Archive for the 'Articles' Category

Campaign Against the Arms Trade, June 2007

June 13, 2007

Titanic Express

On December 28th 2000 my sister Charlotte, a British aid worker, was dragged from a bus in Burundi, robbed, forced to lie face down on the ground, and shot. Twenty other passengers of the oddly-named ‘Titanic Express’ bus, mostly Rwandan and Burundian Tutsis, shared the same fate. In the moments before she was killed, survivors say, Charlotte was told: “It’s the white people supplying the weapons in Africa – now you’re going to feel what it’s like”.

From the first days after my sister’s death, I was driven by the need to know more about who had killed her, and why. Slowly I built up a network of Burundian contacts, many of whom had lost loved ones at the hands of the same group, the Hutuextremist Palipehutu-FNL. This led, in 2002, to the recovery of an explosive report, written by the attackers themselves, detailing how the massacre was carried out. The document says little about the victims, noting only that 21 people were killed. But with meticulous care, the killers list the clothes and personal effects they looted from the dead, the guns used, and even the number of bullets expended: In the process of murdering Charlotte and her twenty fellow passengers, Palipehutu-FNL fired off 963 rounds of ammunition. This alone must say something about the easy availability of weapons in a country that ranks among the poorest in the world.

Arms trade and conflict

Burundi’s brutal war has claimed upwards of 300,000 lives since 1993. In the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the estimates run into millions. The conflicts ravaging Central Africa are driven by a potent mix of economic stagnation, entrenched corruption, poisonous racial ideology and breathtaking political cynicism. But without the abundant supply of arms, their impact would be far less deadly.

On the night of August 13th 2004, Palipehutu-FNL carried out one of their largest massacres to date, killing more than 150 Congolese Tutsis in an attack on the Gatumba refugee camp. Cartridges recovered from the scene were traced as far afield as Serbia, Bulgaria and China.

Successive UN reports have implicated dozens of western companies in illegal profiteering from the DRC war, which is intimately connected to the Burundi conflict. Those named include the UK-based Zimbabwean arms dealer John Bredenkamp and Andrew Smith, the British owner of the “air cargo firm” Avient

In September last year, a UN investigation revealed the nature of the “cargo” that Avient had been transporting. A 2006 report in the Sunday Times said that:

“Ukrainian and Russian aircrews recruited by Avient on behalf of the Congolese airforce were flying blanket bombing raids that in all probability were killing and maiming civilians caught in the war zone thousands of feet below.

Rudimentary bombs made from industrial gas cylinders filled with TNT were being rolled out of the backs of giant Antonov transport aircraft flown at high altitude in indiscriminate raids.”

International awareness

To date the UK has proved reluctant to follow up the UN’s allegations, but Bredenkamp’s offices were raided by the Serious Fraud Office last year as part of the BAE corruption inquiry. One more reason to hope that CAAT succeeds in getting the inquiry reopened is that it may help shed some much-needed light on Bredenkamp’s business dealings.

In the six years since my sister was killed, I’ve been shocked by the lack of international awareness of the horrors ravaging Central Africa and the complicity of western profiteers. It was for this reason that I decided to write a book about my family’s experience, and our efforts to understand the conflict that claimed Charlotte’s life.

Since writing it, I’ve had more opportunities to get involved in efforts to limit the arms trade. Most recently I’ve been pleased to support the Disarm UCL campaign (, aimed at persuading my old college to divest its £1.5 million of shares in the arms trade. Across the globe, wars are causing massive population displacement, hindering development, and destroying civilian infrastructure. This disruption inevitably deprives millions of their right to an education. It therefore seems particularly wrong that a university, especially one tied to a teaching hospital, should be profiting from the warfare industry.

The more I’ve learned about the conflicts in Central Africa, the harder it has been to detach what happens in Burundi, Rwanda and the DRC from what happens here in Europe, where the guns and bullets are made. If the cycle of violence is ever to be ended, then we have to get the international arms trade under control.

Titanic Express by Richard Wilson is published by Continuum, priced £10.99.

For more info see


Guardian, Comment is Free, May 30 2007

May 30, 2007

The Gower Street gunrunners 

University College London should know better than to defend its investments in the arms trade – and pull out instead.

The details of last November’s air strike on a religious school in the tribal Bajaur region of Pakistan are still shrouded in controversy.

