kagoma Battalion and Forces Nationales de Liberation, having met successively on April 25 and April 26,1997; May 5 and tMay 21, 1997; have agreed to unite in order to fight our common enemy, namely the Mututsi and his acolytes; in view to free our beloved nation. To achieve this, after our meeting this May 21, 1997, our cooperation project was successful, and we have decided what follows:

1 ° The merger of the Forces under the name “NATIONAL LIBERATION FORCES”;

2 ° The Forces thus merged are dedicated to the total liberation of the Hutu Nation;

3 ° To achieve the objective assigned to the National Liberation Forces, it was decided to begin our struggle from the front of Burundi, the Rwanda front will come second;

4 Throughout the process of liberation, the two forces’ logistics, material, and human means are common.

In other words, the false rebels, who run the institutions of the puppet government in Bujumbura Burundi are not even Burundian!

Is there a reason why law and morality are so despised, even in Burundi? Is there a reason why criminals against humanity continue to be proclaimed kings in Burundi for the same crimes and same accomplices that put them to trial in the case of neighboring Rwanda?

Now that we have been honoring and incensing shame and dishonor, it is high time to go back and earnestly realize that happy and peaceful future is on the side of the proponents of the rule of law in Burundi.

[1] Economic and Social Council deferred E/CN.4/1996/4/Add.1 24 July 1995 § 37

[2] Human Rights Watch, Neglecting Justice in Making Peace, 2001

[3] International Commission of Inquiry for Burundi Final Report (S/1996/682)

Written by Richard Wilson

December 30, 2010 at 9:26 pm

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10th anniversary of the Titanic Express massacre: Statement from Burundian diaspora group Action Contre Genocide

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STATEMENT ON THE 10th COMMEMORATION OF THE TITANIC EXPRESS MASSACRE

On December 28th, 2000; the PALIPEHUTU-FNL terrorist organization attacked the Titanic Express bus at Mageyo in Burundi, and selectively killed all ethnic Tutsi and anyone who looked so or who happened to be travelling with a Tutsi. Twenty-one innocent people including children aged less than 5 years were thus massacred in cold blood.

As we commemorate this terrorist attack, the Toronto Branch of AC Genocide Canada expresses the deepest sympathy to the victims’ families and to all those who lost their loved ones in this ignoble attack.

The Toronto Branch of AC Genocide Canada recalls that this anniversary is made even bleaker by the impunity that PALIPEHUTU-FNL has been enjoying together with the ruling CNDD-FDD and FRODEBU, although both parties were found by UN inquiry commissions to have prepared and carried out genocide against the Tutsi in Burundi (Report S/1998/777, pages 10-24; Report S/1996/682, page 74).

The Toronto Branch of AC Genocide Canada strongly condemns once more the sustained support that the international community has brought to these organizations despite the unspeakable atrocities that they have committed.

The Toronto Branch of AC Genocide Canada condemns further the de facto amnesty that PALIPEHUTU-FNL has acquired as the United Nations and major world democracies supported peace negotiations in Burundi that put the enthronement of terrorist organizations before justice.

The Toronto branch of AC Genocide Canada recalls the United Nations that if impunity is prevailing in Burundi, it is because they have failed their obligations as parties to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide which binds the signatories to punish organizations which commit genocide.

The Toronto Branch of AC Genocide Canada invites the United Kingdom, Canada, and all other countries whose citizens were killed in Titanic Express massacre, to realize that:

(a) the decade-old promise by the Burundi government to investigate the Titanic Express attack has not materialized so far;

(b) as long as Burundi is governed by an organization like CNDD-FDD which, like the PALIPEHUTU-FNL, has committed genocide against the Tutsi without ever being tried, no reliable investigation can be made in the Titanic Express massacre or in any other atrocities;

(c) under Burundi’s current regime whereby the Head of State Pierre Nkurunziza, is a convict himself for his leading role in crimes against humanity, Burundi gives no hope of justice for the victims of atrocities that were committed by PALIPEHUTU-FNL, CNDD-FDD and FRODEBU organizations;

The Toronto Branch of AC Genocide Canada urges the United Nations to assign the above investigations to a neutral, international commission, and to establish an International Tribunal for Burundi that would try the accused in accordance with the UN report S/1996/682, Paragraph 496 .

The Toronto Branch of AC Genocide Canada reaffirms her belief that granting amnesty to organizations like PALIPEHUTU-FNL, CNDD-FDD and FRODEBU who have committed inamnistiable crimes, is double standard to the people of Burundi for whom crimes that are internationally punished, are deemed normal political activities and swept under the carpet with consent of the international community.

The Toronto Branch of AC Genocide Canada calls once again for the trial of all people and all organizations like PALPEHUTU-FNL, CNDD-FDD and FRODEBU who committed genocide and other crimes against humanity in Burundi.

Done at Toronto, December 28th, 2010.

Emmanuel Nkurunziza

Secretary,
Toronto Branch of AC-Génocide Canada www.acgenocide.blogspot.com

Written by Richard Wilson

December 28, 2010 at 5:57 pm

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Background and links on the Titanic Express massacre

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On December 28th 2000, twenty-one unarmed civilians, including my sister Charlotte Wilson (a British aid worker), and her Burundian fiancé Richard Ndereyimana, were massacred after their bus, bearing the ill-fated name “Titanic Express”, was ambushed in Bujumbura-Rurale, close to the Burundian capital Bujumbura.

