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Reacting to Communal Violence
Louis Nkezabahizi, Tutsi living in Mutaho Internally Displaced Persons’ Camp in Burundi.
Interviewed by Florence Ntakarutimana, HROC program manager, Burundi.

In February 2012, I was at my job and got a phone call which said, “The Imbonerakure (name of the youth arm of the predominantly Hutu ruling party) are creating disorder here at the Tutsi internally displaced persons camp.” I went home immediately and found terrifying things. The Imbonerakure had come from Kidasha and Muzenga, two nearby villages, pretending to do cross-country running. When I arrived at the camp, I found that they were destroying everything in their way – bananas and harvest drying in the sun. They had sticks in their hands and sang provocative songs as they went.

Everybody in the camp panicked. The Tutsi youth from the camp decided to reply. They organized small groups and were making plans to take revenge. The police shot in the air to calm the situation, but in vain.

I tried to intervene positively as a HROC Healing Companion, but the intensity of the disorder was beyond the intervention of one person. I found Pastor Sebastian who is another Tutsi HROC Healing Companion living in the camp, and we talked to the small groups of youth who were planning revenge.

I also called Pastor Eraste, a Hutu living in the surrounding community to ask his advice. Many Hutus were waiting for the response from the Tutsis and preparing to protect themselves. Although he could not get in the camp because there was too much tension among the Tutsis, I really appreciated his helpful advice over the phone.

After our consultation with the youth, they said that they would no longer take revenge. Instead, they organized a peaceful protest to show local leaders that they don’t accept the acts of Imbonerakure. As Tutsis we worked on the principles of the march with the youth to ensure that it would not be violent. On the Hutu side, Pastor Eraste and other people who had participated in HROC prepared Hutus living in the community not to act against the march as this would only make things worse.

As a result of the march, the local leaders have decided to control all acts of the Imbonerakure. It was clear that the people had participated in HROC did a lot to stop the violence that could have taken many lives in the IDP camp and in the community. Now I have been chosen to be the leader of the camp.