The authorities claim that the school was an al-Qaida training camp, and that all of those killed were terrorists. Survivors insist it was an ordinary madrasa, and that the 82 victims were students, not militants. Local residents say that the attack was carried out not by Pakistani forces, but by US drone aircraft, armed with Hellfire missiles. The government has denied this – but sought to prevent journalists from travelling to the scene, and has so far resisted calls for an independent inquiry.

The aptly-named “Hellfire” missile is a ubiquitous feature of the “war on terror”. What’s less well-known is that my old college, University College London (UCL), has serious money invested in one of the companies that helps to build them.

Last year, an investigation by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) revealed that University College London has £845,530 worth of shares in Cobham PLC, which makes components for the Hellfire. A further £746,097 was invested in another blandly-named weapons manufacturer, Smiths Group. With these two investments, UCL has earned itself the dubious honour, according to CAAT, of having more money tied up in the arms trade than any other UK university.

For an institution that promises an “education for global citizenship“, aims to contribute to “the resolution of global problems“, and claims the utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham as its spiritual father, this seems especially bizarre.

The nature of the modern arms trade is complex and fragmented. We can’t know for sure that the particular missiles used in the Bajaur air strike contained Cobham’s components. But neither can we rule it out. If the survivors are telling the truth, then it’s possible that the hellfire that rained down on that Pakistani school last November, killing 82 people, was funded, in part, by UCL.

Hellfire missiles have been used widely both in Afghanistan and Iraq. So, too, the Apache helicopter and F16 fighter, which Smiths Group helps to manufacture. The Hawk jet, for which the company supplies weapons system components, has been sold to some of the most insidious regimes in the world. Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe deployed them during his country’s involvement in the apocalyptic war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Indonesia’s Suharto used them to bomb civilians during the vicious occupation of East Timor.

Malcolm Grant, UCL’s Provost, has defended the college’s investments by pointing out that the two companies also manufacture non-military products, and that neither produces an entire weapons system singlehandedly. But to those on the receiving end of the weapons that Smiths Group and Cobham PLC help to make, these facts are unlikely to be much consolation.

The impact of the arms trade contrasts sharply with UCL’s proud history of promoting humanitarian principles and opposing all forms of discrimination. According to the British Medical Journal, 85% of major conflicts since the second world war have taken place in poor countries – while the vast majority of weapons is exported by rich nations. Of the hundreds of thousands killed in war across the globe every year, most are civilians, and most live in the developing world. Alongside all the other human costs, the disruption caused by conflict inevitably deprives millions of their right to an education. Perhaps the best way for UCL to start resolving “global problems” would be to stop participating in them.

“Titanic Express” now available in paperback

April 21, 2007

Ziauddin Sardar, Independent
“incredibly moving”

Bronwen Maddox, The Times
“An astonishing chronicle”

Jon Swain, Sunday Times
“I have watched in growing admiration how, with dogged persistence, Richard Wilson has conducted a singular crusade, not just to bring his sister’s murderers to justice, but to understand who they were and why they killed her.”
Click here for the Titanic Express paperback edition

Comment is Free (Guardian), December 22 2006

December 23, 2006

Little Truth and no Reconciliation 

Six years ago, my sister Charlotte was dragged from a bus and shot dead in the tiny Central African state of Burundi. Twenty other passengers, among them her Burundian fiance, died with her. The killers were members of Palipehutu-FNL, a Hutu-extremist group seeking revenge on the country’s then-dominant Tutsi minority. The massacre was unusual only inasmuch as it caught the attention of the international media. Since the start, in 1993, of the latest cycle of massacre and reprisal-massacre, 300,000 civilians have been killed. The vast majority of attacks have gone unreported.

This time last year, it looked as if the cycle might finally have been broken. Following Burundi’s first elections in more than a decade, the country’s larger and more moderate Hutu-led rebel group had taken power, promising to mend ethnic divisions and rebuild the country’s once-buoyant economy. While Palipehutu-FNL continued sporadic attacks, the restoration of democracy had weakened and divided them. Many predicted that the group would be forced to capitulate – or face military defeat – within months.

The new government agreed to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to examine Burundi’s bloody post-colonial past, together with a special war crimes court to prosecute the worst of the perpetrators. The UN High Commission for Refugees stepped up “voluntary repatriations” of those who had fled the conflict. Shortly before the fifth anniversary of my sister’s death, Burundi’s Information Minister declared that the group’s leader, Agathon Rwasa, would soon be arrested and put on trial over the December 2000 killings.

