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Posts Tagged ‘Burundi

Deadly crisis in Burundi – will the European Union act to prevent more deaths?

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Eyewitness: “I’m afraid that today a lot of people could be killed in Burundi”

Yesterday I ran the London marathon with my sister Catherine. We were doing this in memory of our older sister Charlotte, who was killed in a vicious massacre in Burundi in December 2000. As I ran I was acutely conscious that, fifteen years on, many more lives are now at risk in Burundi today.

National elections are due in the next few months, and the ruling party CNDD-FDD seems determined to suppress dissent, and prevent its rivals from contesting the election effectively. In the run-up to the elections, CNDD-FDD has been brutally attacking opposition parties, and harassing human rights activists and the independent media.

In recent weeks, thousands have fled to neighbouring Rwanda, reporting violence and threats from the ruling party’s armed youth militia, the Imbonerakure. Yesterday a number of deaths were reported at anti-government protests in Burundi’s capital Bujumbura. Today it has been reported that Burundi’s iconic human rights campaigner Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa has been arrested (following a long spell in detention last year), and arrest warrants issued for other leading activists.

The European Union – and a number of EU member states, in particular the Netherlands – are deeply implicated in the crisis now facing Burundi. The CNDD-FDD-led government is heavily bankrolled by the Netherlands and the European Commission aid programme, to the extent that the government would struggle to cling to power if this support was withdrawn.

In theory, European Commission aid money is conditional on recipient governments respecting the “Cotonou Agreement” – which commits signatories to tackling corruption, respecting human rights, and upholding the rule of law.

In practice, the European Commission has continued to fund the Burundian government despite mounting evidence of torture, extrajudicial killings, attacks on the media, and endemic corruption.

As ever, the lack of global attention on Burundi is an exacerbating factor. The country receives little media coverage at the best of times – but with so many other crises taking place right now there is a danger that Burundi will slip even lower down the international agenda.

CNDD-FDD appears to be counting on the fact that – as has happened in Burundi so many times before – it can commit acts of violence and repression without any great international outcry.

The European Commission, too, seems unlikely to change course unless it is forced to do so by the weight of public opinion.

But pressure has started to increase. Last year, Members of the European Parliament issued a strongly-worded statement denouncing the Burundian government’s abuses, and calling for “a clear and principled EU policy vis a vis Burundi that addresses the on-going serious human rights violations”. Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, condemned the EU’s “weak” stance on Burundi.

Both the US and UK governments have made strong and positive statements urging an end to the violence – but given the scale of the EU aid budget its voice is especially critical.

Burundians in Europe have been contacting their MEPs urging them to press the European Commission to use its influence to help end the Burundian government’s repression. If you have a moment to support this call, please write to your MEPs via

Written by Richard Wilson

April 27, 2015 at 11:55 am

Agathon Rwasa summoned to court to face justice over the Gatumba massacre

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Messy, chaotic – but a breakthrough nonetheless: Ten years after his troops massacred over 160 Congolese Tutsi refugees at a UNHCR camp in Burundi, ex-FNL leader Agathon Rwasa this week received a court summons to answer questions over the attack.

This follows a long and determined campaign by survivors and relatives of the dead, which included the submission, in August last year, of a criminal complaint against Agathon Rwasa and his former spokesman, Pasteur Habimana.  That in itself was a momentous achievement amid Burundi’s volatile and corrupt political landscape – where impunity is the norm and not one political leader has yet faced justice over the many massacres that took place during Burundi’s ten-year civil war. Over the past year, the Gatumba case has been stopped and restarted by the Burundian authorities, with the campaigners facing down pressure for them to drop the charges. The government’s shambolic handling of the case has continued this week, with Rwasa arriving at court to be told that the hearing had been postponed without explanation. Yet this is still the closest that the former FNL leader has yet come to facing justice over the mass-killings he has committed – and Pasteur Habimana has already appeared at the court four times.