According to survivors, the attackers opened fire on the bus at around 3.30pm local time (1.30pm in the UK), shooting out the tyres and forcing it to crash. A large, well-armed group then surrounded the vehicle, ordered the passengers out,  robbed them, and separated them according to their ethnicity. Several Hutus and Congolese were released unharmed. The remaining passengers were stripped to their underclothes, made to lie face down on the ground, and shot. Most of the victims were Rwandan and Burundian Tutsis. Charlotte Wilson was the only European on board.

Who carried out the attack?

The Titanic Express massacre took place in an area dominated by a Hutu-extremist rebel group known for its hatred of Tutsis, Palipehutu-FNL (aka “the FNL”). One survivor recounts that the attackers specifically identified themselves, saying “We are the FNL, not your FDD” (FDD was the FNL’s largest rival at the time). Others have simply described them as “rebels”.

In March 2001 Amnesty International listed the Titanic Express attack among several believed to have been carried out by the FNL. In May 2001, the International Crisis Group attributed the Titanic Express attack to FNL “troops under the order of… Agathon Rwasa”. A Human Rights Watch report from April 2000 lists a number of  carried out a number of similar attacks in the same area earlier in 2000.

In 2002, a document emerged which appears to be a detailed report by the FNL, signed by Commandant Albert Sibomana, of the Titanic Express attack, listing what was looted from the bus, how many people were killed and how many bullets were expended in killing them. Dozens of smaller attacks were listed in the same report.

Sibomana’s track record is bloodthirsty even by the standards of Burundi’s conflict. In February 2000, he reportedly oversaw the massacre of hundreds of his own comrades, after a split within the FNL.

At the time of the Titanic Express attack, Agathon Rwasa was FNL “Chief of Operations” around Bujumbura. In early 2001, he ousted the FNL’s then leader Kossan Kabura, and assumed overall control of the whole group.

Following years of negotiations, the FNL agreed to end hostilities in April 2009, and began disarming. But amid ongoing instability, the UN recently reported that Rwasa was remobilising his forces for a “new holy war” from bases in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Later I’ll add some links to further reading on Burundi’s recent history, and the long-promised plans for a UN-backed “Special Chamber” and Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Written by Richard Wilson

December 28, 2010 at 12:05 am

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December 28th 2010: Justice for Charlotte – Free Jean-Claude Kavumbagu

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

Charlotte Wilson, a British citizen, was killed in a bus massacre in Burundi on December 28th 2000. It was one of many brutal ethnic attacks by the Hutu-extremist “Forces Nationales de Liberation” (FNL). Despite repeated promises, the Burundian government has made no serious effort to investigate the killings, or prosecute those responsible.

On the 10th anniversary of Charlotte’s death, her family are urging the UK government to press Burundi to keep its promises, and bring the perpetrators of this massacre to justice.

If you have thirty seconds – please show your support by joining the Justice For Charlotte Facebook group.

If you have five minutes -please contact your MP via this website, asking them to raise Charlotte Wilson’s case with the UK Foreign Office.

Charlotte’s family are asking the UK government to press the Burundian President, Pierre Nkurunziza, to fulfil his longstanding promise to set up a special UN-backed court to investigate the many abuses committed during the country’s long civil war, and prosecute the worst offenders. Human rights experts argue that this approach offers the best hope of achieving both justice and peace in this troubled country. Charlotte’s family believe that the establishment of this special court will be a major step towards justice for the victims of the December 28th 2000 “Titanic Express” bus massacre.

If you have ten minutes - please Fax a or post a letter to Burundi’s President, Pierre Nkurunziza urging him to release the journalist Jean-Claude Kavumbagu.

Tragically, while the war criminals remain free, one of the Burundian journalists who has done most to highlight the Titanic Express massacre,  Jean-Claude Kavumbagu, has been languishing in prison since July. He is facing a criminal trial for “defamation” and “treason” after making critical comments about Burundi’s army.

Amnesty International have listed Jean-Claude as a Prisoner of Conscience and issued the following appeal:

PLEASE WRITE IMMEDIATELY in French, English, Kirundi or your own language:

  • expressing grave concern that journalist Jean-Claude Kavumbagu has been detained on charges of treason and defamation for criticizing the Burundian security services;
  • urging the authorities to release him immediately and unconditionally, as he is a prisoner of conscience detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression;
  • reminding the authorities that, as a state party to the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Burundi is obliged to uphold the right to freedom of expression.

PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 17 JANUARY 2011 TO:

President

Pierre Nkurunziza, Président de la République, Présidence de la République, Boulevard de l’Uprona, Rohero I, BP 1870, Bujumbura, Burundi

Fax: +257 22 24 89 08

Written by Richard Wilson

December 27, 2010 at 9:09 pm

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Message of support from Burundi opposition leader Alexis Sinduhije

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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.

Earlier today I emailed Alexis to tell him about my own plans for marking the 10th anniversary of the attack. I was pleased and encouraged to get this reply: “I support your action. I am on the same stand: justice, justice and justice for the victims of Titanic”.

Alexis speaks in more detail here about the wider need for justice in Burundi as a means of breaking the cycle of corruption and abuse.

