The Roman Catholic church in Burundi has called for the world to recognise the 1972 massacres, which targeted a group of the population who died in “atrocious conditions”, as genocide, said Bishop Simon Ntamwana, who heads the Gitega Catholic Diocese.
Burundi’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission chairperson Pierre Claver Ndayicariye said it had recorded around 4 700 mass graves around the country. He said most held the remains of Hutus citizens killed in different wars in the country.
In Karusi, central Burundi, near the border with Gitega, around 6 032 remains were discovered in six mass graves of the victims of the 1972 mass killings where President Micombero Government targeted intellectuals from Hutu backgrounds and monarchy supporters.
“They were arrested in various work places, homes and even at the church and they were brought in prison. The following day, military vans came to take them to the execution field.
“They were then thrown into mass graves and a Caterpillar was there to close the mass grave,” Ndayicariye said.
Among the victims are many Catholic priests and nuns. One of them, Father Michel Kayoya, was killed with six of his nuns.
In the mass graves, families recognised some of the belongings of their loved ones who disappeared.
“My husband was a military officer. He left in civilian clothes to the market. He wanted to get some information about what was happening. He never returned.
“I learned he was arrested with his two colleagues who were serving as military officers. Today, I recognised his coat, glasses and shoes,” Ruth Nyambere testified.
Baranyanka, one of the survivors who was in jail with many of the victims, says the crimes were planned because all the state officials and the ruling party, Union for National Progress (Uprona), were involved in the arrests, disappearances and assassinations of the elites from the Hutu ethnic group. He said that he survived because he had a Tutsi- looking face.
Burundi ethnic groups include the Hutu majority, Tutsi and Twa (pygmies). The two first ethnic groups fought several times, culminating in the assassination of president Melchior Ndadaye in October 1993, followed by a civil war that lasted more than a decade.
Ndadaye was the first Hutu democratically elected president and his assassination by the Tutsi-dominated army triggered a civil war that ended with talks led by Nelson Mandela that brought to power the ruling National Council for the Defense of Democracy – Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDDFDD), a Hutu-dominated party, since 2005.
The Tutsi community also claims that after 1993, Hutus killed Tutsis and said this could also be seen as genocide.