Category Archives: Burundi

Lawyer Astere interviewing his client

IBJ Frees A Child Prosecuted With 10 Years of Imprisonment

In Burundi, the number of children in pre-trial detention is steadily decreasing. However, it is necessary to maintain this momentum and continue the fight against illegal juvenile detention. The story of Celeus exemplifies the paramountcy of this continued effort.

For the past 3 months, IBJ fellows assisted 6 cases involving minors; 5 were in the province of Cibitoke and 1 in rural Bujumbura. One case involved Celeus, a youth accused with another man for the theft that occurred at a residence. The other accused, who had already avowed the crime after being caught with stolen articles in his possession, was given provisional release. IBJ lawyer for the defense, Astère Muyango, argued that the specific juvenile procedures introduced by the new Code of Criminal Procedures were violated. He demonstrated that Article 224, which declares void any interrogation of a minor without the presence of a lawyer or another person duly authorized by judicial authority, had been breached.

The argument between the prosecution and defense hinged upon the age of the defendant and a matter of statutory interpretation – was it the age at the time of the offence or the offender’s current age that must be taken into consideration? The prosecution argued the latter, whereas Muyango rebutted by relying on the Penal Code, more specifically, Article 29, which stipulates that penalties are set based on age at the time of the offense. Celeus was a minor at the time of the offense, hence the significance of the element of age and its centrality to Muyango’s argument. This could be the factor that effectively decides Celeus’s fate.

The prosecution called for a delay in order to summon the co-accused who was currently on bail. An additional delay would mean that the accused would have to be detained for the time-being – a result Muyango argued would violate the legal provisions that protect minors, as they stipulate that the detention of a minor must be a measure of last resort. Given the interpretation of “minor” and this special protection now afforded to the defendant, the defense concluded that their client should be released. Celeus was released.

Lawyer Astere interviewing his client

Lawyer Astere interviewing his client

Lawyer Aline Nijimbere interviewing her client

Lawyer Aline Nijimbere interviewing her client

A month later, one of Celeus’s family members called IBJ expressing his joy to once again see the child the prosecution had asked to punish with 10 years of imprisonment.

The hard work of exceptional lawyers such as Astère Muyango remind us of how important it is to continue our mission. Despite such a milestone in the fight against illegal juvenile detention in Burundi, Celeus is but one individual who needed legal help that he otherwise would not have had access to. It is imperative to continue working with the police and prosecutors, conducting training sessions and developing best practices to protect ordinary citizens under the auspices of the rule of law.

Burundi's campaign Against Torture

Freed after 740 days of detention while under provisional release granted

The court of Cibitoke is located in the North-West of Burundi, about 50 kilometers from the capital city Bujumbura. No prison is located in Cibitoke, so prisoners from this area are detained in the Central Prison of Mpimba located in Bujumbura. To hear criminal matters, this court has to make “itinerants,” where judges and prosecutors from Cibitoke court move to Bujumbura. They then hold hearings in the courtroom of one of Bujumbura tribunals. The provisional relocations are supported by the Belgian Technical Cooperation (BTC), which financially supports the transportation needed to allow the court to leave Cibitoke and come to Bujumbura.

On March 27th, 2013, the court in the Rohero Tribunal conducted a hearing. From 9 o’clock, twenty defendants awaited the arrival of the judges while IBJ lawyers interviewed them. Among the issues scheduled, there was a case of four defendants that captured the human rights defenders’ attention. These defendants had been arrested on January 21, 2011.

As of March 16, 2011, the judge granted them provisional release. The prosecution objected to this decision and appealed. The Court of Appeal of Bujumbura maintained the first decision, which was notified to the defendants on November 13, 2012. Burundi’s law provides that in case of pre-trial detention, the appeal must be dealt with in 72 hours. In the defendants’ case, the appeal procedure lasted for almost twenty months, time during which the defendants were held in detention throughout the procedure. A worrying fact was that those defendants remained in prison despite the second decision.

The day before, when prison officials were calling defendants who were going to appear in court, one of the four defendants was not on the list. Bnub and Aprodh, agents who followed their case, warned the other three defendants that their case could not be heard in the absence of their co-accused. Bnub and Aprodh followed the cases and did their best for the defendant to appear.

At the call of the case, Janvier Ncamatwi, an IBJ lawyer, denounced all the irregularities related to illegal detention of his clients. Among others, he let the seat note that his clients were supposed to walk free according to decision taken by the court. He went on by inviting judges to analyze whether his clients were irregularly maintained in detention. He was vouching for release of his clients. According to him, the seat had to decide on the benches and order their provisional release. The prosecution unsuccessfully tried to oppose the IBJ lawyer’s arguments. The seat left the room to deliberate. After ten minutes, the session was reopened and the President of the seat confirmed that the four defendants were to walk free.

