A Geneva court has ruled that the remains of the former king of Burundi, Mwambutsa IV, can stay in Switzerland and be reburied at a local Geneva cemetery rather than be repatriated to Africa. However, an appeal is still possible.
The Geneva Court of Justice ruled in favour of the ex-king’s niece, who had opposed the repatriation of the monarch’s remains.
The king’s daughter, backed by the Burundi government, wanted to offer her father a state funeral. She asked her half-sister who lived in Geneva to dig up the ex-king’s remains in 2012 with a view to them being repatriated.
During the legal battle, the remains of Mwambutsa IV have been kept in a cold room at a Geneva funeral parlour.
The Geneva court decision marks the end of a four-year-long legal battle between family members, the niece’s lawyers, Pascale Genton and Andrea Rusca, said on Tuesday.
The niece’s lawyers said the king’s body can now rest in peace at the Meyrin cemetery where he was dug up, in accordance with his last wishes.
However, an appeal is still possible to Switzerland’s highest court.
Died in Switzerland
King Mwambutsa IV Bangiriceng became king of Burundi on December 16, 1915. He was invested with full ruling powers in 1929. He saw Burundi’s transfer from Germany to Belgium following the First World War and was on the throne when the country gained independence on July 1, 1962. After a Hutu-led coup in October 1965, he withdrew to Switzerland, where he spent the rest of his life and died in 1977.
In the Geneva court case, the Burundi authorities had insisted on the importance of paying homage to the royal family which had been in place until 1966.
The authorities argued that a state funeral would have helped a reconciliation process and calmed tensions in the country. The small African country has been gripped by political strife since President Pierre Nkurunziza sought and won a third term in 2015, which opponents said violated the constitution and terms of a peace deal that ended civil war in 2005.
But their argument fell on deaf ears. The Geneva court said it could not be established that the grievance was of overriding public interest, in particular given the current political situation in Burundi. The repatriation would have also contravened the ex-king’s wishes. In his will he asked for his remains not to be transferred back to Burundi.
In a statement, the former king’s niece said she was very satisfied with the decision by the Geneva court.
“My uncle, Mwambutsa IV, was extremely far-sighted. He foresaw that his remains might be instrumentalised and arouse certain wishes. That’s why he protected himself with his testament arrangements.”
swissinfo.ch with agencies