It was God’s mercy that I survived. Innocent mothers, fathers and children were brutally killed and burnt alive. The killers had a plan to wipe out the Banyamulenge community. As a survivor of the massacre, I am saddened that no action has been taken yet to bring the perpetrators to justice, narrated a one Patrick Gasinzira.
Gasinzira, 39-year-old father of three, is one of the survivors who narrowly escaped brutal killings that took the lives of 166 Banyamulenge who had sought refuge at Gatumba camp in Burundi in 2004, even though they were under the protection of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
The refugees had escaped from political oppression in South Kivu, Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
Shortly after the massacre, Gasinzira fled to Rwanda in Bugesera district which borders Burundi. He currently lives in Nyamata sector.
The survivor shared his testimony during an event that was held to mark the 18th commemoration of Gatumba massacre victims on Saturday, August 13 in Bugesera District.
Gasinzira was born and raised in the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Kivu. He recalls hatred and oppression that Banyamulenge community faced under the attacks and violations carried out by an alliance of Mai Mai militia from neighbouring ethnic groups, and armed groups from neighbouring countries such as FLN and FDLR militia largely blamed for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.
In 2004, the groups continued their attacks against the Banyamulenge community that pushed them to escape to Burundi to seek refuge.
Fleeing to Burundi, they were welcomed by UNCHR and accommodated at a temporary refugee camp in Gatumba where they were provided basic needs.
Unfortunately, the killers proceeded with their attacks and crossed the border to invade the Gatumba camp, Gasinzira narrates.
“The invasion happened around 10 pm. I heard the attackers singing outside the camp and I thought it was a prayer group. We couldn’t defend ourselves and the presence of Burundian soldiers, who were ensuring security in the camp, did not protect us from being killed and burnt,” he recalls.
Gasinzira appealed to international communities to provide justice and bring to court whoever got involved in the killings of Banyamulenge.
“It is sad that until today, our families are still being killed in DR Congo day and night. We need justice, our lives matter,” he added.
The commemoration event featured a sermon, reading names of the victims, testimonies and accounts of Banyamulenge persecution and hatred since 20’s.
Elders from the Banyamulenge community who have lived in South Kivu for a long time shared that their community is targeted because they are an ethnic minority, a small Tutsi community that has been living in South Kivu for centuries and have been considered as foreigners.
The evidence clearly indicated that different militia groups including the Burundian Forces Nationales de Liberation (FNL) that was led by Agathon Rwasa, FDRL, FARDC and Mai Mai were involved in the Gatumba massacre.
Patrick Munini, the president of Gatumba Refugee Survivors Foundation, Inc in Bugesera District, delivered a message of courage and hope to all survivors adding that they survived for God’s plan.
“We remember innocent siblings and our children who were killed. The killers’ mission was to wipe us out, but surviving means it is God’s plan. We should not live under oppression or sorrow. Our survival means there is hope to live a better life. We should strive for our development through hard work,” the president noted.
The president condemned international organisations that were present but failed to protect the Banyamulenge refugees, calling for justice so that all concerned parties be held accountable for their crimes as well as compensate survivors.