A year on, we’re still waiting. In 12 months, international optimism over Burundi has unravelled with stomach-churning speed while no attempt has been made to prosecute Agathon Rwasa and his ilk, dozens of ordinary Burundians have been tortured and summarily killed as “FNL suspects”. Rape and torture by the security services is rife. Journalists, human rights campaigners and opposition politicians have been arrested, harassed and intimidated.

When Olucome, the country’s main anti-corruption organisation, alleged widespread financial irregularities by the new government, its director was arrested and charged with “defamation”. Other members have been beaten up, and received death threats over their work. Staff of the country’s main human rights organisation, Ligue Iteka, have also reported threats.

In June, the Burundian government announced plans to redefine the proposed “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” as a “Truth, Forgiveness and Reconciliation Commission”. Proposals for a special war crimes court have effectively been ditched. Many fear that the remodelled TFRC will be little more than a thinly-disguised general amnesty, of the kind that has been tried, and failed, so often before in Burundi.

Concerns over corruption came to a head with the mysterious sale of the Presidential Falcon 50 jet to a US company, Delaware Corporation FZC, for nearly $2 million less than its market value. Senior figures within CNDD-FDD accused the party chairman, Hussein Radjabu, of taking kickbacks over this and a number of other deals. (See pages 17/p23 of the Swisspeace report.)

In late July, the authorities announced that they had foiled an attempted coup, involving senior members of every major opposition party. The government quickly arrested the country’s Tutsi former Vice President, along with the Hutu ex-President, and a bizarre collection of Hutu and Tutsi extremists, anti-genocide campaigners, and independent journalists. The government’s star witness was Alain Mugabarabona, the leader of an FNL splinter group, who had confessed to being the mastermind behind the coup.

If the allegations were true, then it would have been a remarkable example of inter-ethnic collaboration. In reality, many believe that the “plot” was nothing more than a clumsy fabrication, dreamed up as a pretext for silencing criticism and eliminating political opposition.

One day Burundi’s Information Minister, Karenga Ramadhani, was claiming that Gratien Rukindikiza, an exiled politician, had implicated Alexis Sinduhije, head of the country’s largest independent radio station, in the coup plot. The next day Sinduhije’s radio station broadcast an interview with Rukindikiza, who denied saying anything of the sort and accused Ramadhani of “losing his head”. The day after that, Ramadhani announced that it had all been a misunderstanding and Alexis Sinduhije had nothing to fear.

The alleged leader of the conspirators, Alain Mugabarabona, was then interviewed from his prison cell, on a smuggled mobile phone. Mugabarabona claimed that the coup plot was a fabrication, and that he had been tortured into confessing involvement. Torture allegations by several other alleged coup-plotters were corroborated by the country’s human rights minister, who visited them in prison. Meanwhile a series of unexplained grenade attacks on bars in the Burundian capital claimed yet more lives. In late August, without irony, President Nkurunziza begged “forgiveness” for the human rights abuses committed during his first year in power, while urging the courts to “severely punish” those accused of plotting against him.

In September, Vice President Alice Nzomukunda resigned, condemning her own party’s leadership over corruption and human rights abuse, and denouncing the coup allegations as baseless. Soon afterwards, CNDD-FDD signed a peace agreement with Palipehutu-FNL, granting them immunity from prosecution, and paving the way for them to join the country’s government.

But the killings have continued. In October, thirteen more mutilated bodies were found, floating in Burundi’s Ruzizi river. In November, Amnesty International revealed that a number of “FNL suspects” killed earlier in the year were former refugees who had been told by the UNHCR that it was safe to return. For these victims, as for so many others before, the international community’s wishful thinking over Burundi had proved deadly.

A 2003 peace agreement between CNDD-FDD and the then-Tutsi-led government, endorsed and applauded by the UN, granted both sides “provisional immunity” for all crimes. Warnings by human rights groups that this would encourage further abuses were ignored. So too were calls for those implicated in war crimes to be barred from running for office. Some church groups have urged the Burundian government to go even further, and grant yet another general amnesty.

But to the Burundians I know, the idea that “peace and reconciliation” could be achieved while killers remain in power is a cruel joke. The difficult, messy truth is that democracy alone is not enough. Only by ensuring that Burundi’s war criminals are prosecuted under international law, can we hope to see a permanent end to the violence.

