Beyond “Mass-Killing”: Gatumba’s Massacre & Mutoni Rachel’s Survival Story

Coffins of massacres Banyamulenge in Gatumba. Pictures © 2004 Reuters

Rachel is currently 15 years old and lives in the Netherlands. She attended 15th Gatumba’s commemoration day in Verviers, Belgium (10 August 2019). Along with another young girl and boy, who survived at early of less than five months, they stood strong despite this painful journey of orphanage. Rachel and his uncle agreed to share her story for those willing to understand how mass-killing remains a personal history. She survived while she was 3 months old. She is the first one from right to left (picture below). Below is Rachel’s message, originally written in Dutch and translated by Imelde; thanks to her for this support. (Click here’s to access the original document in Dutch

Rachel, the first one from right to left behind Janvier on a microphone

My name is Rachel Peace Mutoni, one of the survivors of the Gatumba Massacre that targeted Banyamulenge Community in their Refugee camp in Burundi. I was born on 1st of May 2004 in Congo, DRC and I am currently in my third year of high school in The Netherlands. This is my life story; a survival and resilience story. 

I lost both my parents at a young age with no knowledge or memory. I never knew my dad because he died before few months before my birth and in a similar circumstance of targeted killing. My mother was pregnant of me when she was forced to leave our country, as the war outraged Congo. While pregnant, she fled with my old brother and sister, and grandmother from Congo to Burundi. They hoped Burundi to be safe than Congo. We were then accommodated in the Gatumba refugee camp along other refugees. As I have been told, there were two nearby refugee camps; one for Banyamulenge (my community) and another one for other neighboring communities.

Back in Congo, my uncle Janvier became ill and needed direct medical assistance in Burundi. After a couple of days, he was consulted and released from the hospital; though he was yet undergoing treatment. He later joined us in the refugee camp before recovering and this was the only choice. 

I was 3 months old when our camp Gatumba was attacked. The refugee camps accommodated hundreds of Congolese refugees from South-Kivu mainly. The night of 13-08-2004, was just as any other night; and people were sleeping when first shots were fired. on first place, people thought it was nothing special, but then shots intensified, and residents started panicking and fearing of what was happening.

A couple of men went outside to check what was going on, and the shots started coming nearby our tents. From outside, many of these men were hit by bullets. Then residents were torn by panic as they had no assistance while facing assailants with guns and traditional weaponry. As I was told, assailants were shooting on each and a single tent they were approaching to; at the same time singing and playing traditional drums. Arriving at any tent, they used fuel to burn them down while many injuries were laying down.

Commemoration of Gatumba’s massacre in Verviers/ Belgium

 

 

In a short while, they approached our tent and shot my grandmother. She was hit first in her legs. She called my uncle for help: “Janvier bullets hit my legs but don’t move as assailants are next to us.” Then, shooting started to hit many people inside our tent and those nearby. There were a lot of screaming, whining, howling from pain, panic and fear among people. Our killers started throwing bombs and grenades, whereby a lot more people got injured and lost their lives. Many others succumbed due to tents burnt down after pouring fuels.   

Then the worst happened! My mom was shot while I was lying asleep in her arms. I had no knowledge of what was happening. My brother and sister were both hit by bullets in their heads; and died immediately. Although my mom was shot, she could still speak. She thus called uncle Janvier and whispered to him before her last breath.  

Afterwards my uncle desperately searched for a way out to escape with a few kids that were still alive. They managed to get out and came across helpers who took them for rescue. Within hours, everything was torn apart and vanished in the refugee camp. Blood was shed and everywhere were many corpses and burned alive bodies. The helpers collected all people who were still breathing, so my grandmother as well. While helpers were rescuing my grandmother, she kept saying that there is a baby. Helpers could not believe in her and insisted they were no more survivors in our tent.

My grandmother denied going anywhere before them checking the tent again consistently the remaining of our tent. Helpers went and found me alive and pulled me from my mom’s corpse.  That is, from around 10-11 PM, I lied on my mom’s corpse until early morning when search of survivals started. The same morning, my uncle Janvier went out searching for us but he could not find any clue. Meanwhile, before recovering from illness, he was also troubled by this tragic killing. He knew my mom has died and two siblings. After a couple days het got to me with no knowledge that grandmother was still alive. Afterwards he received of information of the hospital where my grandmother was being treated. He finally found her in bad conditions that led to her disability up to now.

dead bodies of mass-killing in Gatumba refugee camp © 2004 Aloys Niyoyita/AP Photo

From the rescue while 3 months old, I was admitted in Reuben’s orphanage facilities that accommodated younger survivors of the Gatumba’s massacre. Two years later, in 2006 we were resettled as refugee to the Netherlands. By the time, I was still younger, and I did not know nothing of my parents. I was told, my uncle and aunt are my parents. I did not know that I am an orphan of both parents. It is until an unforgettable day of 30-04-2012, the day before my 8th birthday anniversary when my uncle Janvier told me the truth. It sounded as bomb in my ears. I felt troubled and suspicious. I couldn’t believe that my uncle and aunt are not my parents. Though young, when mu uncle got married, I didn’t understand why he was marrying another wife and divorce with my mom (see now my aunt). During my uncle wedding, I thought he was getting mad to divorce with my mother!

Throughout the years and based on explanation I received from my uncle, aunt and grandmother, I got more information and understood deeply this tragic journey. I understood, at early age I was yet prepared to understand that people can be killed due to their ethnic appurtenance. I was too young to figure out why had Assailants decided to spare a refugee camp on the other side of the road. To cut it short, that is a story of survival and resilience. I later got more curious to know who my mom, dad and siblings were. It hurt me most and I started behaving differently than other kids at school who still had both parents.

In 2017, I went to Burundi to visit the Gatumba refugee camp. It was so painful to revive these hard moments. However, I am happy to have visited my relatives’ grave. I cannot change what happed in that awful night; I cannot set the clock back and gain more time. It was their undeserving day to die. I hope they are now at a better place and this for all the people who died in the massacre. May this never happen again.

For our killers and anyone who plotted to commit this inhuman devastation, you will get your deserved punishment. I will never forget our loved ones, each year we commemorate this worst day engraved in our mind and hearts. Rest in Peace, Murekatete 30, Patrick 8 and Noella (6). You will always be with me, you are in my heart. I would like to thank everyone who stand with us throughout the commemoration of our lost souls. 

God bless you forever.

Rachelle Peace Mutoni.

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PhD fellow @ErasmusUnivRotterdam/ISS: Microeconomic Analysis of Conflict. Congolese, blogger advocating 4r Equitable Redistribution of Ressources & national wealth as well as & #Justice4All #DRC In the top of that, proud of being "villageois"

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