Burundi : the very controversial reconciliation commission wants to recognize the “heroes”

Burundi : the very controversial reconciliation commission wants to recognize the “heroes”

More than 11,000 people who have saved the lives of their friends, neighbors or acquaintances have already been identified by the CVR (Truth and Reconciliation Commission). The figures relate only to the “heroes” of the 1972 crisis which took the lives of more Hutus than Tutsis. “Some were imprisoned, others were even killed…”, recognized the president of the CVR. INFO SOS Médias Burundi

The activity of recognition of people considered by the CVR as “heroes”, took place for the first time in the commercial city of Bujumbura on Wednesday.

“In all crises, there are heroes, there are rescuers, people who protect others. If there were none, it would be a national disaster. In all the cyclical crises that Burundi has experienced, there are those who protected others, without taking into account political affiliation, regional affiliation or ethnic affiliation”, said Pierre Claver Ndayicariye, president of the CVR.

The activity that began on Wednesday is provided for by Article 6 of the law of November 2018 governing the Commission.

“We want to value the rescuers first, we call them the heroes of life, the protectors of humanity”, insisted the one whose commission has never looked into the killings and massacres concerning other crises in Burundi.

Survivors had been invited. Among them, lawyer Fabien Segatwa, one of the oldest Burundian and African lawyers. He owes his life to two former archbishops of the Catholic Church. This is the former archbishop of Gitega (central Burundi) Joachim Ruhuna, assassinated in 1996 by armed men assimilated to rebels of the CNDD-FDD, the former Hutu rebellion that has come to power since 2005 thanks to the 2000 Arusha Agreement, and the former archbishop of Bujumbura Évariste Ngoyagoye, now retired.

“True men of God are very different from other people. No one can say that his late Eminence Bishop Ruhuna or even His Eminence Ngoyagoye did it to be able to have something more from me. The senior seminary of Bujumbura served as an example that human beings can accomplish their mission”, testified one of the most respectful lawyers of the small East African nation.

Father Charles Gahebe who died in the 90s is also on the list of “heroes already listed” by the CVR. He protected many Hutus including Abbot Firmin Nahayo, and was imprisoned for this action. At that time, they were based in central Burundi. The priest who was saved remembers that he will keep his position as director of schools for a long time.

“It is his love for God and for his neighbor that he saved lives. He saved me, Firmin Nahayo, many times and here I am among you…”, his old friend Father Nahayo gave a testimony with humour.

For lawyer Segatwa, it is very important that “people are aware that the residence of the former Archbishop of Gitega Ruhuna has always been a place of refuge for people without help until his death”.

Numbers and nuance

So far, the CVR has already known more than 11,000 rescuers, recognized as such because revealed by the survivors, according to Mr. Ndayicariye.

And it qualified “[…], someone can save two people in Ngozi-Centre (north of the country) and have 20 people killed not far from Ngozi in Musenyi or Kiremba, these people, the CVR does not call them not faithful, constant rescuers because they saved here and had others killed, we are looking for real rescuers[…] This means the man who, in the eyes of the community, is really seen as a real Mushingantahe (name attributed to customary notables in Burundi)”.

“Among the rescuers, some were imprisoned, others were even killed, and others were excluded, discriminated in the community”, recognized Pierre Claver Ndayicariye.

But for Gervais Nibigira, vice-president of the Upright Citizens’ Network (RCP) and survivor of the massacres against the Tutsis in 1993, it is not enough just to recognize that there were people who saved others.

“The CVR must also recognize that it was not just Hutus who were killed in Burundi. This position divides Burundians rather than unites them”, he said.

At the end of December 2021, the very controversial reconciliation commission declared that the 1972 massacres which killed more Hutus than Tutsis constitute “a genocide against the Hutus of Burundi”.

However, President Ndayishimiye refused to endorse the report, citing “still fresh wounds in a country that has experienced many cyclical crises”.

Burundi has the same ethnic makeup as Rwanda, its northern neighbor where the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi was recognized by the UN.

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