Written by Richard Wilson

December 2, 2010 at 7:41 pm

Marking time – December 28th 2010

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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

Groundhog Day in Burundi…

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I spoke to a Burundian friend earlier this evening who is deeply concerned about rising tensions in his home country ahead of elections scheduled for June. A video on the “Burundi Transparence” website purports to show the ruling CNDD-FDD party’s youth militia acting out a show of strength in scenes worryingly reminiscent of pre-genocide Rwanda in 1994.

Human Rights Watch put out a detailed report on the militias mid-way through last year:

Beginning in December 2008, residents of Busoni commune, Kirundo province and Kayogoro commune, Makamba province reported “militia-like” activities by former FDD combatants and members of the CNDD-FDD youth league, known as “Imbonerakure.” The youth, with the acquiescence of local administrative, police, and party officials, carried out harassment and arrests of political opponents…

In Busoni commune, Kirundo province, the CNDD-FDD youth league engaged in “night-time sports,” which involved parading with large sticks in military fashion.[229] According to media reports, these youth also chanted threatening slogans about “crushing their opponents.” Jean Minani, a prominent parliamentarian from Busoni and founder of “Frodebu-Nyakuri,” a splinter group of FRODEBU that generally aligns with CNDD-FDD, told Human Rights Watch he had observed the activities. He confirmed that the youth were armed with sticks and clubs, and chanted slogans in Kirundi which roughly translated as “Those who are not with us will be sent into exile or die.”

The International Crisis Group warned today that:

The CNDD-FDD youth wing’s physical training, war songs and quasi-military organisation raise the spectre of militia violence and a large-scale intimidation campaign. The other former rebels, the Forces nationales de libération (FNL) and the Front pour la démocratie au Burundi (FRODEBU) are mobilising their own youth wings to oppose intimidation tactics. The police have remained passive or become accomplices to the ruling party’s abuses.

The ICG recommends that the international donor community:

Warn Burundian political leaders that those responsible for atrocity or other grave political crimes will be prosecuted – by the International Criminal Court or a special tribunal if necessary – and that targeted sanctions will be imposed on those resorting to massive fraud or violence to win the elections.

On the face of it this might sound reasonable enough, but to someone who’s been following the situation in Burundi for nearly a decade now, there’s an eerie sense of déja vu.

Here’s a report from 2005 on the violence that preceded the elections last time around:

[Nureldine] Satti demanded an investigation into mortar attacks that wounded five in the suburbs of the capital Bujumbura on Tuesday night, and recent reports of summary executions in Bujumbura Rural province… “We want to know the truth. The UN and the international community will not tolerate war crimes anymore. Any individual, any group responsible for war crimes will be held accountable for its acts,” he told a press conference.

And here’s a report from 2004, after Hutu-extremists massacred 160 Tutsi refugees at the Gatumba refugee camp in Burundi:

“The people who committed this terrible crime must be out of their heads. They are really terrorists,” Mrs [Agnes] Van Ardenne told reporters after visiting the refugee camp at the weekend. She said the suspects should be tried by the International Criminal Court. The FNL has indicated it will face its responsibility and appear before the court in The Hague. There will be no mercy for the perpetrators of the massacre, Mrs Van Ardenne said.

And here’s a UN security council statement from 1996:

The Council shares the Secretary-General’s deep concern at the situation in Burundi, which has been characterized by daily killings, massacres, torture and arbitrary detention. It condemns in the strongest terms those responsible for such actions, which must cease immediately… It reiterates that all who commit or authorize the commission of serious violations of international humanitarian law are individually responsible for such violations and should be held accountable.

Not one of these declarations has been honoured. Efforts to refer the Gatumba massacre to the International Criminal Court quickly stalled amid a lack of political will – and silence from the International Crisis Group. The UN’s longstanding promise of a “special chamber” for Burundi remains little more than a twinkle in Ban Ki Moon’s eye, having got lost in endless negotiations with the same Burundian government officials who would likely become defendants were it ever to get off the ground.

Threatening to prosecute people – as distinct from actually putting war criminals on trial – certainly has the advantage of being free and not particularly timeconsuming. But if the International Crisis Group is really in the business of trying to stop Burundi’s political elite from organising yet more mass-killings, it’s difficult to see how, on past form, getting donors to issue yet more empty threats is likely to make any difference at all to the situation. 

Written by Richard Wilson

February 12, 2010 at 11:59 pm

Cat-and-mouse game continues: Alexis Sinduhije re-released

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For more background on this, see yesterday’s post

From Agence France Press

BUJUMBURA — Burundian police on Tuesday freed an opposition leader they had confined to a relative’s house since the weekend for allegedly holding an illegal meeting.

Alexis Sinduhije, a former journalist, had been surrounded by police at a relative’s house in the eastern Ruyigi town since late Sunday, letting no one in or out of the house.

“I do not know why I was detained. I was not questioned and early this morning the police chief called just to say I was free to go and said nothing more,” Sinduhije told AFP by phone.

“The government does what it can to intimidate me because it is afraid of what I stand for. It is scared of losing the 2010 elections,” he added.

Sinduhije, 42, had previously been arrested in November 2008 for contempt against the head of state and freed in March after pressure by the international community.

His Movement for Solidarity and Development was registered as a political party only last month.

He launched the party at the end of 2007 when he stepped down from his job as the director of Radio Publique Africaine, one of the country’s most popular radio stations.