This joyful decision caused tears to pour down the defendants’ faces.

The seat had then to deal with the substance of the case. IBJ lawyer requested the implementation of the first decision to allow defendants to consult their records in order to prepare their defense. The case was thus reported in 29 April 2013.

On that day, of the 10 defendants whose cases have been assisted by IBJ lawyers, four have been granted provisional release, five have seen their cases closed and taken for deliberation and another case was handed over on April 29, 2013.

International Bridges to Justice was pleased to see that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Office of the United Nations in Burundi in the section of Human Rights and Justice, who were present during the audiences, decided to follow up with that case until the decision of the court was effectively implemented. On the following day, the four accused defended by IBJ were released after 740 days of detention with a provisional release granted.

IBJ lawyers and volunteers Astère Muyango, Aline Nijimbere, Janvier Ncamatwi, Modeste Niyonsaba and Audace Gatavu assisted more than thirty five defendants from the provinces of Cibitoke and Mwaro on 29th and 30th of April in 29 cases. The inmates from Mwaro were assisted in the province of Muramvya, which is the location of the prison in which they are detained. Most of the cases have been closed and submitted for deliberation.
IBJ continues to support the accused in Burundi. As the IBJ Founder and CEO, Karen Tse wrote in From Fear to Hope, citing Martin Luther King, “the time is always ripe for justice”. Justice does not “roll in on the wheels of inevitability” but comes about because of dedication and hard work of committed individuals.

Serving nearly double time: Teenager freed after IBJ simply follows-up with neglected case

One IBJ client was barely 15 years old when he was arrested on 6 July 2007. He was accused of burglary and put in pre-trial detention. The only existing documentation of his detention is the arrest warrant (dated 06/07/2007), and the order to detain him provisionally (dated 23/08/2008). It was only after almost two years after his arrest that he appeared before the court in a public hearing. He pled not guilty, but was not assisted by a lawyer (although the right to legal assistance is stated in both the Constitution and the Procedural Penal Code). The attorney general asked for a punishment of 4 years of imprisonment. Following the hearing, on 13/04/2010 the court condemned the young man to 2 years of imprisonment. The court took several circumstances into account, including the fact that the accused was a minor. But although the condemned was detained over 2 years already by the time of the judgement (2 years and 10 months to be exact), he was not immediately freed. In fact, he ended up in detention for almost 4 years.

The case was brought under the attention of an IBJ lawyer during one of IBJ’s visits to the prison.  At that point, the condemned was already imprisoned for 3 years and 9 months. Seeing the striking circumstances of the case, the lawyer did not hesitate to act and immediately verified the facts of the case by checking the relevant documents. Lawyer Aline Nijimbere found out that the facts were indeed correct, and contacted the Registry, which is the authority responsible for automatically notifying and signing the judgement to the condemned—and in this case to free him. After she contacted the Registry, the Clerk said she would free the prisoner the next Monday. However, the next Monday the prisoner was still not freed, and it was only after IBJ’s lawyer contacted the clerk again on Tuesday that he was freed.

This case does not require intensive or complicated legal assistance. The problem with cases such as this one is their identification. Once identified, the case simply needs a quick follow-up, including verification of the facts and personal contact with the Registry, in order to put pressure on officials to notice the prisoner of the judgement. All of this should be followed by his liberation.

The young man was following his primary school studies before he was arrested and jailed. Given the precarious prison conditions in Burundi in general, and the fact that there are no special measures to protect minors within the prison system whatsoever, his health was seriously affected.

When he was freed, he was very happy to see his family again and possibly continue his studies, even though he thinks he is not capable to go to school after 4 years of detention in inhumane conditions.

What went wrong in this case? Several flaws of the Burundian justice system can be pointed out with this case in an exemplary function.

-First of all, the Burundian Penal Code clearly states that no minor younger than 15 can be held criminally responsible (it is the age at the time of the criminal act that should be taken into account). Next to the criminal irresponsibility of minors under 15, the article specifies that crimes committed by them can only give rise to civil procedures. This also means that he cannot be imprisoned for a crime he is accused of.

-The Procedural Criminal Code points out clearly that pre-trial detention has to be authorized and renewed every month by a judge, by means of a motivated decision. The judge therefore should have had several occasions to notice the unlawfulness of the detention. The fact that the monthly review of the detention does not take place regularly is in itself an element that makes the pre-trial detention unlawful. Moreover, the Penal Code criminalizes the behaviour of the actors of the judicial system if they do not follow the timeframes stated in the Procedural Code without a valuable explanation.

