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'I don't know if my child's been buried' - Images show possible mass graves after Burundi killings

The mother of a 15-year-old boy who was shot in the head as he ran to take refuge has no idea where the boy’s body is.

Amnesty International Amnesty International

NEW SATELLITE IMAGES, video footage and witness accounts indicate dozens of people killed by Burundian security forces last month were later buried in mass graves.

The images dating from late December and early January have been analysed by Amnesty International. They show five possible mass graves in the Buringa area, with disturbed earth consistent with accounts given by witnesses.

Witnesses have told Amnesty that the graves were dug on the afternoon of 11 December, in the immediate aftermath of the bloodiest day of the country’s escalating crisis.

More than 400 people have been killed and 230,000 have fled their country in the conflict following President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a controversial third term, which he went on to win. This sparked street protests, a failed coup and now a simmering rebellion.

Pools of blood

Amnesty International researchers were in Bujumbura when the killings occurred and visited affected neighbourhoods, including Nyakabiga, the next morning. Residents described how the bodies of at least 21 men were left in the streets, homes and drainage ditches. Researchers found large pools of blood where some of the victims had been killed but the bodies had been removed.

Witnesses described how police and local officials scoured Nyakabiga and other neighbourhoods to retrieve the bodies of those who were killed and took them to undisclosed locations.

The mother of a 15-year-old boy who was shot in the head as he ran to take refuge in an outhouse in the Musaga neighbourhood, told Amnesty International that a pickup truck from the mayor’s office retrieved her son’s body. The men that took him refused to tell her where the body was being taken.

“I don’t know where he is or if he’s been buried,” she said.

Mass graves

“These images suggest a deliberate effort by the authorities to cover up the extent of the killings by their security forces and to prevent the full truth from coming out,” commented Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland.

In addition to the site in Buringa, Amnesty International has received reports of suspected mass graves of people said to have been killed on 11 December in a number of other locations including Mpanda and Kanyosha cemeteries.

Amnesty International Amnesty International


Local sources said 25 bodies were buried in five graves at the Mpanda site and a further 28 bodies at the Kanyosha site. It is not known how many bodies might be found at other sites.

African leaders are due to discuss the conflict in Burundi at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa in a few days. They will vote on deploying a 5,000-strong peacekeeping force to the troubled country,

O’Gorman said they must call on the Burundian government to grant international investigators access to all suspected grave sites and launch an independent and impartial investigation in to the killings.

“Families need to know what happened to their loved ones and to be able to bury them in dignity. These suspected grave sites must be secured until proper investigations can be carried out, and any bodies found in them should be exhumed to assess the causes of death,” he added.

Read: The scars that brought us to Ireland: Asylum seekers on the violence that made them flee>

Read: Three Italian nuns found brutally murdered at Burundi convent>

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