Presidential, national assembly and senate elections are due in Burundi next year. Opposition parties have accused President Pierre Nkurunziza of curbing basic freedoms in recent months in order to secure re-election.

Written by Richard Wilson

August 4, 2009 at 8:23 pm

A Place At the Table – Camden People’s Theatre April 16th – May 2nd

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From Indie London

DAEDALUS Theatre is presenting A Place at the Table at Camden People’s Theatre – from April 15 to May 2, 2009…

A Place at the Table draws on Burundian traditions and mythology and varying accounts of the recent history of the Great Lakes region of Africa in what is described as a bold new work of visual and verbatim theatre.

The international company includes artists from Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo, and campaigner Richard Wilson, who has spoken on and written about Burundi extensively since his sister, Charlotte Wilson, was killed in the country in the year 2000, is an advisor.

Performers include Naomi Grosset, Lelo Majozi-Motlogeloa, Jennifer Muteteli, Anna-Maria Nabirya, Susan Worsfold and Grace Nyandoro (singer).

Melchior Ndadaye, the first democratically elected president of Burundi, was assassinated in October 1993, just three months after his election. His assassination was one of the root causes of the subsequent ten year civil war in Burundi, and is closely tied to the causes and effects of several other conflicts in Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo, particularly those related to Hutu and Tutsi ethnicity.

A Place at the Table is directed, designed and produced by Paul Burgess, who has recently designed Cradle Me (Finborough Theatre), Our Country’s Good (Watermill Theatre), On the Rocks (Hampstead Theatre), Triptych (Southwark Playhouse), The Only Girl in the World (Arcola Theatre) and Jonah and Otto (Manchester Royal Exchange).

Written by Richard Wilson

April 15, 2009 at 8:02 pm

Jean-Claude Kavumbagu freed

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Last year I wrote about the arrest of the Burundian journalist Jean-Claude Kavumbagu, who was charged with “defamation” after his news agency wrote about President Nkurunziza’s personal expenditure at the Beijing Olympics. Jean-Claude was a huge help while I was researching and writing my first book, “Titanic Express”.

Following pressure from Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and – crucially – a number of donor governments, Jean-Claude has now been acquitted and freed. His release comes a week after the freeing of the celebrated former journalist and opposition leader Alexis Sinduhije, who was also featured in “Titanic Express”.

Written by Richard Wilson

March 21, 2009 at 12:09 pm

Reported assassination attempt against Alexis Sinduhije

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A few days ago I wrote about the release of Burundi opposition leader (and former journalist) Alexis Sinduhije, who I describe meeting in my book “Titanic Express”, and who has been very supportive over the case. I had been following Alexis’s fate since his arrest on trumped-up charges last November.

Now Alexis’s party, the Movement for Solidarity and Democracy (renamed recently from “Movement for Security and Democracy” after the authorities ruled it illegal for a party to include the word “Security” in its name) has reported that the bolts on the wheels of Alexis’s car have been tampered with, apparently with the intention of causing an accident. Although the damage was spotted and repaired before any harm could result, Alexis and his colleagues were then followed by the police, arrested, and held for several hours. 

Although Alexis has since been released (again), the Committee to Protect Journalists reports that a number of those arrested with him are still being held.

Written by Richard Wilson

March 19, 2009 at 9:50 am

Alexis Sinduhije thanks European nations for pressure to secure his release

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From Reuters

BUJUMBURA (Reuters) – A political activist jailed in Burundi four months ago for insulting President Pierre Nkurunziza was freed on Thursday and thanked Western nations which had pushed for his release.

Alexis Sinduhije, a prominent former journalist who founded a political party in 2007, was named in Time magazine’s 2008 list of the 100 most influential people in the world, under the category “Heroes & Pioneers”.

Hundreds of supporters, some diplomats and several human rights activists gathered from early morning outside the main prison in the capital Bujumbura. Some waved placards bearing his picture alongside U.S. President Barack Obama.

“I would like to thank particularly European countries like Britain, France, Germany and Belgium,” Sinduhije told reporters after his release. “I have got back my freedom because those countries put a lot of pressure on the Burundian authorities.”

Burundi was seen as an African success story after a long U.N.-backed peace process led to the election in 2005 of former rebel leader Nkurunziza. But the central African nation is often criticised for the way it deals with dissent, and Sinduhije had been especially harsh about its record on human rights.

Written by Richard Wilson

March 12, 2009 at 9:00 pm

“A victory for truth and justice” – Burundi opposition leader Alexis Sinduhije acquitted following major international pressure

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See also: Alexis Sinduhije jailed for “insulting the President”

Alexis Sinduhije speaks about his activism in an interview last year

-Update - the MSD say that Alexis is now free following his acquittal: “Bonne nouvelle – maintenant c’est vrai – il quitte la prison central. Tout le monde fête sa liberté – la ville de Bujumbura est devenue une grande célébration – les véhicules ne circulent pas… Merci pour le soutien”

Alexis Sinduhije, the Burundian former journalist (and now an opposition activist) who has been supportive of the Titanic Express case, and who I wrote about in my book of the same name, was arrested last November and charged with contempt for the President.

