Burundi's TRC bringing closure to families of 1972 massacre

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After almost 50 years, Laetitia Ngendakumanam a Burundian woman living in Bujumbura has found her father's remains. She was able to identify his body thanks to his four gold dentures.

She was just 10 years old when her father was arrested in the city which is Burundi's largest.

Laetitia's father was a senior banker and a Hutu living in Bujumbura. He was one of the nearly 300,000 people killed in Burundi's 1972 massacres, an episode that continues to loom large in collective memory of the country.

“We never knew where my father was taken, what I know is that they took our land, they looted everything we had. We lived a miserable life and we had to return to the interior of the country.” Laetitia said amidst tears.

The Burundian government established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, known as the TRC in May 2014 to investigate the inter-ethnic massacres, and get to the truth.

Since 2019, the TRC has been exhuming mass graves throughout the country, using witness testimonies to locate them.

Thanks to these efforts, some families have managed to find their loved ones' remains. “When we say today that it is a genocide committed against the Hutu ethnic population in Burundi, it is a genocide because the State planned, organised, carried out this genocide, because the resources of the State were used.” Pierre-Claver Ndayicariye, President of the TRC says.

But not everyone shares this view in Burundi. 

What began on the 29th of April 1972 as attacks by Hutu extremists against Tutsis, led to reprisals that quickly escalated into massacres of the Hutu elite.

In the political capital Gitega alone, the commission says it found nearly 7,000 victims after exhuming nine mass graves. Last December it declared that the massacres constituted g enocide.

Evariste Ngayimpenda, is the rector of the University of Lake Tanganyika.

For him, it was important “.. recognise that in Burundi, ethnic conflict is a constant theme which is hugely exploited. At the time when the Tutsis were in power, the idea of a Hutu menace was a constant theme whereas today it's the opposite, it's the idea of the Tutsi menace, which is also a constant theme.”

But not all is smooth with the TRC. There have been allegations of the TRC focusing its research on sites where Hutus were buried and ignoring those where Tutsi victims were found.

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