Hertfordshire Mercury, November 11 2006

November 11, 2006

Brother’s book on massacre victim

IN December 2000 vibrant volunteer worker Charlotte Wilson was mown down in cold blood in the small African country of Burundi by heartless Hutu extremists.

The “Titanic Express massacre” hit the world headlines and rocked the Hoddesdon community where she had lived and gone to school.

Now her brother, Richard Wilson, has looked back over her short life in a moving new book, Titanic Express – the ill-fated name of the bus on which she was travelling from Kigali in Rwanda to Burundi when the attackers ambushed the vehicle, robbing, stripping and gunning down 21 passengers.

Among them was Charlotte’s Burundian fiancé, ex-monk Richard Ndereyimana, whose family she was on her way to meet for the first time in the Burundian capital of Bujumbura.

She was made to lie face down on the ground as rebels blasted seven bullets into her body.

She was just 27 – a brilliant young woman with a PhD in molecular biology, who had been living in Rwanda as a volunteer teacher with Voluntary Service Oversees (VSO) in the village of Shyogwe.

As Richard writes her story, he explores the underlying ethnic tensions between the Tutsis and Hutus which also caused the horrifying genocide of 800,000 in Rwanda in 1994.

He admits he even mused about getting someone with a gun to do to his sister’s murderers what they had done to her. But at the same time he tries to understand why they turned into cruel killers.

Charlotte was born in 1973 in Milan, northern Italy, where her parents, Margot and Peter, were teaching English.

They returned to England, where Richard was born, followed by their sister Catherine in 1978. But by the time they moved to Hertfordshire, their father had been diagnosed with leukaemia and died not long after at the age of 34.

Now Charlotte is buried with him in the same quiet grave at centuries-old St Margaret of Antioch Church in Barley, near Royston, where her grandparents, Tony and Ann Wilson, lived.

The children went to Haslewood Junior School – now St Catherine’s – in Haslewood Avenue, Hoddesdon, and lived in the town in Stortford Road for 17 years. Charlotte then moved on to Sheredes School in Cock Lane, Hoddesdon.

She was clever and studious, but was bullied at school and teased about her NHS glasses.

Her brother recalls: “Her response was to glower even more disdainfully from behind those NHS glasses, to read even more books, to enunciate her consonants ever more clearly.

“There was no getting away from it – Charlotte was ‘posh’. Being posh in 1980s Hoddesdon, was a crime unforgivable. The fact that we were a single-parent household, had a black and white TV and no car and bought our clothes from Oxfam didn’t stop us from being posh,” he said.

They went to church, sang in the choir, did their homework and went bird watching and listened to classical music, says Richard, who read philosophy at University College, London.

After her death, her family received an airmail envelope from Charlotte “To my family, to be opened in the event of my death” which she had written in February 2000, requesting to be buried in Barley and saying: “I am sorry for getting myself killed, but apart from that I have no regrets and I have lived life to the full”.

After the massacre her grieving family began their campaign for justice against rebel group Forces Nationales de Liberation (FNL), which was responsible for the killing.

Richard read harrowing witness statements from survivors. There were suggestions that Charlotte’s fiancé may been tortured and his eyes gauged out and nose macheted off before being shot.

Richard pestered the Foreign Office and Metropolitan Police in his attempt bring the killers to justice, as well as dealing with his own deep sense of loss.

He contacted other aid bodies, foreign journalists and Richard’s family in Burundi and got close enough to the FNL leaders to get under their skin.

Speaking to the Mercury, 31-year-old Richard, who now lives in Wandsworth, south London, with his wife Heleen, said writing the book more than three-and-a-half years after she died did reopen old wounds.

The Charlotte Wilson Memorial Fund ( has so far raised £20,000 to help children at the village where she taught in Rwanda.

l Titanic Express, pictured above, published by Continuum is available at Amazon, Waterstones and other bookshops, priced £16.99.


London Anglican, October 23 2006

October 24, 2006

A brother’s tribute to his sister travels from London to Rwanda.


On 28 December 2000, Charlotte Wilson, a 27-year-old VSO teacher in Rwanda, was killed when the bus she was travelling on was ambushed in neighbouring war-torn Burundi. Twenty others died with Charlotte, including her Burundian fiancé.

