Justice for the victims of Itaba
From Human Rights Watch: "Escalating violence demands attention"
Soldiers shot some of the civilians as they fled. They forced others who were hiding in houses to come out, robbed them, then ordered them back into the houses where they killed them. In some cases, those with sufficient money were able to buy their own safety or that of others. One elderly man tried to negotiate with soldiers to save the lives of some forty people who had taken refuge in his house. The soldiers accepted his payment of 60,000 Burundian francs and spared his life but killed all the others.
Another group hiding in a house heard people nearby being killed. Believing that the soldiers had mistakenly taken the victims for rebels, they sought to avoid the same fate by coming out shouting that they were civilians. The soldiers robbed them of everything in their pockets, made them lie down, and shot them all. Only one member of the group survived to tell the story.
One woman was returning from a visit to her father's house accompanied by her twenty-one-year-old daughter when she met a group of soldiers who demanded money. The mother had nothing with her but promised to bring them 5,000 Burundi francs from her nearby home. The soldiers told her to go fetch the money but insisted on keeping her daughter with them. En route back to where she had left her daughter, the woman came across the soldiers and gave them the money. When she asked where her daughter was, they told her to go find her where she had left her. She found the young woman with her skull crushed. She ran to her brother- in-law's house where she found both him and his wife dying in front of their house, both with their skulls crushed. She also found a second brother- in-law dead.
The condition and location of bodies seen by officials and local people in the days following the killings substantiated the account of a deliberate massacre. Some bodies were scattered on the hill, the victims having been shot or hit by grenade or other projectiles. Groups of ten to thirty-four bodies were found in burnt houses. Other bodies were found in houses that had not been burned. The majority of persons killed were on Kanyonga hill; the rest were on Kagoma hill.
Partial records of care delivered at a local health center also substantiate the local descriptions of the massacre. Among the persons treated in the days immediately following the attack were children aged four, five, seven, nine, and fifteen years old, all suffering from either gun shot wounds or burns.
Some 250 houses were burned wholly or in part and a much smaller number were damaged by bullets or other projectiles. Several had the roofs burned and bodies inside, confirming reports that soldiers burned houses with people inside them.
According to a report by the minister of the interior and public security, 174 persons were killed in the massacre, all but one of them known by name to local residents or authorities. The unidentified person, presumably from elsewhere, might have been an FDD combatant. According to one official, virtually all the civilians present at the time of the attack were killed.
Local people buried the victims on September 12 and 13, at the direction of civilian and military officials. Witnesses said that in some cases, where a large number of bodies were found in a house, soldiers simply threw grenades at the house, causing it to collapse on the bodies. They claim that many more than the official number of victims were killed at Itaba, some of them now buried in the remains of their houses.
Burundi, human rights, Current Affairs, Politics, Africa