This post by Rebecca Feeley, a research consultant based in Goma, DRC and Enough’s former field analyst, originally appeared on the blog World Is Witness.
I was standing next to my Burundian friend Parfait looking down at old flowers and messages left in memoriam. We were at Kibimba Memorial site, roughly an hour and a half east of Bujumbura. In Kibimba, on October 21, 1993, over a hundred Tutsi students and teachers were rounded up and taken to a gas station where they were burned alive by Hutu civilians, angered over the assassination of president Melchior Ndadaye—a Hutu—by members of the Tutsi-dominated army just hours earlier. Next to the gas station, a memorial had been erected with the words “Plus Jamais Ca” or “Never Again.” Behind it was a spectacular view of Burundi’s countryside. It was a beautiful place for contemplation and reflection.
Surprisingly, despite Burundi’s long history of civil war and conflict, only two memorials commemorate past suffering and loss, and only one—Kibimba—commemorates the loss of Burundian citizens. The other memorial in Gatumba, near the Congolese-Burundian border, honors the 166 Congolese refugees (mainly Tutsi) who were massacred on August 13, 2004, by the National Liberation Forces (FNL) and a mixture of other regional pro-Hutu rebel groups.
Parfait was reading messages at the memorial site, when I saw a cross placed among the flowers that said “Child Victims of Genocide, October 21, 1993.” I was surprised to find the word “genocide” used to describe what happened in Kibimba. Most experts would agree that an isolated, reactionary event like Kibimba would have difficulty qualifying as genocide under international law. I nudged Parfait and asked him what he thought, if he agreed that it was genocide. He turned to look at me, tilting his head. “It was genocide,” he responded. “It was targeted towards a specific ethnic group and it was planned.”
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