- The fact that the accused only appeared before the court more than 2 years after his arrest and detention is unlawful. Moreover, the prisoner was not assisted by a lawyer. This is certainly not strange in Burundi, since recent studies show that only 2.7 percent of the accused can benefit from legal aid. And in this case, the young man was not liberated, although he already served almost twice the punishment required! The Registry, firstly responsible for informing the parties of the judgement and the liberation of the condemned, did not do so according to ‘a typing mistake.’

-Another authority that should have reacted on the unlawful situation is the Attorney General, since they are responsible for the executions of the judgements and should control the Registry.  These kind of actions can be resolved by IBJ trainings that gather  key criminal actors.

-Another element to consider is the unawareness of the population of their rights. If the detainee and his family were more aware of the manifest unlawfulness of the imprisonment, they would have taken firmer actions.

The justice system failed at several levels to guarantee the basic rights of the suspect, the accused and the condemned. The identified flaws should be further analysed, in order to contribute to a more efficient and fair Burundian justice system. In this case, it points clearly out that the execution of judgements is in itself a problem in Burundi.

All these malfunctions point out the relevance of IBJ actions in supporting the implementation of Burundi criminal laws.

5 cases of the same family

Imprisonment as a family affair: One family’s acquittal after years in prison

Five members of this family of farmers were accused of willful destruction of property. IBJ lawyer Janvier Ncamatwi managed to gain acquittal for four, but had to visit the jail to make sure they were actually freed.

During one of his regular prison visits to the prison of Bururi, IBJ lawyer Janvier Ncamatwi identified five family members who were imprisoned and awaiting their trial, accused of willful destruction of property. After having met with the clients, the facts showed that the family was imprisoned for rather strange and not very comprehensive accusations. Family disputes of neighboring families seemed to be at the source of the accusations. Maître Janvier followed up the cases and was able to obtain a positive outcome for almost every single one of them.

The five cases concerned a 71-year-old widow, her two sons, and two uncles. The widow and one of her sons were, at the time of the identification of the case, imprisoned for over a year and a half. The second son was younger than 15 years at the time of the crime, and consequently not criminally responsible. He should have never been detained in the first place, but was only freed after spending one year and three months in manifestly unlawful pretrial detention. The two uncles were arrested and detained after they were heard as witnesses in the same case in May 2010.

When Maître Janvier took up the cases, the investigation was already closed at the level of the Attorney General, but the files were not yet referred to the court in order to fix an audience. Within a month, he got the cases subscribed on the role of the court, and all persons concerned received a trial swiftly after his input.  All members of the family, except for one, were acquitted in the trial.

However, the strange story concerning their actual liberation indicates how a lack of working hierarchic control mechanisms and a similar lack of coordination between the different actors in the justice sector (specifically the prison and court environment) creates often absurd and damaging situations.

Normally, prisoners should be freed right after their acquittal. This rule is clearly stated in the Procedural Penal Code, and was confirmed in a Circular of the Federal Attorney-General. However, two weeks after their acquittal, the prisoners were not yet freed, together with two other clients of Maître Janvier who already sat out their punishment for over 2 months. Therefore, Janvier decided to visit the prison himself to make sure they were freed.

Janvier contacted officials to understand why his clients were not yet liberated, but they did not understand the situation either. The President of the Court did not understand why the acquitted persons, as well as those who sat out their punishment, were not freed. The director of the prison mentioned something about waiting for the appeal of the Attorney-General. However, no appeal was made yet, and even in the case of an official appeal, this would not be a reason to keep the prisoners imprisoned for a longer time, according to Burundian law.

It was only after Janvier made sure that both the president of APRODH (a well-known human rights organization in Burundi) and the director of the Directory-General of the Prison Affairs had contact with the prison director that all of the family was liberated except for one of the two sons, who was found guilty of a failure to the public security. IBJ then made an appeal, because the judgment that sentenced him to three years did not even indicate the principal crime.

Even after that, the disastrous events did not end for the family. The son who was freed in June 2010 because he was not old enough to be criminally responsible at the time for the crime of destruction of property, returned to his village, where two days after his liberation a girl was found dead. He was immediately accused of the murder, although no leads could be found that pointed toward him. The social stigma of being imprisoned probably had a lot to do with the accusations. However, since he already had the age of criminal responsibility, he was again detained.

This detention gravely affected this family of farmers because they lost cultural seasons and were not able to feed themselves after their release. The children in the family were also obliged to live with other relative families since their parents were jailed. However, after IBJ lawyer Maître Janvier helped them tackle the Burundi justice system, the accused were happy to go back to the farm, feed their family, and see their children.

