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2004 Burundi refugee massacre victims still seek justice

By: Erin Summerville August 12th, 2023

Gedeon Shikiro wants justice after surviving a 2004 massacre in a United Nations camp.(ABC News: Erin Somerville)

Gedeon Shikiro still recalls with stinging clarity cradling his neighbours and friends as they took their final breaths.

It has been 19 years, but time has not dulled the pain or memories.

"They are saying their last words and dying in my hands," Mr Shikiro said in his native Kinyamulenge language.

"That will not come out of my heart."

On the night of August 13, 2004, he watched from his tent as just metres away people he knew were shot to death and burnt alive in the United Nations' Gatumba refugee camp in Burundi, east Africa, where he was living at the time.

His local priest told everyone to pray and prepare for death as the National Forces of Liberation (FNL), a Hutu rebel movement, moved through the camp targeting mostly Banyamulenge refugees.

The Banyamulenge, a Tutsi tribe, had lived in the country's east for more than a century and were not recognised by the Congolese government.

More than 160 were killed that night, and more than 100 wounded.

Mr Shikiro is a strikingly tall and gently spoken Congolese-Banyamulenge man, who after more than a decade living in refugee camps now calls Albury in regional New South Wales home.

He escaped the massacre with his life, and was among the first Banyamulenge refugees who had fled to return to the scene.

But the aftermath is still too painful to relive.

He cannot look at photos or videos of the camp, and the trauma has made it too difficult to share his testimony at a local commemoration service in NSW on Saturday.

"To see people flee from the war and then get killed again by the gunshots, when they were thinking that we are in the hands of United Nations, we are safe now, then see those people die, it's terrible.

"They were killed like animals."

The Australian Congolese-Banyamulenge community gathers in a different place across the country each year to remember those who were killed that night.

This year, it is in Mr Shikiro's home community of Albury-Wodonga.

The 19th annual Gatumba commemoration event on the NSW-Victorian border has been marked with a soccer match, church service, and a memorial event.

But it is a difficult day for the community.

For Mr Shikiro, his Christian faith and prayer help comfort him, but it is the battle for justice that propels him on from the horror of the past.

"For me I don't take it as [just] a commemoration or pay tribute to those people who died. I take it as crying out to seek for justice to be done, because it's not done," he said.

The Burundian government opened a criminal case into the massacre in 2013, but it has been indefinitely suspended since 2014.

"We are still pushing to see how we can get justice for our people who have been [victims of] genocide," said the president of the Banyamulenge community in Australia, Moise Nzovu Riukundo.

"We can't forget this.

"I can ask everyone who can help, everyone who can be able to raise their voice to seek justice for the Banyamulenge community who have been killed in Gatumba."

He said Banyamulenge people were still facing death and persecution in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Genocide Watch released a report in August, 2022, labelling the actions against the Banyamulenge people a "genocide emergency", and highlighting that they have been targeted by Mai-Mai militias in South Kivu in a separate crisis since 2017.

© 2023 ABC


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