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UN warns of renewed genocide in Burundi – 12 years on from Gatumba

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Choir at the UK commemoration of the August 13th 2004 Gatumba massacre

On the 12th anniversary of the Gatumba massacre, the UN has warned that Burundi is again facing the prospect of genocide – amid “systematic torture directed towards certain political and ethnic groups”.

The UN has also spoken out against the worrying escalation in “genocidal rhetoric”.

There’s a more detailed briefing from Amnesty International here on the deteriorating situation.

Written by Richard Wilson

August 14, 2016 at 9:13 am

“Stand up if you’re England!” – why I’m voting #Remain

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On a warm summer’s day in Amsterdam, many years ago, I had a small moment of revelation about what it means to be English.

It was England vs Denmark – our fourth game of the 2002 World Cup. We’d beaten Argentina in the group stages, avenging the defeat that sent us crashing out in 1998. And despite the six more years of hurt that had passed since “Football’s Coming Home” became England’s unofficial national anthem, I still believed we could go all the way.

I was in a bar, watching the game with my girlfriend. Being Belgian, Heleen shared neither my enthusiasm nor optimism about the match, but gamely indulged me. We’d been together less than a year, still in the phase of happily tolerating each other’s foibles.

It felt like a good time to be English. If the 90s notion of “Cool Britannia” had lost some of its charm, I still had the sense of a nation that was far more hopeful, outward-looking and at ease with itself than during my childhood – an era punctuated by strikes, riots, and IRA bomb attacks.

And it was a glorious game – England were 1-0 up within five minutes, when Sorensen fumbled a header from Rio Ferdinand. Michael Owen made it 2-0 soon afterwards. Heskey scored a third just before half time.

The match finished 3-0. As we emerged into the sunshine, we found ourselves in a beautiful Amsterdam square filled with crowds of cheering, white-clad, England fans.

“Ingalund, Inglalund, Ingalund!” sang the English, raising their beer glasses in the summer air.

“Ingalund, Ingalund, Inga-laa-und!”

“Ingalund, Ingaland, Ingalund!”

“Ingalund, ING-GA-LUND!”

We smiled and nodded.

Then they turned their attention to the increasingly-uncomfortable non-English audience passing through the square.

If it wasn’t for the English, you’d be Krauts!”, sang my compatriots, referencing – arguably somewhat simplistically – the role played by England during World War II.

If it wasn’t for the English, you’d be Krauts!

“If it wasn’t for the English, wasn’t for the English, wasn’t for the English you’d be Krauts!”.

By this point, my Belgian girlfriend was pretty uncomfortable too.

“Stand UP… if you’re Ingalund!”, they shouted

“Stand up… if you’re Ingalund!”

“Stand up… if you’re Ingalund!”

“Stand up… if you’re Ingalund!”

As they looked around the square, trying to make eye contact and gesturing for us to stand with them, I knew I had far more of an affinity – far more of a sense of solidarity and kinship – with the awkward Dutch passers-by, and the beautiful Belgian I was with, than with my drunk English compatriots.

The June 23rd referendum on Britain’s EU membership looks likely to be very tight. For sensible, pragmatic reasons, much of the debate has centred around the argument that Britain – and England – will be safer and more prosperous within the European Union than outside it.

But I know that in practice – as with last year’s referendum on Scottish independence – for many English people this vote will partly be about how we see ourselves as a nation.

There is an idea of England, and Englishness, that emphasises our separateness – that will always define itself in opposition to the rest of Europe, distrusting the French and the Germans, and patronising the Belgians, Scots, Welsh, Irish, and Dutch. An idea of England defined, perhaps above all else, by the defeat of Germany in “two World Wars and one World Cup”.

This version of our national identity is expressed so loudly, brashly, and frequently, that it can start to seem like the only way. Either you “stand up” and join the white-clad drunks hurling chauvinistic abuse at random passers-by, or you vacate the square.

But there is another way of thinking about English identity – one that can be outward-looking, not insular, despite our island status. An idea of Englishness that, rather than augmenting differences, emphasises our closeness to – and solidarity with – our European neighbours.