In London, Charlotte attended the Church of Saint Alban the Martyr in Holborn. The vicar, Father Howard Levett, says Charlotte was an unassuming, sensitive, yet lively and highly intelligent young lady. She joined his adult confirmation class in 1995 and became a very faithful communicant member of the church thereafter.

Charlotte had hoped to get married in Saint Alban’s. Instead, Father Levett conducted her funeral on 18 January 2001. The packed variety of peoples and cultures that attended were ample testimony to the remarkable influence Charlotte had on many people during her short lifetime.

Charlotte’s brother, Richard Wilson, has written a book called Titanic Express, the name of the bus his sister was travelling on when she was killed. Published this summer, it records his meticulous efforts to bring the killers of Charlotte to justice. It is also a wonderful tribute to his sister and a very honest account of his own journey towards understanding and forgiveness.

Thanks to a chance meeting between Richard Wilson and Ann Peterken, who worships at St James Church in Hampton Hill, a copy of Titanic Express has reached the secondary school in Shyogwe where Charlotte taught science. Ann went on a CMS visit to Rwanda in late September and stayed in Shyogwe for five days, the very place where Charlotte had been so happy and fulfilled.

In the photo, Ann is presenting Titanic Express to the headmistress, the Revd Immaculée Nyiransengimana, beneath a framed painting of Charlotte in her choral attire for the Shyogwe church choir. Immaculée worked with Charlotte and she and many other people in Shyogwe remember Charlotte with love.

Titanic Express by Richard Wilson (ISBN 0-8264-8502-2) is published by Continuum. See for press reviews and other information.

Sunday Times, June 18 2006

July 30, 2006

An unforgotten death in Africa

By Jon Swain

Time, they say, is a great healer. But how you come to terms with the murder of your adored elder sister in a faraway country in Africa, torn asunder by civil war, by vicious and faceless rebels with whom you share absolutely nothing in common, is far from straightforward.

Do you fester in hatred and seek revenge? Do you wallow in pity? Do you forgive? Do you blank it out? Or do you seek answers and justice? For much of the period I have known him, Richard Wilson, a 30-year-old Londoner, has had to cope with precisely these issues. Today, he tells me he thinks he has found most of the answers after more than four years of painful investigation. But no justice.

He is still grieving and he has written a book about the tragedy: not comfortable reading. But then there is nothing comfortable about the way his sister Charlotte Wilson died. Three days after Christmas 2000, she was killed in Burundi when the bus she was travelling on was ambushed by Hutu rebels, crashed and overturned in a ditch. She was 27.

Charlotte was teaching at a school in neighbouring Rwanda and had recently fallen in love with a 6ft 6in-tall Burundian teacher called Richard Ndereyimana, a former monk. Just a few days earlier the couple had got engaged. They were on their way to celebrate the New Year in Burundi with his parents.

The rebels robbed the passengers of the Titanic Express and ordered them to lie on the ground. Then they opened fire. Her fiancé and 19 other passengers, including children, were killed. Charlotte died with seven bullet holes in her back.

She was blissfully happy, according to her last letters home. “I’m definitely following my star, even if it leads me to places that aren’t part of the conventional road to happiness,” she wrote to her mother.

She was happy, but she was also much affected by the recent genocide in Rwanda, which still cast a shadow over the land. One of the beliefs she held was that it was wrong to target people because of a label. In the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, hundreds of thousands of Tutsis had been slaughtered by Hutus. The Hutus had massacred the Tutsis not as individuals but because they bore a Tutsi label.

Tragically, as her brother has found in his investigations, his sister, too, was very likely seen as a label, not as an individual, by her killers. The rebels labelled her as a white person and to them that was a crime because, as one of them who shot her said in justification before he pulled the trigger on his AK-47: “It is you white people selling the weapons in Africa. Now you are going to feel what it is like.”

“So she had to pay the price for the arms trade,” Wilson says. “The gun that killed Charlotte was probably supplied by a European dealer.”

No family has been more remote from the arms business than the Wilsons. Margot and Peter Wilson were schoolteachers living in Italy when Charlotte was born. Moving back to Britain they had two more children, Richard and Catherine, but Peter died of leukaemia when Charlotte was six. Widowed, Margot never remarried, but devoted herself to her children.

She instilled in them a deep sense of morality, decency and independent thought. Her idealism rubbed off on Charlotte and with such a background it was the most ordinary thing in the world for her — after taking a PhD in microbiology — to leave Britain in 1999 to do voluntary work in Rwanda, one of the most forsaken countries on earth, and put a promising scientific career in London on hold.