Readers of this blog will know that I have a very personal interest in this issue – four years before the Gatumba massacre – in December 2000 – FNL troops under the command of Agathon Rwasa ambushed a bus close to the Burundian capital and killed 21 of the passengers – including my sister Charlotte and her fiancé Richard Ndereyimana. Like Gatumba, the attack was genocidal in character – Hutu passengers were released unharmed, with a message for the authorities: “We’re going to kill them all and there’s nothing you can do”.

Yet the Gatumba campaigners have shown that there is something you can do when a crime like this is committed – even in Burundi.

Agathon Rwasa’s supporters and sympathisers have sought to portray the case as a politically-motivated conspiracy by the Burundian ruling party to undermine their leader’s electoral ambitions.

This conveniently paints out of the picture the huge efforts that the Gatumba survivors have made – the pressures they have faced and the obstacles they have surmounted – in getting this case to court. It also ignores, again, the central fact of this case – the 160 living, breathing human beings – half of them children – whose lives were extinguished by Agathon Rwasa’s men on August 13th 2004. They are the reason that Rwasa is now, at last, facing some measure of justice.

Written by Richard Wilson

December 17, 2014 at 6:57 am

Posted in Don't Get Fooled Again

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Amnesty Urgent Action – Burundi: Free activist who spoke out

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From Amnesty International



Anti-corruption activist Faustin Ndikumana was arrested on 7 February and charged with making “false declarations”. He had alleged that some magistrates had got their posts by bribing officials in the Ministry of Justice.

Faustin Ndikumana is President of Words and Action for the Awakening of Conscience and the Evolution of Mindsets (PARCEM). He wrote to the Minister of Justice asking him to investigate and halt corruption in the recruitment of judges. He held a press conference and gave radio interviews on 3 February denouncing alleged corruption within the Ministry.

He was arrested on 7 February, questioned by a magistrate at the Anti-Corruption Court and charged with making “false declarations” under Article 14 of the Anti-Corruption Law. He could face five to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to 1,000,000 Burundian francs (US$ 775). It appears that he was arrested on the basis of a judicial complaint filed by the Minister of Justice. Societies and associations can also be prosecuted under the law and fined up to 10,000,000 Burundian francs (US$7,750).

Faustin Ndikumana is detained in Mpimba Central Prison, in the capital Bujumbura, and held in overcrowded and insanitary conditions. He is detained in violation of Burundian law. Under Article 71 of the criminal code, pre-trial detention must only be used where it is necessary to preserve evidence, protect public order, protect the suspect, prevent the crime from continuing or to ensure that the suspect appears in court.

Amnesty International considers Faustin Ndikumana a prisoner of conscience detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression. His detention may have a chilling effect on other civil society activists and journalists in Burundi. It could increase self-censorship, as they seek to protect themselves from arbitrary arrest.

Please write immediately in French, English or your own language:
–    expressing concern that Faustin Ndikumana has been detained on defamation charges for denouncing reports of corruption within the Ministry of Justice;
–    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 on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Burundi is obliged to uphold the right to freedom of expression.


His Excellency Pierre Nkurunziza
Président de la République du Burundi
Bureau du Président
Boulevard de l’Uprona
Rohero I, BP 1870
Bujumbura, Burundi
Fax: +257 22 22 74 90
Salutation: Votre Excellence / Your Excellency

First Vice-President
His Excellency Thérence Sinunguruza
Bureau du Président
Boulevard de l’Uprona
Rohero I, BP 1870
Bujumbura, Burundi
Fax: +257 22 22 74 90
Salutation: Votre Excellence / Your Excellency

And copies to:
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Monsieur Laurent Kavakure
Ministère des Relations Extérieurs et de la Coopération Internationale
Bdg Grand Bureau, Bvd de la Liberté
BP 1840, Bujumbura, Burundi
Fax: +257 22 22 39 70
Salutation : Monsieur le Ministre / Dear Minister
Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country.

Please check with your section office if sending appeals after the above date.


