Torture and Detention in Bujumbura, Burundi

Torture and Detention in Bujumbura, Burundi

In December 2016, a video began to circulate on social media in Burundi. The video showed a red liquid in the drainage canal of a house in Bujumbura, the country’s capital. People who shared the video suggested that the liquid was blood, and asked whether the house was being used by Burundi’s intelligence services as a secret detention centre.

Burundi has been gripped by unrest since 2015, after the country’s president, Pierre Nkurunziza, announced that he intended to run for a third term in office, in defiance of presidential term limits defined in Burundi’s constitution. A brief coup attempt failed to topple Nkurunziza, who won the subsequent election by a landslide. By 2018, over four hundred thousand refugees had fled the country to neighbouring states.

Forensic Architecture (FA) collaborated with BBC Africa Eye to investigate the house seen in the video. Who owned the it, and what had gone on there?

BBC Africa Eye gathered testimonies from the former owner of the house, as well as three witnesses who claimed to have been held as captives or to have worked as guards inside the house.

FA separately interviewed the house’s owner in order to digitally reconstruct the house according to his guidance. Photographs provided by the owner added further details to the building’s interior, such as the size and location of doors and passages, as well as floors and furnishings.  

Later, we met with the witnesses, and conducted ‘situated testimonies’ in which our digital model of the house functioned as an interviewing tool, helping witnesses to remember details of the traumatic events that had occurred inside the house.

The story of this house exemplifies a pattern of underground state violence in Burundi, by which the government of Nkurunziza confiscates and reappropriates domestic spaces across the country for the purposes of torture, detention and extrajudicial killing.

Forensic Architecture team

Eyal Weizman (Principal Investigator)

Samaneh Moafi (Project Coordinator)

Nicholas Masterton

Sebastian Tiew

Sarah Nankivell

Christina Varvia

Collaborators

BBC Africa Eye

Press

Burundi: Inside the secret killing house | BBC, 4 December 2018

Inside Burundi’s ‘secret government death house’ where ‘dissidents are tortured and beheaded’ and a river of ‘blood’ runs into the street | The Sun, 4 December 2018

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