Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Vigil for Charlotte Wilson

If you're popping in here on 28th December, please give me a miss this time and head out instead to Richard Wilson's blog - he's @dontgetfooled on twitter, responsible for the Banana Cake of Liberty. Or, please or look up his #titanicexpress tweets. He's holding a 24 hour vigil for his sister Charlotte, who 10 years ago today was murdered in Burundi, just south of Rwanda, in a massacre for which the perpetrators have never been punished.

Obviously I didn't know Charlotte, so I will say the minium; but I can see how much she was adored and appreciated by those who knew her. She was on a Voluntary Services Overseas program; having read biochemistry and gone on to do a doctorate in molecular biology - focussing on the cocksackie virus, related to polio, of course relevant to the region she went to - she was teaching science to pupils who were, she was shocked to learn, "always ill". She has just got engaged and was on a six hour journey on the bus named "Titanic Express", to meet her fiance's family in Rwanda.

But as Amnesty International says:
The Titanic Express was attacked on its way from the Rwandan capital, Kigali, to Burundi’s capital city ten years ago today. Those onboard were separated according to their ethnicity. Hutus were released, while Tutsi passengers and 27-year-old British aid worker Charlotte Wilson were killed. The Burundian authorities and other organisations have attributed responsibility to the armed opposition group Palipehutu-National Liberation Forces (Palipehutu-FNL). The FNL denies involvement. Ten years on, no one has been brought to justice.
Richard wrote a book about her and everything he found about the massacre. His family are still determined to get justice not just for their daughter but for the other victims, and also those who have tried to expose injustice in their country. As his blog says:
Tragically, while the war criminals remain free, one of the Burundian journalists who has done most to highlight the Titanic Express massacre, Jean-Claude Kavumbagu, has been languishing in prison since July. He is facing a criminal trial for “defamation” and “treason” after making critical comments about Burundi’s army.
You can read more at Amnesty International, the Justice for Charlotte Facebook group, a moving statement and subsequent interview at the Guardian, and an article about arms that Richard Wilson wrote five years later.

Richard was one of the first skeptics I encountered on Twitter and whose work I admired from the start. I only met him briefly once, but he struck me as incredibly friendly and cheerful. Until recently I had no idea this had happened. This is just a quick message from me, Richard, and a thoroughly ignorant one as I'm only just starting to catch up on this heartrending story - but just to let you know I'm thinking of you. And I admire the bravery and determination of the family, who are determined not to seek revenge, nor in any way to abandon Charlotte's belief that education and independence were the way forward, but to find out what happened, and why, and to let the world know, so that things need not always be like this.

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