Burundi has a vibrant civil society which continues to speak out despite government attempts to silence it. The authorities have used harassment by judicial authorities, arbitrary arrests, prolonged pre-trial detention, and procedural violations of Burundian law to unduly restrict freedom of speech.

Burundi is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights which protect freedom of expression. It is well established under international law that public officials must tolerate more, rather than less, criticism than private individuals.

Defamation or false declaration charges are regularly brought against civil society activists, human rights defenders and journalists. They often result in prolonged pre-trial detention seemingly in attempts to silence government critics. Juvenal Rududura, vice-president of the trade union of non-judicial staff of the Ministry of Justice, was detained on charges of making false statements in September 2008. He had also alleged corruption in recruitment at the Ministry of Justice. He was detained for 10 months without trial, and the charges against him were never formally dropped.

The independence of the judiciary in Burundi is regularly compromised through political interference. The United Nations Independent Expert on the human rights situation in Burundi, Fatsah Ouguergouz, cited problems with judicial independence as a key weakness of Burundi’s justice system in his May 2011 report.

Name: Faustin Ndikumana
Gender m/f: m

UA: 44/12 Index: AFR 16/001/2012 Issue Date: 9 February 2012

Written by Richard Wilson

February 9, 2012 at 9:08 pm

Attacks on Congolese civilians increase as Agathon Rwasa’s FNL prepare for new “holy war”

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Agathon Rwasa is the militia leader 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 Republic of Congo, in preparation for a new “holy war”. The Banyamulenge blog  Journal Mibembwe gives more details:

From Journal Mibembwe:

As was reported recently in our news, the security continues to deteriorate in the high plateaux of Bijombo, district of Uvira, where most civilians from the Banyamulenge ethnic group are still victims of the ongoing conflicts in the region. These people, mostly pastoralists, have nothing to do with politics. Those who managed to escape, however, still face the same situation where their killers followed them even across the borders in the neighbouring countries like Burundi where many hundreds have been slaughtered in a refugee camp in August 2004.

Some of those who claimed responsibility in the killings, like Mr. Agathon Rwasa, still move around freely. Instead of being arrested and judged for his acts, credible sources say that this experienced killer, Agathon Rwasa, has found refuge in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Banyamulenge community feel threatened by his presence in the region.

Last time we reported a transfer of some the FARDC army commanders in the high plateaux of Bijombo, causing increased fear in the Banyamulenge community of more insecurity and threats carried out by the government troops in their villages. This is seen by many as the continuation of some politicians’ plans, like ANZULUNI BEMBE  from 1993, to exterminate the Banyamulenge under the pretext that they are ‘foreigners’ or just for who they are, like what Agathon Rwasa has done in Gatumba (Burundi) in 2004.

Written by Richard Wilson

December 18, 2010 at 11:03 pm

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

Burundi’s FNL Hutu militia mobilising for new “holy war”

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Earlier this week I wrote about my plans for marking the 10th anniversary of the December 2000 massacre in which my sister Charlotte was killed. Today I was sent a UN report suggesting that the group responsible, Burundi’s hardline Hutu FNL militia, are mobilising in the Democratic Republic of Congo for a new “holy war”.

From the Final report of the UN Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (page 32), 29th November 2010:

113. During its mandate, the Group has followed closely the remobilization of the Burundian rebel group, FNL. Led by Agathon Rwasa, FNL combatants were either integrated into the Burundian security services or were demobilized in mid-2009. Rwasa was to have been one of the main candidates in the 2010 presidential elections in Burundi, but withdrew from the contest citing concerns over fraud, after FNL and other opposition parties were heavily defeated by the ruling Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie-Forces pour la défense de la démocratie party of Pierre Nkurunziza, in local elections held on 24 May. In early July, Rwasa disappeared from Bujumbura.

