Burundi crisis: Amnesty claims evidence of ‘mass graves’

According to media reports Saturday, Amnesty International has published satellite images they say show five mass graves of victims of Burundi’s security forces killed in December 2015.

NPR reports, the rights group said the graves were in the Buringa suburb of the capital, Bujumbura, which has been wracked by violence as the security forces target neighbourhoods seen as opposition strongholds.

“Burundian security forces, primarily the police, killed dozens of people on 11 December 2015 after a pre-dawn rebel attack on three military installations in Bujumbura,” Amnesty said in a press release.

“While some of those who were killed on 11 December may have participated in the attack on military installations or may have fought the security forces within residential neighbourhoods, many did not.”

Burundi mass graves

Burundi mass graves

The group said video evidence, including footage by FRANCE 24 journalists taken in late December, showed freshly turned earth at the site.

“The imagery, dating from late December and early January, shows disturbed earth consistent with witness accounts. Witnesses told Amnesty International that the graves were dug on the afternoon of December 11, in the immediate aftermath of the bloodiest day of Burundi’s escalating crisis,” the group said.

The organization’s statement describes bodies disappearing after scenes of carnage:

“Amnesty International researchers were in Bujumbura when the killings occurred and visited affected neighborhoods, including Nyakabiga, the next morning. Residents described how the bodies of at least 21 men were left in the streets, homes and drainage ditches. Researchers found large pools of blood where some of the victims had been killed but the bodies had been removed.

The NGO said that it visited Bujumbura on December 12, and did not see any bodies in the streets, but said there was evidence – including blood still visible on the ground – that a large number of people had been killed or injured.

“The bodies had been taken away,” Amnesty spokeswoman Nina Walch told FRANCE 24, who said that up to 87 people had been killed in the operation. “The reason these bodies were buried was to prevent us from knowing exactly how many people had been killed.”

Amnesty has demanded that an independent international inquiry be opened into the killings and the alleged cover-up by the Burundian authorities.

Burundi’s government dismissed the report, claiming it was biased information that had been given to Amnesty by its opponents.

Violence erupted in Burundi in April 2015 when President President Pierre Nkurunziza declared he would seek a third term in office.

A satellite image of what Amnesty International describes as disturbed earth consistent with witness accounts and video footage of a mass grave in the Buringa area. Photograph: DigitalGlobe/Reuters

A satellite image of what Amnesty International describes as disturbed earth consistent with witness accounts and video footage of a mass grave in the Buringa area. Photograph: DigitalGlobe/Reuters

More than 400 people have died and 240,000 people have fled the country, according to the UN.

Amnesty’s allegations of mass graves and a government cover-up of a massacre came as regional leaders met in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa to persuade Nkurunziza to accept the intervention of a UN peacekeeping force, a move he has consistently opposed.