Burundians fleeing during the 1993 violence
Burundians fleeing during the 1993 violence

Mass killings of Tutsis were conducted by the majority-Hutu populace in Burundi from 21 October to December 1993, under an eruption of ethnic animosity and riots following the assassination of Burundian President Melchior Ndadaye in an attempted coup d'état. The massacres took place in all provinces apart from Makamba and Bururi, and were primarily undertaken by Hutu peasants. At many points throughout, Tutsis took vengeance and initiated massacres in response.

The United Nations Population Fund and the Government of Burundi conducted study in 2002 which concluded that a total of 116,059 people died during the events. The question of whether the killings of Tutsis arose from a planned genocide or from spontaneous violence remains heavily disputed among academics and Burundians who lived through the events.


Main article: History of Burundi

Further information: Ikiza

The demographics of Burundi through the 1960s and 1970s were roughly 86 percent Hutu, 13 percent Tutsi, and 1 percent Twa.[1] For most of this period, the Tutsi maintained a near monopoly on senior government and military positions. Burundi gained its independence from Belgium in 1962, and in May 1965 the first post-independence elections were held. The Hutu candidates scored a landslide victory, capturing 23 seats out of a total 33. But, instead of appointing a Hutu prime minister, the king Mwambutsa IV appointed a Tutsi prince, Léopold Biha, as Prime Minister. On October 18, 1965, Hutus, angry with the king's decision, attempted a coup. The king fled the country, but the coup ultimately failed.[2]

In 1972 another Hutu coup attempt was crushed by the Tutsi-dominated government and armed forces, resulting in a genocide in which between 100,000 and 150,000, mostly Hutus, were killed.[3]


Ethnic polarization escalates in Burundi during the 1990s

In June 1993 in Burundi, the Hutu Party, Front pour la Démocratie au Burundi, FRODEBU, and its presidential candidate, Melchior Ndadaye, won the election and formed a government.


Tensions finally reaching the boiling point on 21 October 1993 when President Ndadaye was assassinated during a coup attempt, and the country descended into a period of civil strife.[4] The Rwanda-based Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) reported that a coup had taken place and that Ndadaye had been captured on 21 October. This led young FRODEBU members to arm themselves and take Tutsis and Hutu UPRONA members hostage. Once RTLM announced later that day that Ndadaye was dead, the hostages were executed.[5]

By 22 October, Hutus were attacking Tutsis in the provinces of Kirundo, Ngozi, Gitega, Muyinga, Ruyigi, and Karuzi, and in parts of Kayanza, Muramvya, Rutana, and Bujumbura Rural. Violence was less intensive in the Cibitoke and Bubanza Provinces in the northwest and Cankuzo Province in the east. Only the provinces of Makamba and Bururi completely avoided the violence. Hutu peasants were primarily involved, though in some instances FRODEBU members in provincial and communal governments engaged in anti-Tutsi violence. In Butzei, one FRODEBU administrator was reported to have arranged for over three dozen Tutsi civil servants to be burnt.[6]

In several instances Tutsis engaged in reprisals.[7] The retaliatory violence was particularly acute in the provinces of Karuzi, Gitega, and Ruyigi.[8] On 24 October in Ruyigi town, Tutsis murdered 78 Hutu civil servants who were seeking refuge at a bishop's compound. The Tutsi-dominated army also engaged in reprisal killings. One of the few exceptions to this was in Karuzi Province, where the local commander, Major Martin Nkurikiye, went unarmed with two FRODEBU parliamentarians into villages to try to convince armed Hutus to stand down.[6] The army protected Tutsis by resettling them in fortified villages.[7] In November the Permanent Francophone Council condemned the killings.[9]

Initial estimates of the death toll from the ethnic violence ranged from 25,000 to 500,000. A joint study conducted by the United Nations Population Fund and the Burundian government in 2002 estimated the number of people killed from 21 October to 31 December 1993 to be 116,059, with at least 100,000 deaths occurring in late October. It remains unclear what proportion of these victims were Tutsi and what proportion were Hutu.[5]


In 1997, the Burundian government passed a law which penalised genocide and crimes against humanity. Later that year, the government charged hundreds of persons accused of responsibility in the killings of Tutsis, with 44 being sentenced to death.[10]

In 2014 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established to investigate crimes committed during ethnic violence since independence in 1962.[11][12]

