Family saga over Remains of former Burundi king can stay in Geneva

Mwambutsa IV Bangiriceng of Burundi at a conference of African heads of state in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 1963

(Getty Images)

Forty years after the death of Mwambutsa IV, the former king of Burundi, the Swiss Federal Court has ruled that his remains can stay in Switzerland and be reburied at a local Geneva cemetery rather than be repatriated to Africa.

Switzerland’s highest court said the king’s body may now rest in peace at Meyrin cemetery in canton Geneva, in accordance with his last wishes.

Tuesday’s ruling rejects an appeal by the king’s daughter and confirms last November’s decision by the Geneva Court of Justice, which ruled in favour of his niece, who had opposed the repatriation of the remains.

The king’s daughter, backed by the Burundi government, wanted to offer her father a state funeral. In 2012 she asked her half-sister, who lived in Geneva, to dig up the remains with a view to repatriating them.

During the legal battle, the remains of Mwambutsa IV have been kept in a cold room at a Geneva funeral parlour.

Legal battle

Tuesday’s court decision marks the end of a four-year legal battle between family members.

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.

The Burundi authorities had argued that a state funeral would have helped a reconciliation process and calmed tensions in the country. The small African country has been battered 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.  

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