114. According to multiple credible sources in Uvira, Rwasa crossed into the Democratic Republic of the Congo north of Kavimvira with the support of Colonel Baudoin Nakabaka (deputy commander of the 10th military region of FARDC) (see S/2009/603, paras. 25-27, 29-31, 33, 39, 70, 73, 80, 150, 159 and annexes 14, 50and 51). According to Congolese intelligence and several local sources, Rwasa was subsequently transported to Bukavu by Nakabaka and stayed with the commander of the 10th military region of FARDC, General Patrick Masunzu (see S/2009/603, paras. 25, 29, 48, 53, 158 and 159). The Group met eyewitnesses who confirmed Rwasa’s subsequent presence in Mwenga, where, according to Congolese intelligence services, he met FDLR representatives to form an alliance. According to diplomatic sources in the region, FDLR and Nakabaka have promised to provide financial backing for FNL.

115. Since Rwasa’s departure from Burundi, FNL has reportedly mobilized an estimated 700 of its most experienced combatants within the Democratic Republic of the Congo alone. According to diplomatic sources and former members of FNL, as at September 2010 there were more than 400 combatants based in the high plateaux of Minembwe, more than 200 in Kiliba, north of the Burundi border, another 100 north of Sange in the Ruzizi plain and an unknown number in Fizi territory. According to the same sources, those forces are led by Antoine “Shuti” Baranyanka, the former chief military commander of FNL. Instead of being integrated into the Burundian army with the rank of lieutenant general, Baranyanka opted to be demobilized in what analysts considered a “reserve option” for Rwasa in case of an adverse result in the Burundian elections (see annex 12).

116. In addition to its alliance with FDLR, FNL has also reportedly joined forces with the Mai Mai Yakutumba of the Bembe community in Fizi territory. According to MONUSCO and diplomatic sources, FNL has benefited from FDLR and Mai Mai Yakutumba’s strategic access to ports commonly used for smuggling across Lake Tanganyika. The Group has learned that, as a result, Rwasa himself has been able to make frequent trips between the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kigoma and Dar es Salaam in the United Republic of Tanzania. The Group also obtained documents of ongoing investigations concerning the disappearance of weapons within the FARDC Zone 4 headquarters, commanded by Colonel Bernard Byamungu (see S/2009/603, annex 124). According to FARDC sources, those weapons could have been supplied to FNL.

117. Eyewitnesses to FNL recruitment activities along the Burundi/Democratic Republic of the Congo border informed the Group that FNL was offering 80,000 Burundian francs to new recruits but selecting only those with previous combat experience. This is likely to include sympathizers who have deserted the ranks of the Burundian security services; the Group has confirmed 20 such cases through interviews with FNL defectors. Burundian authorities have attempted to arrest potential candidates crossing into the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The highest-ranking officer from the Burundian army to join FNL in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was Major Nzabampema who, according to Burundian intelligence services, survived an ambush en route to joining “Shuti” at Kiliba.

118. In addition, according to sources in the Burundian police and intelligence services, FNL has benefited from the support of Burundian businessmen. Former members of FNL informed the Group that some of the businessmen had provided “Shuti” with over $30,000 in order to begin his recruitment. According to those same sources, when the FNL leadership was negotiating with representatives of the Burundian Government in the United Republic of Tanzania in 2008, one of those businessmen proposed to Rwasa that FNL attack Bujumbura, during which operation he promised to deliver support from soldiers in the Burundian army.

119. In his public statements, Rwasa has explicitly denied that he was involved in a new armed rebellion. However, numerous credible sources informed the Group that Rwasa had made statements to his supporters that this new war would be a “holy war” and would transcend ethnicity. Meanwhile, members of other opposition political parties have also joined the ranks of FNL, including some members of MSD, which commands a strong following among the country’s urban Tutsi youth. While not significant in numbers, FNL does receive some support from its fellow opposition party, the Union for Peace and Development (UPD), led by Hussein Rajabu, who is imprisoned. According to Burundian authorities, a UPD leader by the name of Jean-Petit has joined Rwasa’s new rebellion. According to former FNL sources, Rwasa is exploring ways to finance his movement through involvement in the gold trade.

