Kamwe Kamwe – Inside Burundi’s Killing Machine: full documentary – BBC Africa Eye

It’s blood. December 2016 – a video is widely shared by
Burundian social media accounts. It shows red liquid flowing from the gutter
of a private property. Those who posted it speculated that the liquid
might be blood. Some asked if the house was being used by
Burundi’s feared intelligence services. The government immediately denied that this
house- or any other – had ever been used as a torture facility. BBC Africa Eye has been looking closely at
this house, and asking some critical questions. Who lived here? Did people die here? And is the Burundian government running secret torture facilities to silence dissent? The reason why we’re here is to protest
this third mandate of the president. The streets of the capital – Bujumbura – in
2015. Burundi is a tiny country in the Great Lakes
region of Africa, It shot into the headlines
when President Pierre Nkurunziza, decided to run for a third term in office. People took to the streets,
claiming he was violating the constitution. Peaceful protests soon turned violent. Hundreds were killed. These images were filmed when the BBC could
still report freely on Burundi’s troubles. But there was a brutal crackdown on local
independent media. Foreign journalists were denied visas, and
special instructions were left at a border post refusing entry to a BBC team. Faced with these restrictions, BBC Africa
Eye decided to examine some of the social media images that have been trickling out
of Burundi in recent years. The government likes to portray Burundi as
a country now at peace. But these clips tell a different story. In this video, members of the imbonerakure,
the ruling party’s youth wing, chant songs about rape. Here, supporters sing about burning opponents. Other posts show dead bodies floating in lakes
and rivers. The video of the red liquid was among the
most disturbing, and it contained some information that allowed us to investigate further. It was posted on social media with an address:
76 Avenue Ntwarante. It’s here, in Kinindo, a quiet residential
neighbourhood of Bujumbura. In April this year, we managed to find found
the house’s owner: Prosper Kaze. He is an active member of the opposition who
no longer lives in Burundi. And he recognised his property in the video. It’s a place where
I grew up, I can’t mistake it. I’m not good at drawing but just from memory
this is the sitting room… With Prosper’s guidance and family photos,
Forensic Architecture – who specialise in the precise reconstruction of witness testimony-
built this virtual model of the house. It’s the house Prosper grew up in, and to
which he took his own children to spend time with their grandparents. His family left the country and abandoned
the property in 2015, at the height of the protests. In November of that year, pictures showing
what looked like the same house being raided by security forces emerged on social media. A journalist was also at the scene and gave
us these images. They mapped perfectly onto the model. The security forces said they were reclaiming
the property from rebels. Prosper’s house was now in the hands of
Burundi’s authorities. But what did they do with it? And why,one year later, was red liquid flowing
from its gutter? After months of searching we tracked down
a man who claimed to know the property – and what happened here – we’ll call him Nathan. He drew a sketch of it for us, which proved
that he really was familiar with the layout of Prosper’s house. Nathan says he worked as a guard for a man
called Alexis Ndayikengurukiye – known as Nkoroka. This is Nkoroka. He is the deputy head of interior security
for Burundi’s intelligence service, and is accused by local human rights activists
of running secret detention centres across the country. Normally Nkoroka does not kill but he orders,
he tells you ”work”. You do what he orders you to do. Ok, the door is here? The door is there leading to that room. We took Forensic Architecture to meet Nathan. Using the model to walk through the house
– Nathan gave a detailed account of what he had witnessed in each room. How many people were in the house? I don’t remember the exact number but in
the detainee’s room and in the other room there were around 20 people. Nkoroka was the one in charge of the house,
so sometimes he would get them out to interrogate them and beat them up in the living room. The detainees were made to lie down and
the chairs were on the other side. I can’t tell if they were beaten one by
one. All I know is that they were screaming. We managed to find one of the men who entered
that living room and faced Nkoroka’s interrogation. We’ll call him Pierre. Pierre was accused of involvement in the protests. He was tortured, but later escaped and fled
the country. When I was inside I was like someone who is
already dead. I did not think I would ever get out. Now that I am far away, I am starting to forget
but what keeps coming back to me are the screams that I heard. Pierre’s is the most detailed and shocking
account of how Nkoroka allegedly dealt with those suspected of opposing the government. If they wanted to question someone they would
call him and they would approach the chief and kneel before him… So, we would be in line somewhere here and
they would call us one by one. “Each case was different. But if they were not satisfied with your answer
they would torture you.” “You would hand them your hands and they
would beat them with electric cables. Also, they would cane you under the feet while you
were kneeling.” “I recall one of the cables that had many
wires inside, with a black rubber cover. That was the one the chief used to walk around
with. A black rubber cable enclosing many wires
that he would beat you up with if he was not satisfied with your answer. In December 2016, Pierre heard something worse
than the regular beatings. Two people, he said, tried to escape from
the house, and the guards chased after them. “So we could hear people shouting and saying:
“Get those dogs, don’t let them escape or you will suffer consequences.” When they finally caught them I could hear
them screaming in a way that suggested that they were being killed…or being inflicted
excruciating pain. They did not come back in the house after
and given the words I could hear, I think they were killed. It was not just the screaming that made Pierre
think the detainees had been killed. He also says he heard the chief – Nkoroka
– talking about body bags. “Then that day he said bring sacks and stuff
in those dogs and load them in the car. That is why I think people were killed there
before because those bags were used to carry corpses. Pierre didn’t see any of this. He was locked in a room, listening to the
terrifying sound of men screaming outside. But at around the same time – just before
the video of the red liquid began to circulate – our guard, Nathan, saw a killing with his
own eyes. His account contains striking similarities
to Pierre’s testimony. He describes three men being brought into
the house. They were tall, one of them especially big. “Let me tell you the truth, the whole truth. During the time of that blood
they had brought three men and had put them in that room over there. The next night an intelligence agent came
