Accountability Needed for Killings of Burundian Exiles in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Published: 9 Sep 2017


Burundian asylum seekers and refugees, International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI) said today. According to MONUSCO, on 15 September, Congolese government security forces killed at least 36 and injured over 100 Burundians in Kamanyola (South Kivu province), during demonstrations by Burundians against threatened expulsions.

“The Congolese authorities must ensure that their investigation, into what appears to be a seriously disproportionate use of force by its security services, is independent and credible and they should prosecute those responsible,” said Thijs Van Laer, programme manager at IRRI. “MONUSCO and UNHCR should be involved in such an investigation and must work with the government to improve the security situation of Burundian refugees and asylum seekers in DRC.”

Burundian asylum seekers who witnessed the events and Congolese civil society who visited the locality described to IRRI the disproportionate use of force by the Congolese police and military. The security services reportedly opened fire after a group of Burundians went to the local office of the Congolese intelligence agency (Agence Nationale de Renseignement, ANR) to seek answers regarding the ongoing detention of four of them for possessing machetes and clubs. “The police said they were rebels and that they had arms. That was not true,“ a Burundian asylum seeker who witnessed the events told IRRI.

He and other Burundians in Kamanyola feared the four would be sent back to Burundi and currently their whereabouts are unknown. These concerns come amidst a wider fear of forced returns from DRC given that the situation in Burundi remains unpredictable. A Congolese army spokesperson confirmed such intentions, saying: “We want to drive them out of the country, which is to their own country, to Burundi.” A recent UN commission of inquiry reported that there are “reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed in Burundi since April 2015.”

As the situation on Friday deteriorated, some protesters started throwing stones at police officers, who fired warning shots and requested military reinforcement. An elderly Burundian asylum seeker said: “A police officer started beating some of us. They then shot in the air and afterwards [the military] started shooting at people, slaughtering them. […] I only survived because God protected me. They could have killed us all.” MONUSCO stated that after a Congolese soldier was killed, “Congolese defense and security forces allegedly responded through indiscriminate firing on the protesters.” According to multiple sources, at least 36 Burundians were killed and more than 110 were wounded, some seriously. At least one security officer was killed by a stone and others were wounded.

Following the events, many Burundians sought safety at a MONUSCO base less than a kilometre away from the site, where many still reside without sufficient humanitarian assistance. MONUSCO did not intervene during the massacre, despite its mandate to protect civilians, but did organise the evacuation of the wounded, including to Bukavu and Goma. It has called upon the Congolese authorities to use force only as the last resort and to “swiftly open legal actions.” UNHCR and the Burundian minister of external relations have called for an investigation into the events. The Congolese government, qualifying the Burundians as an armed group, has announced the opening of such an investigation.

While the majority of the 43,769 Burundian refugees in DRC live in an overcrowded refugee camp, over 2,000 Burundians in Kamanyola live among the Congolese community. The majority of them arrived in April 2015, prompted by the controversy following president Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third presidential term. Some have already obtained refugee status, while others were in the process of doing so.

In August, IRRI published a report based on research with Burundian refugees and asylum seekers in Uganda. Most arrived in Uganda between March and June 2017, fleeing because of ongoing abuses committed by Imbonerakure, a youth group linked to the party in power, or because of killings or disappearances of their family members. Some came to Uganda after experiencing difficulties in neighbouring countries such as Tanzania and DRC. In recent weeks, scores of Burundians have returned from Tanzania, with many more signed up for return.

“Burundi’s neighbouring countries, including DRC, are obliged, under international law, to shield those fleeing human rights abuses in Burundi from further violence in their host country,” Van Laer said. “Attempts to forcibly return refugees are not only illegal, but might also exacerbate tensions in Burundi.”

Programmes: Causes of Displacement, Resolving Displacement, Justice and Accountability, Responsibility to Protect R2P
Regions: Great Lakes Region, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo
Type: Press Release