Written by Richard Wilson

December 2, 2010 at 9:02 am

Posted in Democracy

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Guest post: “the Burundian diaspora will need to pick up signs, rally, blog, write letters to editors to educate the donors’ taxpayers” – Thierry Uwamahoro

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“Free Kavumbagu” cause makes its way to the Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington, DC – guest post by Thierry Uwamahoro

Yes, you saw right! That was a “Free Kavumbagu” sign among the thousands of other rally signs that either made you laugh or left you scratching your head as you attempted to understand what they meant or who their intended audience was.

This Saturday (10.30.10), hundreds of thousands of Americans flocked to Washington, DC to join a rally whose objective was to restore sanity in the discourse of American politics.

However, American politics are never too far from world affairs as the American people pride themselves in calling their President, the “Leader of the Free World”. As a Burundian residing near Washington, DC, I was drawn to think of a fellow Burundian – a journalist – who was not part of the “Free World” as the Rally to Restore Sanity went on.

Jean Claude Kavumbagu is an internationally-renowned journalist and human rights defender who has been unjustly arrested five times in this decade, but has never been found guilty. Today, he remains behind bars, despite promises by Burundian authorities and global calls for his release.

On July 17th, 2010, Jean Claude Kavumbagu was arrested and later jailed over an article that he published on his online journal “Net Press”. The article questioned the preparedness of the Burundian security forces, were the Somalia based militia Al-Shabab to attack Bujumbura (Burundi). The Burundian government considered the publication of such article “treason”, a charge that carries a life imprisonment sentence. Paradoxically, treason is an offense that Burundian law only recognizes when the country is at war due to external aggression. This is not the case today!

Last September, after meetings with some of Burundi’s highest officials, Omar Faruk Osman (President of the Federation of African Journalists) and his delegation left Bujumbura (Burundi) on a highly promising and optimistic note summed up in these words: “We agreed with the leadership of the country the urgency to resolve the case of Kavumbagu and our message was clear that was no longer a mere Burundian affair but an African and international press freedom case”.

Jean Claude Kavumbagu’s freedom has become a national, regional, continental and global issue. The Union of Burundian Journalists and the entire Burundian civil society, the East African Journalists Association, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, the Federation of African Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, FrontLine, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the International Federation of Journalists, Human Rights Watch; to name just a few – have all called for the release of Jean Claude Kavumbagu.

But all these calls have fallen on deaf ears. Mr. Kavumbagu has –this week – passed the 100 day mark behind bars in the notorious “Mpimba” prison, despite his constitutional rights to freedom of opinion and expression. The call for Kavumbagu’s freedom must not fade. This is no time to despair and quit.

But why carry the call to Washington, DC? This week, according to the journal Arc-en-Ciel, Washington hosted a high level delegation comprised of Burundian security apparatus heavyweights: the Director of military cabinet in the office of the President (Major General Evariste Ndayishimiye), the Minister of Internal Security (General Alain Guillaume Bunyoni) and the army chief of staff (Major General Godefroid Niyombare) alongside the top civilian advisor to the President. The delegation’s goal, according to trusted sources, was to promote greater cooperation between Bujumbura and Washington, and to secure funding for capacity building projects for Burundian securities forces.

If Washington and the American taxpayers are to fund these forces (the same forces that are carrying out the arrests of journalists), one can safely assume that Washington will have a greater voice in demanding that these security institutions improve their human rights record; or, at least, that should Washington voice any concern, Bujumbura would listen.

Ideally, a few months after celebrating our 48th independence anniversary, Burundians should not be expecting foreign powers’ coercion to be the safeguard to our freedoms. However, we have to be realistic. When a given government’s budget is financed at the tune of 70% by the international community, the perverse outcome is accountability to its donors (instead of its citizens). It is unfortunate! In the meantime, the Burundian diaspora will need to pick up signs, rally, blog, write letters to editors wherever they reside to educate the donors’ taxpayers. This Saturday, a few Americans learned of Burundi and of another name that they weren’t able to pronounce: Kavumbagu.

by Thierry Uwamahoro

Written by Richard Wilson

November 1, 2010 at 10:17 pm