Wilson will always wonder why his sister was travelling on that dangerous road when everyone advised westerners against it. But her father’s death when she was six had hit Charlotte just at the age when she was old enough to feel the force of it but did not have the emotional resources to deal with the loss. Even in her twenties she spoke of her grief as a “black cloud” that was always there. It left a hole in her life that could never be filled. Wilson wonders, still, whether it was that “black cloud” that had obscured her judgment so disastrously over Burundi.

A few months before her murder he had visited her in Rwanda and worried that she was reckless about her safety. What worried him most was that she seemed so willing to put her own safety at risk to prove a point. “My sister could be bossy, irritating and stubborn,” he says. But she was also the “most generous, gregarious, good-hearted and energetic person I knew”.

Though only two years apart, their two lives could not have been more different. While she was engaged in poverty, disease, ignorance and the legacy of the Rwandan genocide, he, back in London, was working in IT, on a computer system for ordering carpets and table lamps.

He writes in his book that when he came to study in London, “we met up regularly, swapped music and went to each other’s parties. I was proud of my increasingly glamorous sister, who knew all the good pubs in Hammersmith and who half my friends seemed to fancy.”

The moment he heard the news of her death is still etched on his mind. Wilson was spending a quiet day at his office when the telephone rang. His mother, using her “serious” voice but quite calm, told him to come home as she had something to tell him. He wondered if the dog had died and said he was not coming home without knowing why. “It’s Charlotte and Richard. They were in Burundi. They were on a bus. It was attacked by Hutu rebels,” she said.

She was making him nervous and annoyed at the way she was stringing it out. But he did not expect her to say what she said next. “They’ve been killed, Richard.”

Among his sister’s belongings which were returned from Africa was a letter “to my family in the event of my death”. In it, she apologised for “having got myself killed . . . God willing, we will meet again”.

Amid deepening personal grief, anger at her killers but also towards his sister for taking such a big risk, Wilson began investigating and trying to make sense of the murder. The family set up a fund and used Charlotte’s savings, including a £2,000 inheritance from her father, to help her fiancé’s family caught up in the fighting in Burundi.

I wrote about their generosity in The Sunday Times and in due course got to know Wilson. I have watched, in growing admiration, how, with dogged persistence, he has conducted a singular crusade, not just to bring her murderers to justice, but to understand who they were and why they killed her.

In the process, Wilson abandoned his job, lost his girlfriend, underwent counselling and sometimes was at odds with his mother and sister, both distraught but finding different ways to deal with the grief. Several times the family came close to breaking point, he says.

He has had to wrestle with his own feelings, starting with intense anger and thoughts of having the killers bumped off. But gradually, as he explored deeper into himself, he realised the futility and immorality of such a violent response.

As he explored deeper, too, into the brutal African environment in which his sister was murdered, he began to find the reasons why she was killed.

From the beginning he faced indifference and obfuscation from the British authorities. The police, investigating Charlotte’s murder at the behest of the coroner after her body had been repatriated, told him: “They do things differently in Africa . . . these people are killing each other all the time . . . your sister’s killers are never going to be caught or prosecuted.”

But Wilson refused to believe them. He had inwardly promised his sister, too, at the moment of identifying her body at the morgue, that he would do everything he could to see her killers tracked down and put on trial.

Wilson acknowledges that he got some notable support from some individual Foreign Office officials, but says the police were not helpful. At one point, they accused him of interfering with their investigation by trying to help a crucial wounded eyewitness to the ambush to come to Britain.

On another occasion, a policeman, apparently at Foreign Office bidding, asked his mother to tell her son to back off as his actions were jeopardising a peace process beginning to take root in Burundi.

But, through dogged persistence, he has got further than the police and Foreign Office ever did to shed light on this crime. He located a secret guerrilla document from Burundi which identified the killers and their leader as being the Palipehutu National Liberation Forces (FNL), the country’s only remaining Hutu rebel group, led by Agathon Rwasa.

But though Wilson notified the Foreign Office, the document was kept from him for a year. The Foreign Office claimed it was being translated.

After an even bigger massacre than the Titanic Express — the slaughter of 152 Congolese Tutsis at a refugee camp — the FNL were declared a terrorist organisation and Rwasa a war crimes suspect.