Amid the jingoistic focus on vanquished Germans, it’s worth remembering that the starting point for British engagement in World War I was the commitment to support our allies in Belgium – while our role in World War II began with a decision to defend the Poles.

In myriad ways, Britain, and England, have been actively engaged with the rest of Europe for centuries. It seems to me that our EU membership can be seen as the natural – and happily now far more peaceful – continuation of this.

So on June 23rd I will “stand up”. But I’ll be standing up for a very different kind of England than that represented by my brash, beer-swilling compatriots, long ago in that square in Amsterdam.

In voting Remain, I’ll be standing up for an England at ease with its identity as a European nation – and for an idea of Englishness based on co-operation and respect, not division and chauvinism.

I’ll also be standing up for the beautiful Belgian who is now my wife – and for our two young children, who are as at home on the continent as they are here in London.

Written by Richard Wilson

May 18, 2016 at 12:10 pm

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

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“They know who did it and they’re not acting” – the Gatumba massacre 10 years on

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From Amnesty UK / Blogs

On Saturday I listened while survivors of the Gatumba massacre recounted the horrors they witnessed on the night of August 13th 2004, when more than 160 Congolese Banyamulenge Tutsis were hunted down and killed at a refugee camp in Burundi. The most heart-wrenching stories were those of the little children, too scared to hide and too small to run away, who were shot, macheted or burned to death simply because they were Tutsi.

The refugee camp had supposedly been under United Nations protection, but neither they nor the Burundian army did anything to stop the slaughter. Ten years on, neither have done anything to prosecute the killers.

The day after the Gatumba attack, a Burundian Hutu-extremist group Palipehutu-FNL admitted responsibility, citing other unpunished massacres in justification – as if the moral abhorrence of one atrocity could somehow be cancelled out by another.

In 2005, the FNL leader, Agathon Rwasa, was given immunity from prosecution. He is now living comfortably in the Burundian capital Bujumbura, and is tipped to run as a candidate in next year’s Presidential elections.

As Amnesty reported last month, while the authorities in Burundi have been vigorously harassing and jailing their critics, impunity for those committing serious human rights abuses has been near-universal.

Survivors of Gatumba are bewildered – and angry – that the international community has done so little to bring the murderers to book, despite strong calls at the time by the African Union and UN Security Council for justice “without delay”. A promise by the Burundian government to refer Gatumba to the International Criminal Court has never been fulfilled.

[Read more]

Written by Richard Wilson

August 17, 2014 at 4:10 pm

#Gatumba anniversary – statement from Ubuntu

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PRESS RELEASE 13/08/2013


Ten years have passed since 164 Congolese citizens were savagely killed, some burned alive, on 13 August 2004. The victims were slayed while under the protection of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in the Gatumba refugee camp in Burundi. Hundreds of others were injured. The overwhelming majority of victims – many of them women and children – belonged to the Banyamulenge community. They had sought refuge in Burundi to escape from political oppression in South Kivu, Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

A report dated 18 October 2004 jointly produced by the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), the United Nations Operation in Burundi (ONUB) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) concluded that the attack was clearly directed against the Banyamulenge refugees and apparently, ethnically and politically motivated. Various sources, including the above UN report as well as a report by Human Rights Watch, compiled credible evidence leaving little doubts over the responsibilities in the massacre. The evidence clearly indicated that the Burundian Forces Nationales de Libération (PALIPEHUTU-FNL), the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), the Congolese army (FARDC) and Mayi Mayi militia were directly involved in the Gatumba massacre.

The UN report asserted that many of these foreign armed groups operating in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi border region harbour resentments against the targeted group and others such as FARDC and Mayi Mayi militia may have political motives for preventing the refugees from returning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. PALIPEHUTU-FNL, then a rebel movement led by Agathon Rwasa, openly confessed its responsibility in this massacre. The ideology underlying the commission of the genocide in Rwanda one decade earlier was evident in the perpetration of the Gatumba massacre in August 2004. The UN report documented the fact that the attackers chanted such slogans as “we will exterminate all the Tutsis in Central Africa”; “kill these dogs, these Tutsis”; “today, you Tutsis, whether you are Rwandese, Congolese or Burundian, you will be killed”.

