Photos of Burundi mass graves are supporting chilling eyewitness accounts of large pools of blood and dozens of bodies scattered in all directions. The photos, taken via satellite, indicate that the stories of Burundian security forces killing dozens of people and then burying them in five mass graves on the outskirts of the capital Bujumbura are true.
Friday’s report by Amnesty International is in stark contrast to the Burundian government which claims that the bodies were soldiers who were killed in battle, reports BBC on January 29. Violence in the African country began last April, when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would seek a third term.
Since Nkurunziza’s announcement, at least 439 people have died and more than 240,000 have fled abroad, according to the United Nations. December 11 marked the bloodiest day of violence and witnesses told reporters that graves were dug in the Buringa, the outskirts of the capital Bujumbura.
According to Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty’s regional director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, the recent satellite photos of mass graves in Burundi refute Nkurunziza’s explanation that the skeletons are those of soldiers who died in battle.
“These images suggest a deliberate effort by the authorities to cover up the extent of the killings by their security forces and to prevent the full truth from coming out,” said Wanyeki.
In contrast to Nkurunziza, witnesses say that the skeletons are those of rebels opposing the president and that they were pursued and then brutally shot. While speaking to Amnesty International reporters in hidden places, the frightened witnesses said that Nkurunziza’s security forces killed rebels in their various neighborhoods and that police and local officials later went to retrieve their bodies.
“Local sources reported that 25 bodies were buried in five graves at the Mpanda site, and 28 bodies were buried in four graves at the Kanyosha site. It is not known how many bodies might be found at other sites.” Amnesty said.
“The human rights watch dog also quoted a mother of a 15-year-old boy who was shot dead as he ran for refuge. She said his body was also taken by men driving a government vehicle.”
Amnesty International is asking for an immediate, independent and impartial investigation into the killings and is asking President Nkurunziza to accept peacekeeping troops to prevent Burundi sliding into an ethnic conflict. With the unlikelihood that Nkurunziza will agree, Amnesty is hoping to convince other African leaders attending the 26th African Union Summit in Ethiopia to grant international investigators access to more Burundi mass graves.