The CNDD-FDD ruling party, an ex-militia group led by  a warlord-turned “born again Christian”, Pierre Nkurunziza, took particular exception to Alexis having launched his own political party, the Movement for Security and Democracy (now renamed the Movement for Solidarity and Democracy, after the government announced that it was illegal for any political party to include the word “security” in its name).

Having risen to prominence as founder and director of “Radio Publique Africaine”, a radio station promoting reconciliation between the Hutu and Tutsi communities, Alexis is a popular figure in Burundi. Amid growing discontent over its corruption and brutality, CNDD-FDD fears that it may lose the 2010 elections and has been doing all it can to suppress any serious political opposition.

But the problem for a corrupt ex-militia group bent on preserving its own power in a small poverty-stricken nation heavily dependent on foreign aid, is that there comes a point at which European aid donors’ embarrassment at the way their money is being used starts to overcome their traditional reticence about human rights abuses by “client states” such as Burundi.

From Agence France Presse

BUJUMBURA (AFP) — A Burundi court acquitted leading opposition leader and former journalist Alexis Sinduhije Wednesday who had been charged with contempt for the president, his lawyer and judicial sources said.

“This is a victory for justice and truth that we owe to a great extent to pressures exercised on this country’s authorities,” Sinduhije’s lawyer Prosper Niyoyankana told AFP.

Several European ministers had urged Bujumbura to release Sinduhije, who was detained in November with 37 other founding members of his Movement of Security and Democracy party. The others were released shortly after.

Prosecutors in February demanded a two-and-a-half year sentence against Sinduhije for allegedly blaming purported corruption and murder scandals of the ruling CNDD-FDD party on “the man who spends all his time in prayer service.”

President Pierre Nkurunziza is said to be a born-again Christian who frequently organises large religious services.

Sinduhije, 42, founded the popular Radio Publique Africaine (African Public Radio) in 2001 in a bid to foster reconciliation between Tutsi and Hutu communities.

He then launched his party in December 2007 and vowed to run for the presidency in 2010.

He was picked by Time magazine last April in its annual selection of the world’s 100 most influential people.

Written by Richard Wilson

March 11, 2009 at 6:23 pm

Aid donors press Burundi to free Jean-Claude and Alexis

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alexis1

As I reported last year, two of the Burundians whose work informed my first book “Titanic Express” are now Amnesty International “Prisoners of Conscience”.

The journalist Jean-Claude Kavumbagu was arrested last September and charged with “defaming” the head of state after daring to write an article about the Burundian President’s expenditure at the Beijing Olympics.

The opposition leader and former journalist Alexis Sinduhije was arrested in November during a political crackdown on his party, the Movement for Security and Democracy.

free-alexis-sinduhuje

Supporters of Amnesty, and of the Movement for Security and Democracy, have been lobbying both Burundi’s government and its (mostly European) aid donors over the case. The MSD has raised pointed questions about the wisdom of aid donors continuing to give money to a regime in which corruption is endemic, and that prefers to spend its resources consolidating its own power than helping its people.

The UK government and others say that they are lobbying on this issue behind the scenes. Now the Belgian Development Minister Charles Michel, in a speech on aid, has called explicitly for Alexis and Jean-Claude to be released, along with another political prisoner, union leader Juvenal Rududira.

Written by Richard Wilson

February 26, 2009 at 9:50 am

Justice not therapy…

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Vintage stuff  by Ken Roth and the late great Alison Des Forges, in defence of the basic principles of international justice, and individual responsibility. From the Boston Review:

[Helena] Cobban argues that criminal prosecutions are a “strait-jacket” solution imposed from outside Rwanda. But the Rwandan government itself initially requested the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (though it later opposed it) and decided on national trials for the more than 100,000 jailed in Rwanda on charges of genocide…

Cobban’s analysis is most troubling when she resorts to medical metaphor. She acknowledges the planning and organization of the genocide by state authorities, detailing how killers coolly and regularly slaughtered Tutsis as daily “work.” Yet in her view, these were not horrible crimes but a “social psychosis,” not acts of volition but a “collective frenzy”; the architects of the genocide are not more culpable than ordinary killers but “sicker.”

Cobban’s analysis resembles that of the perpetrators themselves. They argued that the slaughter was “spontaneous,” committed by people driven mad out of fear and anger. Rwandan killers have indeed been traumatized but their ailment resulted from their conduct rather than causing it.

Mob psychology cannot explain choices made during the genocide: why some individuals killed for reward or pleasure, or from fear of punishment, while others did not. To judge the killers as merely “sick” devalues the courage and decency of the millions who resisted this inhumanity, sometimes at the cost of their lives.

Cobban’s medical metaphor allows no place for individual responsibility. A person plagued by cancer is a victim of unfortunate circumstance, but is not at fault. Murderers, let alone orchestrators of genocide, are different. When they corral victims into churches and stadiums and systematically slaughter them with guns and machetes, the killers are not the latest hapless victims of the genocidal flu. They are deliberate, immoral actors. Treating them as no more culpable than children who refuse to wear coats and catch cold is both wrong and dangerous. Wrong because it does a deep disservice to the victims, as if their deaths were a natural accident, not a deliberate choice. Dangerous because it signals to other would-be mass murderers that they risk not punishment but, at most, communal therapy sessions.

