Burundian relatives who identified their loved ones the next day describe a truly horrific scene. Several of the bodies, including some of the Tutsi children, had been severely mutilated with knives. It's still not clear whether this happened before or after the victims were killed.
Charlotte’s murderers have never done us the courtesy of owning up, and trying to explain what they thought they were doing on December 28th 2000. But no-one's really in any doubt that the massacre was the work of the Hutu-extremist group Palipehutu-FNL, who have carried out countless similar attacks in the same area.
Palipehutu-FNL have links to the militia which carried out the Rwandan genocide in 1994. They believe that they are on a mission from God, and frequently go into battle singing "we are the soldiers of Jesus Christ". Nonetheless, their interpretation of the Bible seems somewhat unconventional.
Last year a document emerged which appears to show that Palipehutu-FNL not only carried out the December 28th massacre; they also fill in a little form after every such attack, detailing how many people they killed and how many bullets they used.
If you multiply this horror by about 10,000 you can start to get an idea of the tragedy which has afflicted Burundi over the last 10 years. Between 200,000 and 300,000 people have been killed since 1993, most of them civilians. Attacks on Tutsis by Hutu-extremist rebels are all too often 'avenged' with attacks on Hutu civilians by Tutsi-extremists in the Burundian army. While the hardliners on both sides make the most of ethnic divisions to play out their petty power struggles, it's ordinary Hutus and Tutsis who suffer the most.
But the Tutsi extremists and Hutu extremists have one very important thing in common. Neither camp wants to see and end to the culture of impunity which allows the killers, quite literally, to get away with murder. In the topsy-turvy world of Burundian politics, those who demand justice are accused of extremism, subjected to death threats and even, on occasions, arbitrarily imprisoned. The brother of Charlotte’s fiancé fled Burundi after receiving a series of menacing letters and calls. A number of Burundian journalists have had similar threats simply for running stories about the “Titanic Express” massacre. Late last year, I myself was threatened by a guy claiming to be a member of Palipehutu-FNL in Europe. Similar pressure has been placed on those seeking to expose atrocities by the Burundian army.
Yet there are also signs of hope. Earlier this year, the Burundian Parliament voted unanimously to ratify the International Criminal Court, a huge step forward in the fight against impunity. Earlier this year the Burundian president declared that the December 28th attack was a Crime Against Humanity and vowed that there would be no amnesties for those who commit such crimes. Despite all the threats, Burundian activists and journalists continue to press for justice over the December 28th attack and others like it, including the notorious “Itaba” massacre of over 170 Hutu civilians by the Burundian army last September. Every Burundian I’ve spoken to has been pleased that there are people outside their country who actually care about what’s going on there. If my family’s efforts can help end the culture of impunity in Burundi, this might be the best memorial to Charlotte that we can offer.
If you want to support the petition urging justice for Burundi’s forgotten victims, please go to: http://www.petitiononline.com/Burundi/