GITEGA, 6 March 2021 – Burundi’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has released shocking details of the mass slaughter of at least 13,584 people during the 1972 massacres in select provinces of the country.
The report concludes that the massacres, which began on 29 April 1972, were carefully planned and systematically executed by Hutu insurgents targeting members of the Tutsi elite in power.
The mass slaughters were made worse by the Burundian presidency, then in the hands of Michel Micombero, a Tutsi, aggravated the situation by unleashing bloody repression which extended even to regions not affected by the insurrection.
The 2020 report of the TRC released in the national language, Kirundi, focuses on the massacres in the central provinces of Gitega and Karusi, as well as in the southern provinces of Rumonge, Bururi and Makamba.
The TRC exhumed eight large mass graves in Karusi province, containing the remains of 7,348 victims.
It exhumed eleven mass graves in Gitega province with the skeletons of 3,630 victims.
Thirty-four mass graves were exhumed in Makamba province, unearthing the mortal remains of 1,680 victims.
Sixteen mass graves in Rumonge province turned up the mortal remains of 813 victims with another seven mass graves in Ngozi province unveiling the remains of another 113 victims.
According to the report, most of the victims were state agents, teachers, university students, high school students, magistrates, soldiers, gendarmes, and those with enviable social status, who were particularly targeted.
Most of the victims were Hutus, killed “en masse” for months on end throughout the country.
Victims were killed with bullets, grenades, machetes, chains, iron bars, plastic ropes, raffia wire, and electrical cables.
The report includes a provisional list of victims by category: military, other state agents, ordinary citizens, and foreigners as well as survivors identified to date.
It provides a collection of witness testimonies and photos, highlights of accounts provided by 374 people, and information from the exhuming and analysis of exhumed mortal remains from mass graves.
“The Commission has had access to first-hand information, direct actors of the massive human rights violations in 1972 and victims with an average age of 60 years,” the report reads in part.
The TRC plans to publish the hearings, “in the coming months, in the form of a book of testimonies”.
Exhuming mass graves also allowed members of the Commission to recover some of the belongings of the victims, including shoes, hats, belts, coins, wallets, identity cards, necklaces, bracelets, rosaries, and Bibles.
Calls for All Victims to be Counted
Burundian rights groups have criticized the report for focusing too narrowly on the massacres of Hutus; neglecting the thousands of Tutsis slaughtered.
The Forum for the Strengthening of Civil Society (FORSC) said the “TRC is working in the context of much lobbying for recognition of a Hutu genocide in 1972 – a demand supported by the regime in power”.
“Nothing else justifies starting with 1972 and leaving aside other crises that preceded it, in 1961, 1962, 1965, 1969 and 1971,” wrote FORSC President Vital Nshimirimana.
The FORSC points out that the massacres of Tutsis “were carried out by rebels under the command of a Burundian by the name of Mpasha Céléus, himself inspired by Rwanda’s ‘social revolution’ in 1959.”