(Bujumbura, September 27, 2007) – The Burundian government should bring to trial soldiers accused of the 2006 killings of 31 civilians in Muyinga province, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch urged the government to prosecute all military personnel implicated in the killings, regardless of rank.
In July and August 2006, 31 civilians were killed or “disappeared” while in official custody in Muyinga province in northern Burundi. According to witnesses, intelligence agents had detained and questioned the victims for weeks at a military camp. Soldiers then killed many of these persons and threw their bodies into a river. Administrative officials, including the governor of Muyinga, denied that killings had taken place, but Human Rights Watch researchers and others found bodies in the river that appeared to confirm accounts of the killings.
Judicial authorities arrested two soldiers and an intelligence agent in September 2006. In October 2006 a judicial commission issued warrants for the arrest of five other suspects, including the commander of the Fourth Military Region, Colonel Vital Bangirinama, but the warrants were never executed.
After months of inaction, the minister of justice established another judicial commission in February, but its conclusions were not made public. In May, the attorney general released the intelligence agent, saying that – contrary to eyewitness testimony – no civilians had been involved in the killings. He transferred the case to the military judicial system.
Colonel Bangirinama was replaced as commander of the Fourth Military Region in July 2007 but remains in active service with the military. He was interrogated once by the military prosecutor. There have been no arrests in the case since September 2006.
At a meeting with donors in May 2007, the Burundian government was pressed to act on this case, but thus far has failed to do so.
“These crimes took place during the administration of an elected government that has sworn to respect human rights and the rule of law,” said des Forges. “It would be an unfortunate omen if these killings were to end up like the many unaddressed massacres committed under previous governments.”