Written by Richard Wilson

February 22, 2009 at 3:56 pm

Alison Des Forges

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Earlier this week I had an invitation to a public meeting in London at which the renowned Human Rights Watch investigator Alison Des Forges would be speaking. Alison had taken a close interest in the December 2000 massacre which claimed 21 lives in Burundi, including that of my sister Charlotte. She had been enormously encouraging of our efforts to secure justice, and gave warm and generous feedback when “Titanic Express” was published in 2006. We’d been in touch a number of times over the years but I’d never met her in person.

In the months after Charlotte’s death, when I was desperately trying to understand the background to the brutal regional conflict which had claimed her life – and in the years that followed-  I also learned a huge amount from the wealth of material that Alison Des Forges has written, such as the extraordinary book (the full text of which is available online at the HRW website) “Leave None to Tell the Story”.

I wanted to go to Wednesday’s meeting but wasn’t able to make it. One always assumes there will be another opportunity. This morning I was devastated to read that, on her return from Europe, Alison Des Forges had been killed in the plane crash in New York State on Thursday evening. The news was announced by Human Rights Watch yesterday:

“Alison’s loss is a devastating blow not only to Human Rights Watch but also to the people of Rwanda and the Great Lakes region,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “She was truly wonderful, the epitome of the human rights activist – principled, dispassionate, committed to the truth and to using that truth to protect ordinary people. She was among the first to highlight the ethnic tensions that led to the genocide, and when it happened and the world stood by and watched, Alison did everything humanly possible to save people. Then she wrote the definitive account. There was no one who knew more and did more to document the genocide and to help bring the perpetrators to justice.”

Des Forges, born in Schenectady, New York, in 1942, began working on Rwanda as a student and dedicated her life and work to understanding the country, to exposing the serial abuses suffered by its people and helping to bring about change. She was best known for her award-winning account of the genocide, “Leave None to Tell the Story,” and won a MacArthur Award (the “Genius Grant”) in 1999. She appeared as an expert witness in 11 trials for genocide at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, three trials in Belgium, and at trials in Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Canada. She also provided documents and other assistance in judicial proceedings involving genocide in four other national jurisdictions, including the United States.

Clear-eyed and even-handed, Des Forges made herself unpopular in Rwanda by insisting that the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front forces, which defeated the genocidal regime, should also be held to account for their crimes, including the murder of  30,000 people during and just after the genocide. The Rwandan government banned her from the country in 2008 after Human Rights Watch published an extensive analysis of judicial reform there, drawing attention to problems of inappropriate prosecution and external influence on the judiciary that resulted in trials and verdicts that in several cases failed to conform to facts of the cases.

“She never forgot about the crimes committed by the Rwandan government’s forces, and that was unpopular, especially in the United States and in Britain,” said Roth. “She was really a thorn in everyone’s side, and that’s a testament to her integrity and sense of principle and commitment to the truth.”

Des Forges was not only admired but loved by her colleagues, for her extraordinary commitment to human rights principles and her tremendous generosity as a mentor and friend.

“Alison was the rock within the Africa team, a fount of knowledge, but also a tremendous source of guidance and support to all of us,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “She was almost a mother to us all, unfailingly wise and reasonable, absolutely honest yet diplomatic. She never seemed to get stressed out, in spite of the extreme violence and horror she had to deal with daily. Alison felt the best way to make things better was to be relentlessly professional and scrupulously fair. She didn’t sensationalize; her style was to let the victims speak for themselves.”

Corinne Dufka, another colleague who worked closely with Des Forges, wrote: “She always found the time to listen and helped me see outside the box. Alison inspired me to be a better researcher, a better colleague, a more giving mentor and a more balanced human being. She was also funny – her sardonic sense of humor, usually accompanied with that sparkle in her eye, lightened our burden.”

An historian by training, Des Forges wrote her PhD thesis on Rwanda and spent most of her adult life working on the Great Lakes region, despite an early stint in China with her husband, Roger, a professor of history and China expert at the University of Buffalo.

Des Forges graduated from Radcliffe College in 1964 and received her PhD from Yale in 1972. She began as a volunteer at Human Rights Watch, but was soon working full-time on Rwanda, trying to draw attention to the genocide she feared was looming. Eventually, Roth had to insist she take a salary. She co-chaired an international commission looking at the rise of ethnic violence in the region and published a report on the findings several months before the genocide. Once the violence began, Des Forges managed to convince diplomats in Kigali to move several Rwandans to safety, including the leading human rights activist Monique Mujawamariya.

As senior adviser to the Africa division at Human Rights Watch since the early 1990s, Des Forges oversaw all research work on the Great Lakes region, but also provided counsel to colleagues across the region and beyond. She also worked very closely with the International Justice Program because of all her involvement with the Rwanda tribunal.

“The office of the prosecutor relied on Alison as an expert witness to bring context and background and detailed knowledge of the genocide,” Roth said. “Her expertise was sought again and again and again by national authorities on cases unfolding in their courts of individuals facing deportation, or on trial for alleged involvement in the genocide.”

Most recently, Des Forges was working on a Human Rights Watch report about killings in eastern Congo.