and took them out of their detention room to the living room. That was Nkoroka. He ordered his guards to behead them. At that point one of the guys, who was a tough
man, tried to forge ahead and escape.” According to Nathan, the escapee was caught
and killed just inside the main gate. He says the guards carried the body back into
the living room, where the other two prisoners had already been beheaded with knives. “Then they brought sacks to stuff their
corpses in. We tied the sacks, then we took a new tent
and laid it in the cargo area of the car, loaded the corpses in the car and covered
them with a tent and they drove off.” Nathan says the bodies were carried away in
sacks…but the blood of the three men remained on the floor and the driveway and had to be
cleaned up. If that blood was coming from the house it
was from the kids bathroom… Prosper – who built the sewage system for
this house – says that if it had been poured into this bathroom drain, it would have flowed
into this gutter – the same gutter seen in the video posted on December 28th. It is impossible to be 100% sure that this
liquid is the blood of the three men Nathan described. But Nathan did confirm that Pierre – the prisoner
who says he heard men being killed – was also held captive at 76 avenue Ntwarante at the
time of the alleged killings. We’ve been looking at this house in Burundi’s
capital Bujumbura, and asking if it was used as a torture facility
by the government. But what does it tell us about the bigger picture? To understand the origins of the current violence,
we need to go back in time. Between 1993 and the early 2000s there was
a civil war in Burundi. The conflict pitted the Tutsi minority, who
had held power for many years, against the Hutu majority. The war ended when Nelson Mandela brokered
a peace deal laying out the terms for a power sharing agreement. “President Buyoya has had the courage (and
the vision (..) he has agreed that the new army should be created from 50 per cent of the hutus
and 50 per cent of the tutsis.” The agreement also said that no President
could hold power for more than two terms – it laid the foundations for a decade of peace
and stability. But when Pierre Nkurunziza decided to run
again, many said he was violating the peace deal, a charge the President has always denied. Thousands, both Hutu and Tutsi, took to the
streets – and in response, the regime mobilized its security apparatus to suppress dissent. Today, some believe that those in charge are
trying to turn the two ethnic groups against each other – to deflect attention away from
Nkurunziza’s attempts to stay in power. We found a low-ranking intelligence agent
who worked with the government until he fled the country 2016. He admitted to killing people during the time
of the protests, and said that the crackdown was directed at areas heavily populated by
Tutsis. Not many tutsis worked with us. We were almost all hutus. And those we killed came from neighborhoods
where there were very few Hutus… Before ordering us to kill, they told us:
“Tutsis do not want us to rule.” But later on we came to realise that they
had lied to us.” According to the former insiders we spoke
with, the crackdown of 2015 has now turned into a quiet, orchestrated program to eliminate
opposition. Prosper’s house is not the only site that
has reportedly been used as a secret detention centre for political prisoners. At least 21 other torture locations have been
reported by victims and intelligence agents to the UN, to the civil society organisation
Ndondeza and to the BBC, in these areas of the country. Of these 21, we have been able to locate 8
sites in the capital with precision, including –
Muha military camp, the National Intelligence Agency headquarters, the basement of the ruling
party headquarters, containers in the yard of the national water
and electricity provider’s building in Kigobe, and the Headquarters of the police unit
in charge of protecting the country’s institutions. This is where former president Melchior Ndadaye
was buried. There has been a police position next to his
tomb for years, but between September and November 2015 a new structure appeared, and our sources say it became a base
for an anti-riot brigade. The troops are visible here. They were deployed to suppress the protests
in 2015, and were accused of using the containers in the yard as detention and torture sites. A victim told us that he was interrogated
in this pink house in the suburb of Mutakura in 2016, it’s a former bakery abandoned
by its owner during the protests. The victim told the BBC that liquid was injected
into his stomach. A former intelligence agent told the BBC that
he saw people being killed in a bar, called Iwabo Wa’bantu. It belonged to the now deceased head of intelligence,
Adolphe Nshimirimana. Our source told us the killers would blast
loud music to cover the screams. Local human rights groups confirm that political
violence is still happening. We’ve analysed the reports coming out of
Burundi. They indicate that although fewer deaths are
reported, more and more people are going missing or
being tortured, and that these incidents are now spread right across the country. We put the allegations contained in this film
to the Burundian authorities and to Alexis Ndayikengurukiye – Nkuroka – directly. We have not received any formal response. President Pierre Nkurunziza and his government have always denied involvement in human rights violations. But several of the sources we spoke to, including
former government insiders, believe that this alleged programme of detention and torture
has been approved at the highest levels. “This was organized in closed circles. This is a secret that was known by very high-ranking officials. What I am telling you, the president knew
because he was given reports.” We put these allegations to the President’s
office. We received no response. The protests of 2015 have disappeared from
the streets of Bujumbura, as have the journalists who covered them. But it would be a mistake – says one former
intelligence agent – to think that Burundi is now at peace. Some people think that the country is safe
now, I want to tell you this: This small respite is for them the best time to carry
out the killings without anyone noticing it. This is a man we will call Martin – he worked
for the regime and fled the country in 2018 because he feared for his life. Let me repeat this, they have long lists of
people to be killed. They have lists of army elements, police officers
and civil servants who are to be killed because they are believed to be dissidents or people
who are believed to not support the ruling party enough. They have changed their operating mode: the
cars, the body bags, the tents and the agents that they use in their new system. At the moment the country is silent, but people
continue to die and there will be no one left. By asking questions about what happened in
this house, we have found disturbing evidence that Burundi’s government is still eliminating
opposition to its rule. Multiple witnesses have told us about a hidden
but systematic programme of torture and killing. Local dissidents have a name for this – they
call it “Kamwe Kamwe”… One by one.

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