Assessment of the violence as genocide

In May 1994, a UN preliminary fact-finding commission determined that the massacres of Tutsis were not part of "any premeditated plan for the extermination of the Tutsi ethnic group by the Hutu".[13] Conversely, the following year the International Commission of Inquiry for Burundi concluded that the killings constituted "an effort to completely destroy the Tutsi ethnic group. Tutsis were not simply killed in a spurt of violence, but systematically hunted...evidence is sufficient to establish that acts of genocide against the Tutsi minority took place in Burundi on 21 October 1993, and the days following".[13] The commission noted that "the evidence is insufficient to determine whether or not these acts of genocide were planned or ordered by leaders at a higher level".[14] FRODEBU accused the commission of bias and capitulating to demands of Tutsi politicians, church figures, and journalists to have their ethnic group's losses labeled genocide.[14]

The question of whether the killings of Tutsis arose from a planned genocide or from spontaneous violence remains heavily disputed among academics and Burundians who lived through the events.[15] Burundian Tutsi authors maintain that the killings were premeditated.[16] Political scientist Filip Reyntjens wrote in 1995 that "there is no evidence that a genocidal plan ever existed, and the allegations that it did were part of a strategy to exonerate the army and to implicate FRODEBU."[17] Academic Nigel Watt considered the violence to be a "double genocide", with the first one being perpetrated by Hutus against Tutsis, and the second being by the army against Hutus.[18] He also wrote that there was no evidence that plans to kill Tutsis were formulated on a national scale but that "the speed of the mobilisation suggests that some people feared [a coup] might happen and made preparations."[7]


The killings have received little coverage in international media or academia.[19] Burundian Tutsis attach more significance to the 1993 massacres relative to the 1972 Ikiza, which Hutus emphasise.[20] Some Burundians perceive both events as genocides worthy of remembrance, but generally factions have formed to claim the precedence of one event over the other and commemorate them accordingly.[21] Radical Tutsi ideologues, while stressing that the 1993 events were a genocide targeting Tutsis, often neglect to mention the thousands of Hutus killed by the army during the same period and the flight of thousands more as refugees to Rwanda.[22] Tutsi academics tend to give Ndadaye's assassination only cursory attention in their histories of the violence. In contrast, Hutu writers usually emphasise the killing of Ndadaye and the massacres of Hutus inflicted by the army and ignore the killings of Tutsis.[16] The Tutsi extremist group AC Genocide-Crimoso later established several monuments to commemorate Tutsis killed in 1993.[14] The Burundian government erected a monument in 2010 to commemorate victims of all post-colonial violence in the country.[21]

See also


  1. ^ Mann, M. (2005). The Dark Side of Democracy. p. 431.
  2. ^ "This Burundi king was buried in Geneva, but his nation wanted him back". This Burundi king was buried in Geneva, but his nation wanted him back. Retrieved 2020-05-26.
  3. ^ Israel Charny (2000) Encyclopedia of Genocide ABC-CLIO ISBN 9780874369281 p.510
  4. ^ Watt 2008, p. 47.
  5. ^ a b Bundervoet 2009, p. 361.
  6. ^ a b Watson, Catharine (January 1994). "Burundi: The Death of Democracy". Africa Report. pp. 26–31.
  7. ^ a b c Watt 2008, p. 48.
  8. ^ Daley 2008, p. 82.
  9. ^ Amnesty International Report 1994, p. 44.
  10. ^ Daley 2008, p. 84.
  11. ^ "Burundi's Truth and Reconciliation commission presents new findings". Africanews. 20 March 2021. Retrieved 12 October 2021.
  12. ^ Rugiririz, Ephrem (25 November 2019). "Burundi: the commission of divided truths". JusticeInfo.net. Retrieved 12 October 2021.
  13. ^ a b Bundervoet 2009, p. 358.
  14. ^ a b c Daley 2008, p. 83.
  15. ^ Turner 2012, p. 1.
  16. ^ a b Manirakiza 2011, p. 34.
  17. ^ Uvin 2013, Chapter 1: A brief political history of Burundi.
  18. ^ Watt 2008, p. ix.
  19. ^ Bundervoet 2009, p. 357.
  20. ^ Schweiger 2006, p. 654.
  21. ^ a b Bentrovato 2019, p. 148.
  22. ^ Lemarchand 2009, p. 63.

Works cited

Further reading