Update – I was looking again just now at the online version of “Leave None To Tell The Story”. Since I first read it, back in 2001, Alison wrote an updated foreword, which gives one of the clearest explanations I’ve seen of the links between what took place in Rwanda, and the lesser-known conflicts in Burundi and the DRC:

In mid-1994 officials of the former [Rwandan] government, soldiers, and militia fled to the Congo, leading more than a million Rwandans into exile. They carried with them their ideology of Hutu supremacy and many of their weapons. They sought the support of local Congolese people as well as of the government, hoping to broaden their base for continued resistance against the RPF. They insisted that Rwandan Hutu and different Congolese groups were a single “Bantu” people because they spoke similar languages and shared some cultural traits. They said Tutsi were “Nilotic” invaders who, together with the related Hima people of Uganda, intended to subjugate the “Bantu” inhabitants. This “Bantu” ideology – and the RPF determination to counter it – informed the framework for much of the military conflict in the region for the next ten years.

In 1996 Rwanda and Uganda, led by President Yoweri Museveni, invaded the Congo. Rwanda wanted to eliminate any possible threat from the former Rwandan army and militia who were re-organizing and re-arming in refugee camps in eastern Congo. Uganda sought greater political influence and control over resources in the region. Together with their Congolese allies, the Rwandan and Ugandan troops moved rapidly westward, at first hunting down the remnants of the Rwandan Hutu from the refugee camps – combatants and civilians alike – but then setting another objective, that of overturning Mobuto and his government. They succeeded, but in 1998 the new Congolese government, led by Laurent Desire Kabila, turned against its former supporters. Kabila told the Rwandan and Ugandan troops to go home, thus provoking a new war. This second Congo war at one point involved seven African nations and a host of rebel movements and other local armed groups, all fighting to control the territory and vast wealth of the Congo. Casualties among civilians were enormous, from lack of food, medical care, and clean water as well as from direct attack by the various forces.

The real nature of this war, like that of the first, was for a long time disguised by the references to the genocide. In demanding a return to national sovereignty Congolese officials spoke in anti-Tutsi language and crowds in Kinshasa killed Tutsi on the streets. Rwanda sought to justify making war by claiming the need to eliminate perpetrators of the genocide who were operating in eastern Congo with the support of the Congolese government. Rwandan authorities continued to stress this supposed security threat from the other side of the border long after the numbers and resources of the former Rwandan army and militia had diminished and their members were widely scattered.

In 1997 and 1998, in the hiatus between the two Congo wars, soldiers and militia of the genocidal government, supported by thousands of new recruits, crossed from the Congo and led an insurrection in northwestern Rwanda. The RPF forces suppressed the rebellion at the cost of tens of thousands of lives, many of them civilians who happened to live in the area. A substantial number of the rebel combatants had not taken part in the genocide and seemed more focused on overturning the government than on hunting down Tutsi civilians, but others continued to harbor genocidal intentions and singled out Tutsi to be attacked and killed.

Events in Burundi, a virtual twin to Rwanda in demographic terms, first influenced and then were influenced by the Rwandan genocide. Burundi was already immersed in its own crisis with widespread ethnic slaughter in late 1993. These killings, as well as international indifference to them, spurred genocidal planning in Rwanda. After April 1994 Burundians viewed with horror the massacres of others of their own ethnic group in Rwanda, Tutsi identifying with victims of the genocide and Hutu identifying with those killed by RPF forces. Burundian Tutsi and Hutu feared and distrusted each other more because of the slaughter in Rwanda and each group vowed that its members would not be the next victims. Former Rwandan soldiers and militia at times joined Burundian Hutu rebel forces, bringing them military expertise and reinforcing their anti-Tutsi ideas. RPF soldiers on occasion came south to help the Burundian army prevent a victory by Hutu rebels.

Within Rwanda the RPF used the pretext of preventing a recurrence of genocide to suppress the political opposition, refusing to allow dissidents to organize new political parties and eliminating an existing party that could potentially have challenged the RPF in national elections. Authorities jailed dissidents and drove others into exile on charges of “divisionism,” equated to an incipient form of genocidal thinking even when opponents sought to construct parties that included Tutsi as well as Hutu. During 2003, under RPF leadership, Rwandans adopted a new constitution that enshrined a vague prohibition of “divisionism” and made liberties of speech, press, and association subject to regulation – and possible limitation – by ordinary law. In presidential and legislative elections, the RPF came close to asserting that a vote for others was a vote for genocide – past or future. With such a campaign theme and with a combination of intimidation and fraud, the RPF re-affirmed its dominance of political life.

In the years just after the end of the genocide, many international leaders supported the RPF as if hoping thus to compensate for their failure to protect Tutsi during the genocide. Even when confronted with evidence of widespread and systematic killing of civilians by RPF soldiers in Rwanda and in the Congo, most hesitated to criticize these abuses. Not only did they see the RPF as the force that had ended the genocide but they also saw all opponents of the RPF as likely to be perpetrators of genocide, an assessment that was not accurate either in 1994 or later. So long as the parties were defined this way, international leaders acquiesced inÑor even actively supportedÑthe RPF activities in the Congo. Similarly international actors frequently tolerated RPF limits on civil and political freedom inside Rwanda, readily conceding the RPF argument that the post-genocidal context justified restrictions on the usual liberties.

As the ten years after the genocide drew to a close, the international community moderated its support of the current Rwandan government and exerted considerable pressure to obtain withdrawal of its troops from the Congo. Some international leaders began to question the tight RPF control within Rwanda; diplomats and election observers from the European Union and the United States noted abuses of human rights that marred the 2003 elections. Despite these signs of growing international concern, the RPF-led government appeared firmly seated for the near future. Whether it will be able to assure long-term stability and genuine reconciliation may depend on its ability to distinguish between legitimate dissent and the warning signs of another genocide.