The massacre was widely condemned by several countries from around the globe as well as by supranational institutions such as the African Union, the European Union and the United Nations. Many of them pledged to support endeavours aimed at bringing the perpetrators to justice. The United Nations urged countries in the sub-region to cooperate in investigating the massacre and bringing perpetrators to justice. Ten years after the event, no single step has been taken to deliver justice for the slain and surviving victims of the Gatumba massacre. The uproar that accompanied the commission of the crime has faded and victims face the sad prospect of never seeing justice done. The peculiar circumstances of a crime committed against Congolese citizens, on Burundian territory, reportedly by Congolese national army and armed groups reportedly originating from three different or neighbouring countries of the region complicate, if not annihilate any prospects of domestic prosecutions against perpetrators of the crime.

Victims are nonetheless still crying for justice. The inaction of Burundian, Congolese and other sub-regional authorities imposes a duty on the international community to get actively involved in delivering on the promise of justice made to them in the aftermath of the crime. This tenth remembrance of the victims of the Gatumba massacre occurs at a time when the Kivu provinces of the DRC are still characterised by instability and social tensions. Sources of the continued tensions include the unresolved socio-political and legal issues including elusive promises of justice and redress. Crimes committed in the DRC over the last decades have claimed numerous victims from the various communities living in the country. All victims deserve justice. Owing to the particular circumstances of the massacre and to the involvement of numerous actors, domestic and international initiatives aimed at delivering justice to the victims generally ignore the victims of the Gatumba massacre. This is evidenced by the non-coverage of the Gatumba massacre in the 2010 UN Mapping Report. On this tenth remembrance of victims of the Gatumba massacre, UBUNTU notes that since the crime was committed, no active steps have been taken to bring perpetrators to justice.

UBUNTU therefore urges:

-The international community to deliver on the promise of justice made to survivors of the Gatumba atrocities in the immediate aftermath of the crime.
-The United Nations to use all appropriate means to bring Agathon Rwasa and other perpetrators of the massacre to justice.
-The Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and other sub-regional countries to cooperate in rehabilitating the victims.

For Ubuntu: Kinyoni John Mutebutsi

UBUNTU is an organisation created by individuals from eastern DRC for purposes of contributing to initiatives aimed at preventing violence and working towards sustainable peace and conflict resolution in their native land and the wider Great Lakes Region of Africa. UBUNTU membership includes individuals who survived the Gatumba massacre. UBUNTU is one of only few actors who have constantly tried to remind the international community of the unfulfilled promise of justice for victims of the Gatumba massacre. It is an international peace-building and non-profit organization based in Brussels.

UBUNTU – Initiative for Peace and Development
Rue Creuse 60, B-1030 Brussels, Belgium, Enterprise no: 891.545.509, Approved by the
Belgium Royal Decree of 26th.07.2007. E-mail:

Written by Richard Wilson

August 13, 2014 at 9:08 pm

From “France, 1917” by T P Cameron Wilson

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From “France, 1917”, by TP Cameron Wilson

The guns were there in the green and wounded wild,
Hurling death as a boy may throw a stone.
And the man who served them, with unquickened breath,
Dealt, like a grocer, with their pounds of death.
Thunderous over the fields their iron was thrown,
And beyond the horizon men who could laugh and feel
Lay in the wet dust, red from brow to heel.

The bodies of men lay down in the dark of the earth :
Young flesh, through which life shines a friendly flame,
Was crumbled green in the fingers of decay. . . .
Among the last year’s oats and thistles lay
A forgotten boy, who hid as though in shame
A face that the rats had eaten. . . . Thistle seeds
Danced daintily above the rebel weeds.

Old wire crept through the grass there like a snake,
Orange-red in the sunlight, cruel as lust.
And a dead hand groped up blindly from the mould. . .
A dandelion flamed through ribs — like a heart of gold,

And a stink of rotten flesh came up from the dust . . .
With a twinkle of little wings against the sun
A lark praised God for all that he had done…

Written by Richard Wilson

August 4, 2014 at 9:51 pm

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