I was privileged to be invited to speak on behalf of Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary at the event organised by the Banyamulenge Community Association (BACA) to commemorate the 12th Anniversary of the Gatumba Massacre.
It was a very moving event, listening to speakers who were survivors of the massacre, or very involved in different ways. The choir sang beautifully about the sadness, with their T shirts proclaiming “Banyamulenge at risk without justice and protection”
The film shown of the massacre was horrifying and tragic. 166 innocent Banyamulenge Congolese were mercilessly slaughtered, some burned alive, and hundreds of others seriously injured. Not only are physical scars still there, but it was clear from the reaction to the film that the devastating mental effect was still with many. We see on our screens every day the horrors of what is happening in places such as Syria, but whilst the atrocities in Gatumba are on a lesser scale, they are not known about or talked about at all.
The film showed the President of Burundi going to the scene of the crime, and he said something would be done, but 12 years on, nothing has happened to bring the killers to justice. Awareness has been raised in all of the EU, the USA and other parts of the world. All say “something must be done”, but nothing ever is.
A speaker from the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, Rosie Crook, told us about Genocide beginning with people being seen as “different”. She told us how massacres never just happen, they are organised in advance and are always officially denied. We say ‘never again’ but they do happen again”. As she said, we are there to tackle prejudice and hatred, and that must continue.
Church Ministers spoke strongly with messages to give strength and hope from Psalm 137 and Revelation 21.
The very clear message that came over again and again is that justice is so important. Justice not been brought and the murderers are still free and continuing to commit atrocities. Survivors are still raw with grief and enormous sadness in their lives.
Innocent Ntezidyayo told us how evidence is now being gathered so that advice from such as lawyers can be taken on the best way forward for justice to be done. There is hope that the subject will be raised in the UK Parliament, and I said I would do my best to take that forward.
Nzayi Dieudonne, a survivor of the massacre, emphasised that the commemoration event should be not like Christmas where we just come together on one day, but there is the need now need to make progress and take action with evidence. “We seek justice together”.
For my part I said that if only more people could see the film, they would understand why people fled from terror to seek sanctuary elsewhere, and be more welcoming. I spoke of the ways that LD4SOS is campaigning to make matters bettor for asylum seekers in the UK. The need for better treatment and understanding by the Home Office; the importance of ending indefinite detention; the need for the end to destitution and the right to work; the need for better contracts for housing and enforcement functions. The need to keep the Human Rights Act. Overall British Foreign and International Development policy should support the development of a peaceful world.
Being able to live in peace in the UK, will not only begin to help to heal the scars, but give some stability for being able to support their fellow country people in their quest for justice.
Most of all, we need to give hope, and give our support for justice to be done.