Human Rights Watch reissues this book – substantially the same as the original printing – to ensure that a detailed history of the genocide remains available to readers. Since its first publication in English and French, the book has appeared in German and will shortly be published in Kinyarwanda, the language of Rwanda. The horrors recorded here must remain alive in our heads and hearts; only in that way can we hope to resist the next wave of evil.

Written by Richard Wilson

February 14, 2009 at 11:11 am

Posted in Titanic Express

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New blog dedicated to securing the release of Alexis Sinduhije

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Earlier this week, members of the Burundian diaspora and their supporters demonstrated in Brussels, calling on the European Union – a major aid donor to Burundi’s government – to help secure the release of Alexis Sinduhije.

Alexis, who as an award-winning journalist helped a great deal over the years with efforts to secure justice over the massacre in which my sister was killed, was arrested on November 3rd and charged with “contempt for the President” after seeking to establish a new, multi-ethnic political party.

Amnesty International is supporting the calls for his release, and a new website has recently been launched to increase the pressure on Burundi’s ruling party, CNDD-FDD, to allow Alexis to go free.

Written by Richard Wilson

January 22, 2009 at 12:56 pm

Titanic Express case to feature in Channel Four short tomorrow evening

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At 7.55pm on Monday evening I’ll be on Channel Four,  in the first of a series of short films for the week of the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I’ll be talking about the massacre that formed the subject of my first book, Titanic Express – in relation to article eight of the UDHR, the right to justice. The film was made by Native Voice films, in collaboration with Amnesty International, and will be showing on Channel Four’s “3 minute wonder” slot. To give some sense of the detail that can go into a TV production, this 3 minute short took the best part of two days to film, with many hours more for editing. It was a fascinating process to be involved with, and from the edits I’ve seen so far I think they’ve done an excellent job.

There’s more background here about the Titanic Express ongoing campaign, and more here on the history of the case.

Written by Richard Wilson

December 7, 2008 at 6:35 pm

Human Rights Watch on the deadly consequences of UN wishful thinking in Congo

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William Swing

UN Congo chief William Swing withheld
evidence of DRC government atrocities

From Human Rights Watch

The United Nations and a number of bilateral donors invested significant financial and political capital in the [2006] Congolese elections, one of the largest electoral support programs in the UN’s history. But with the polls finished, they have failed to invest comparable resources and attention in assuring that the new government implements its international human rights obligations. For donor governments, concern about winning a favored position with the new government took priority over halting abuses and assuring accountability…

Donor governments said they would devote considerable financial and technical resources to security sector reform programs, but have yet to insist that such programs include adequate vetting to rid the military and law enforcement services of individuals in senior positions who have been implicated in serious human rights violations…

Following the killings in Bas Congo in February 2007, MONUC [the UN peacekeeping force in Congo] sent a multi-disciplinary team to investigate. Its report was not published for five months as it was deemed “too sensitive.” UN officials did not want to criticize the new government before securing its agreement on the role of MONUC in the post-electoral period. Similarly MONUC delayed publication of its report on the March 2007 events for fear of upsetting relations with Kabila.

Both reports were blocked by the head of MONUC, Ambassador William Swing, who deflected repeated requests from the UN Department for Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) in New York and from the then UN high commissioner for human rights, Louise Arbour, for the reports to be made public.

If the reports had been promptly published, they could have contributed to wider awareness of the serious violations committed and might have led to additional diplomatic pressure on the Congolese government to halt the abuses and hold the perpetrators accountable. The March 2007 investigation report was eventually published in French on January 4, 2008, after a copy was leaked to the press; no English version has been made public.

Burundi’s “forgiving” government criminalises homosexuality

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Burundi’s Christian evangelical President, Pierre Nkurunziza, may be having difficulty living up to the New Testament exhortation to forgive those he sees as his enemies, but he’s following the Old Testament strictures on homosexuality rather more rigidly. The Burundian Parliament has just rushed through legislation which will, for the first time in the country’s history, criminalise gay relationships, and President Nkurunziza is expected to endorse it shortly.

Burundi now appears to be following what we might call the “Ugandan model” of church-led jurisprudence, where those responsible for torture, mass-killings, and rape (so long as the victims are women, obviously) get pardoned by the state, leaving it free to expend its resources persecuting and publicly vilifying men who sleep with other men.

At moments like this it’s traditional for western media types to shrug their shoulders and say things like “Well, it’s their culture, isn’t it? Surely we have to respect their ways”.

So I thought it might be useful to post some thoughts from the veteran Burundian commentator and former statesman Gratien Rukindiza, who describes the new law as “retrograde, reactionary and fundamentalist”, and suggests that Burundi’s leaders “believe they are closest to God when they hurt the Burundian people”.

“The mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, is openly gay“, Rukindikiza points out. “He runs a city more populous than the whole of Burundi. The city is wealthier than Burundi. He is a respectable, honest man who will probably one day be President. Does the mayor of Bujumbura dare visit the mayor of Paris knowing that in Burundi, the law would send his host to jail?”

Written by Richard Wilson

November 25, 2008 at 1:32 am