Rights groups call for probe into bagged bodies

Saturday September 20 2014

The identity and nationality of people whose bodies have been retrieved by fishermen from Lake Rweru on the border of Rwanda and Burundi over the last two months remains a mystery after both countries disowned them.

Fishermen at the lake, located at the northernmost point of Burundi and whose northern shore forms part of its border with Rwanda, say they have retrieved 40 bodies brought by River Akagera that flows from Rwanda.

The mystery deepened last week when fishermen reported seeing three more bodies which, like those retrieved earlier, were bound with ropes and stuffed in bags. According to the fishermen, the bodies were of men and women seemingly in their 20s or 30s.

With Rwanda and Burundi governments disowning the bodies, human rights organisations are calling for independent investigations to determine the source of the bodies.

A commission set up by the Burundi government to investigate the matter is yet to disclose its findings. The heads of police from Rwanda’s Eastern Province and Burundi’s Muyinga Province are also jointly conducting investigations.

Last week, Human Rights Watch senior researcher Carina Tertsakian called on Rwandan and Burundian authorities to investigate the matter “fully, rigorously and without delay.”


There were claims that some of the bodies, which have already been buried in Burundi without an autopsy being carried out, were found with Rwandan documents.

Last week, a fisherman told The EastAfrican of the latest incident: “We were throwing our nets when we spotted something which looked like a plastic bag floating. Upon opening it, we found three decomposed bodies. The victims were naked and tied with ropes.”

Another fisherman, Claver Barandagiye, a resident of Commune Giterenayi in Muyinga Province, said some of the bodies had deep cuts.

A European Union official told Radio France International that the EU had asked both countries to expedite investigations to identify where the bodies came from and the cause of the people’s death.

French news agency AFP reported that residents neighbouring Lake Rweru claimed the bodies floated from Rwanda.

Aline Manirabarusha, the governor of Muyinga Province in Burundi, neighbouring Lake Rweru, said security agents had concluded that none of the people was from the area.

“We are waiting for the joint report from both side,” she said.

Willy Nyamitwe, the head of communication at the office of Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza, said both countries were making efforts to identify the bodies. “What we can confirm is that the bodies floated through River Akagera, which comes from Rwanda.”

He said Burundi could not confirm the origin of the bodies until all investigations were complete.

Asked why Burundi buried the the bodies before conducting a post mortem, Minister for Internal Security Edouard Nduwimana said they did not have facilities to carry out the examinations.

“The decision to bury the bodies was taken because we did not have the capacity to keep them in storage. They were already decomposed and getting worse.”

Reported by Edmund Kagire, Eloge Willy Kaneza, Agencies