But months afterwards he was shaking hands with the Burundian president as they signed a ceasefire deal in neighbouring Tanzania. Now, just in the last few days, Rwasa has been granted immunity from prosecution.

To Wilson’s dismay, having always said it would oppose an amnesty, the Foreign Office has registered no complaint: “This is very disappointing,” he says.

Thus, he says, the British government seems to be willing to turn a blind eye to murder for reasons of political expediency.

Wilson’s experience has made him wonder how much, for all its fine rhetoric of Africa being a “scar on the conscience of the world”, this government really cares about seeing justice done in Africa.

“Charlotte’s murder was inexcusable but it was not inexplicable,” he says. “There are killers in every society. It simply isn’t true that Africans are intrinsically more violent or value human life less than we do.”

But, he says, the area where Charlotte died in Burundi still lives in the shadow of its history — a genocide of 200,000 Hutus in 1972, the year before Charlotte was born, which gave rise to the FNL, the very same rebel group which killed her and tens of thousands of others.

Without bringing the ringleaders like Rwasa to justice, the rage will not go away. “It will fester,” he says. “Without justice, the dead will refuse to stay buried.” That is why, he says, he has no problem being a “spanner in the works”, campaigning against an amnesty for Charlotte’s killers.

Titanic Express, by Richard Wilson, is published by Continuum, £16.99

Times, July 17 2006

July 30, 2006

A Briton’s struggle for the truth about his lost sister

By Bronwen Maddox

AT CHRISTMAS five years ago Richard Wilson was chatting about presents with friends in his office, when his mother called and told him his elder sister, Charlotte, had been shot dead on a bus in Burundi.He has written an astonishing chronicle of his struggle to cope with her death and his hunt for those who killed her. It tells of late-night internet searches from a South London flat that took him ahead of the Foreign Office and police, bringing exasperation in Whitehall — and threats from the people he believes killed her.

Charlotte, who was 27 when she died, had gone to Rwanda as a Voluntary Service Overseas worker to teach science. Her family had no doubt that she would resume her career in Britain as a microbiologist. Mr Wilson visited her in Rwanda, finding her “happier and more at ease than I’d ever seen her”.

She later e-mailed that “I now seem to be going out with a 6ft 6in Burundian ex-monk” called Richard Ndereyimana, and had become engaged. Mr Wilson “quite looked forward to having one brother-in-law from the richest country in the world and one from the very poorest”.

On December 28, 2000, Charlotte was travelling in the even more dangerous Burundi with her fiancé to meet his family. The bus, the fatefully named Titanic Express, was ambushed. and the couple were killed, along with 19 others.

Mr Wilson, then 25, tormented himself with questions about Charlotte’s death, and about the conflict in Rwanda and the parallel war in Burundi. The attackers were plainly Hutu rebels; they had sought out Tutsis.

He pieced together accounts from survivors, tracked down by aid workers and journalists, and came to believe that the attackers were members of the Forces Nationales de Libération (FNL), a faction linked to those who took part in the Rwandan genocide and led by Agathon Rwasa. The Foreign Office accepted that members of the group were the prime suspects.

The group and Rwasa denied the accusations. But it controlled the territory where the bus was attacked. Western aid workers and analysts on the ground were convinced of its role. After an attack in 2004 African governments declared the FNL a terrorist organisation and Burundi issued an arrest warrant for Rwasa.

Mr Wilson has never established the names of those who ambushed the bus but he feels satisfied that he has worked out who was responsible.

During this hunt, Mr Wilson’s employers, a department store where he was working on a wedding-list computer system, were very tolerant. His mother and other sister finally lost patience. The Foreign Office and police told him that he was interfering in their inquiries. But he is not dismissive of the British Government. “It did help — it made Charlotte’s death impossible for the Burundi Government to ignore,” he says.

He has accepted reluctantly, for the moment, the Burundi Government’s granting of “provisional immunity” to Rwasa as part of an attempt to bring the FNL into a political process. But he is frustrated that Britain accepts this amnesty while saying it is committed to the prosecution of Charlotte’s killers. He hoped, he says, that the immunity would indeed prove “provisional” and that the FNL leaders would still be brought to trial. Asked what kind of justice he would like, he says: “I don’t want revenge. No, I don’t want them killed.”

He now works for a children’s charity, is married and may write a book on forgiveness.

Titanic Express by Richard Wilson is published by Continuum, £16.99