Demonstrators held a silent procession in downtown Portland on Friday to commemorate the Gatumba massacre of Banyamulenge refugees in Burundi on Aug. 13, 2004. Kelley Bouchard/Staff Writer

Demonstrators held a memorial walk in downtown Portland on Friday to commemorate the massacre of hundreds of Banyamulenge refugees in Gatumba, Burundi, on Aug. 13, 2004.

Maine is home to more than 400 Banyamulenge, an ethnic minority that is part of the Tutsi community in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a country in Central Africa that is the 11th largest in the world by land area.

In the Gatumba massacre, more than 166 civilians were killed and 200 injured when Hutu rebels shot and burned mostly Banyamulenge people living in a refugee camp overseen by the United Nations, according to Human Rights Watch.

On Friday afternoon, a silent procession of about 70 people wound from Portland City Hall on Congress Street through the downtown area. The event was organized by the Mahoro Maine Peace Association and the Gatumba Refugees Survivors Foundation.

Participants carried banners and signs saying “Justice Delayed is Justice Denied” and “We Demand Peace and Protection,” emphasizing that no one has been held accountable for the attack or the continued persecution of Banyamulenge people.

“We have to remember our people who were killed,” said Richard Munyetwari, association president. “It’s a peaceful demonstration. We are seeking justice for our people.”


Munyetwari, who lives in Westbrook and works as a caretaker in a group home, lost a cousin in the massacre.

Esperance Nasezerano, foundation president, said the demonstration is part of a national effort to raise awareness about the plight of the Banyamulenge, especially among young people.

Nasezerano, who lives in Atlanta, was at the Gatumba refugee camp and she survived the massacre, but many of her friends and family members did not.

“Not everyone is aware of what happened to us,” she said. “By raising awareness, maybe we can prevent other atrocities like what happened in Gatumba.”

During the procession, organizers delivered letters to the offices of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat, asking for their help in seeking international justice for the victims of the massacre.

“Nineteen years after the Gatumba massacre, justice has still not been served,” the organizers said in a written statement. “The Banyamulenge community worldwide continues to live in sorrow and dread because of the ongoing genocide against their relatives back home, and the continuing lack of accountability for violent crimes against innocent civilians.”

This year’s commemoration of the massacre will include a memorial event on Saturday at the Sheraton Hotel, 200 Sable Oaks, South Portland. It starts at 9 a.m. and will include personal testimonies and presentations. The event is free and open to the public.

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