Background Briefing

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The “official version”

By 2 a.m. on August 14, barely two hours after the end of the attack, both a local journalist and Radio France Internationale had been alerted to the attack.  By that time, a Rwandan military officer based in Cyangugu also was informed about the massacre and MONUC officers in Congo (though not their ONUB counterparts in Burundi) learned of it soon after. It appears that by this time Banyamulenge and others associated with them were already telling their contacts that the attackers had come from the Congo and included “Interahamwe.”81

With news of the massacre broadcast on early morning programs on local radio and spread by word of mouth, members of national and international community gathered at the massacre site beginning at 7 a.m. the morning after the attack. There the president of the Banyamulenge community told UN staff many that the attack had been planned in the Congo and showed a pamphlet as proof.

The pamphlet and evidence of prior planning

The pamphlet shown that morning warned other Congolese to distance themselves from Banyamulenge by July 29 and called for Congolese to cut ties with Tutsi and Banyamulenge and to unite “to fight our enemy.”82  A previously unknown group, the Force de la coordination des patriots et nationalists revolutionnaires du mouvement congolais des combatants non-violents pour la démocratie (MCCND), affixed its seal to the pamphlet. The pamphlet denounced a supposed Rwando-Ugandan-Burundian coalition intent on Tutsi colonization and complained that Banyamulenge had taken over the land of Congolese and that Rwandans, Ugandans, and Burundians had exploited Congolese mineral resources.

The pamphlet seemed intended to influence Congolese rather than Burundians. It was written in Swahili and French, not in Kirundi.  The name of the group claiming authorship and the content of the message also seemed to fit the Congolese situation better than that of Burundi.

Banyamulenge spokesmen sought to connect the pamphlet to Burundi by claiming that the pamphlet had been circulated in the central market of Bujumbura and in the camp itself. But camp residents questioned about the pamphlet said they had never seen it before the attack. Nor had UN personnel in Burundi (ONUB and UNHCR), Gatumba local residents, and Burundian local and military officials seen or heard of this pamphlet before the morning after the attack.83 

A second pamphlet circulated in Congo shortly before the attack and was brought to the attention of MONUC, but it was a specific threat against Banyamulenge leader and Vice-President Azarias Ruberwa, warning him not to come to Uvira. A staff member of UNHCR in Burundi heard news of a pamphlet circulating from a MONUC officer on August 12 and asked other staff to inquire about it among refugees at Gatumba on August 13.84 At that time, camp residents said that the only pamphlet they knew of was the one threatening Ruberwa.

Although the two pamphlets may be authentic, no evidence has yet been presented linking one or both to the Gatumba massacre.

Controlling Testimonies

During the course of the morning of August 14, two or three male survivors assumed the role of authoritative sources of information for investigators as well as for the press. One was the RCD-Goma intelligence agent mentioned above whose account took several different forms during the course of the week.

That morning and throughout the next ten days, some UN investigators and Human Rights Watch researchers who wanted to speak to persons other than apparently authoritative Banyamulenge males found it difficult to see such persons alone. When Human Rights Watch researchers sought out women—often more spontaneous in their answers than men—they found one or more men intruding on the conversation, sometimes giving answers in place of the women and sometimes correcting their responses. According to one UN staff member, one of the Banyamulenge was in charge of the survivors in each hospital in Bujumbura and that person frequently joined conversations that were meant to be private.85 These ever-present Banyamulenge seemed to want to make all information conform to a given version of facts rather than to permit a reconstruction of the most accurate possible account of the tragedy.

The more the “official version” becomes widely known, the more witnesses will deliver testimonies that conform to it. One such poor person questioned about languages spoken during the attack indicated that he knew what was generally said about the attack. He told a Human Rights Watch researcher, “I know that some say that there were other languages but I am telling you what I saw and heard: only Kirundi.”86 Finding such witnesses who can distinguish what they saw and heard from the official version is already difficult and is likely to become more difficult over time.


The elaborated “official version”

The earliest versions speaking generally about Mai Mai, Rwandan rebel (“Interahamwe”), and FNL participation in the attack became refined in the days after August 14. Eventually some officials even specified that there were five companies—some 600 combatant--involved in the attack:  two companies of Rwandan rebels (“Interahamwe”) and two companies of Mai Mai that slaughtered the refugees and one company of FNL that attacked the military and police camps.87 Because some Mai Mai are part of the Congolese national army, this led some Burundian authorities to take the next step and conclude that soldiers of the Congolese army had participated in the slaughter. 88 Although the information about various groups making up the attacking force may be correct, the “official version” exaggerates the numbers and the sophistication of the operation. Whether seeking to excuse the inaction of the Burundian soldiers and police by suggesting they were completely outnumbered or trying to support a more general view that a menacing genocidal operation is already underway, this presentation seriously distorts reality.

[81] Human Rights Watch interviews, Bujumbura, August 20, 22, and 24, 2004.

[82] Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, August 21, 2004. Human Rights Watch researchers obtained copies of the pamphlet in French and in Swahili.

[83] Human Rights Watch interviews, Bujumbura, August 17 and 20, 2004.

[84] Human Rights Watch interviews, Bujumbura, August 21 and by telephone, August 30, 2004.

[85] Human Rights Watch interview, Bujumbura, August 21, 2004.

[86] Human Rights Watch interview, Gatumba, August 22, 2004.

[87] Human Rights Watch interview, Gatumba, August 26, 2004.

[88]Agence France Press (AFP), New crisis in Great Lakes as Rwanda, Burundi threaten DR Congo”,August 17, 2004.

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