Wounded Memories: Perceptions of Past Violence in Burundi and Perspectives for Reconciliation

This report presents the results of a research project conducted in Burundi between October 2017 and May 2018. The aim of the research was to identify violations perpetrated in the context of political and ethnic conflicts and how they affect Burundian society, the degree of knowledge of Burundians regarding the violations and their perceptions of what should be done to reconcile the nation. It is a historical account of past violations that took place in the post-independence period (1965–2008) in Burundi. The results of the project reveal that the majority of present-day Burundians (70–90%) have been negatively affected by past violations at the individual, communal and national levels. The past violations discussed were a result of interethnic conflicts, cleavages and tensions between the Bahutu and Batutsi – the two ethnic groups dominating the political realm in Burundi. Particularly, ethnic tensions escalated in 1965 following the assassination of Prime Minister Pierre Ngendandumwe. The killing of Ngendandumwe in 1965 was followed by summary executions of prominent Hutu leaders such as Paul Mirerekano, Gervais Nyangoma and Joseph Bamina and the exclusion of others from the political, security, economic and social systems of the country. After Burundi became a republic in 1966, and following the installation of a military dictatorship, violence and terror were used as tools to impose its authority. The military dictatorship lasted for more than 30 years, punctuated by massacres, ethnic cleansing and a wobbly foundation for the society. Violations that affected Burundian society for decades and destroyed the social fabric included: the murder of hundreds of thousands of people; the destruction of property; the forced exile of thousands of people to refugee camps; the executions of political opponents; and arbitrary imprisonments.