IBJ hopes for new age of juvenile justice in Burundi

While celebrating the 23rd anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and  Universal Children’s Day (November 20th), IBJ organized a roundtable event around the theme “special procedures of juvenile justice enforcement in Burundi” on Friday, November 23rd, 2012. 20 people participated, including presidents of courts, prosecutors of the republic, judges, secretaries, and court clerks. All journeyed from the city of Bujumbura and the provinces of Bujumbura, Bururi, and Muramvya, the three main provinces in Burundi from which IBJ provides free legal assistance to women and children in conflict with the law.

This event took place a year after IBJ organized a similar roundtable on the same topic. Taking a collaborative format, this roundtable was organized to evaluate how criminal justice stakeholders are dealing with matters relating to children, how they are implementing what they have committed themselves to doing, and what can be done to improve collaboration as well as speed up the treatment of juvenile offenders’ cases going forward.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has been incorporated into the Burundian constitution (article 19), states that with all decisions concerning the child, the best interest of the child must be taken as the most important consideration (article 3 of the CRC). With this statement began the task of getting the audience to notice that, in accordance with the Convention and Burundian constitution, detention of the child must be prevented as often as possible. Aline Nijimbere, IBJ legal fellow, had the participants think about the scenario “what if you had committed or been suspected of committing a crime at a young age and then were jailed?” According to Aline, it would have been impossible for most of the participants to have the same role as the one they currently have in society if this statement was true.

Then, in addition to the example mentioned, the roundtable also noted that juvenile justice goes way beyond simply organizing society by the rule of law. It is also a matter of value judgment. This is why all participants had to focus their attention on what can be done to avoid the insufferable imprisonment of children, and if there is no other solution, then how to deal  with such cases involving children.

Exchanging ideas on the issue being discussed, the presidents of the courts of Muramvya and Bururi each shared experiences on how they have been implementing procedures of juvenile justice in partnership with IBJ. Then, as a whole, the roundtable network of stakeholders came to the conclusion that it would be feasible to advance the rights of children in conflict with the law through individual and shared commitments. Not only did participants commit themselves to changing their ways of enforcing criminal provisions protecting the child, but also, they found the importance in working to bridge the existing gaps that may be present due to lack of collaboration. They agreed that setting up a solid network and laying a functioning chain of actors, starting with the prosecutor who conducts questioning of the child after the arrest stage, all the way to the judges who sit in trial, are both important and possible. Then, in their individual commitments, the secretaries for the prosecution and the court clerks committed themselves to distinctly classifying the files of children and entering the information rapidly for all documents concerning children’s affairs. Urgency will be applied while transmitting files to courts whereas prosecutors will avoid, to the extent that they can, issuing warrant of arrest and calling for heavy penalties against children in conflict with the law.

To follow the example of Bururi and Muramvya, all judges committed to holding regular special “in-camera” hearings for children. Hopefully, these minimum standards guiding juvenile justice are going to be observed.

Amazed by this short, energizing event that will  lead to a new age of juvenile justice in Burundi, IBJ will  support the implementation of the commitments raised through the roundtable until they become a reality. The biggest recommendation participants agreed upon is tightening the collaboration of all justice stakeholders in promoting and protecting the rights of the child in conflict with the law, and IBJ is committed to support this endeavor.

Satisfactory IBJ Legal Assistance at Muramyva court: Views of beneficiaries and partners

Janvier Ncamatwi (in the middle) with Eric Nimbona (on the right), a child accused of rape with another defendant. The two prisoners are attached by handcuffs.

Janvier Ncamatwi (in the middle) with Eric Nimbona (on the right), a child accused of rape with another defendant. The two prisoners are attached by handcuffs.

On Thursday, October 4th, 2012, a team from IBJ went to Muramvya with a purpose of evaluating the work of IBJ lawyers in the area. They were given the chance to assess what was needed to increase the impact of IBJ’s activities there. This was done through interviewing the recipients of IBJ legal assistance who had recently been acquitted. A journalist from Radio Isanganiro, one of the two broadcasting stations that hosted IBJ’s “Know your Rights” broadcasts, helped by recording the conversations.

Janvier Ncamatwi, an IBJ legal fellow, began by assisting a child in a camera interview. Born in 1996, the child was accused of rape. According to the IBJ lawyer, the prosecution adduced evidence that was not persuasive. Also at the hearing, the prosecutor and judges paid attention to the juvenile condition of the defendant, a practice that is not always customary. In addition, the court easily accepted holding the hearing behind closed doors as stated in The Convention on the Rights of the Child. Then, in his accusation, the prosecutor took into consideration the age of the child and several times even read the provisions of the penal code that protect children in conflict with the law. In his closing speech, he requested the child spend 4 years in prison, referring to section 29 of the penal code. The IBJ lawyer, on the child’s side, pledged for acquittal of the child. The court will have hopefully made a decision by the end of October 2012.

After the public hearing, the IBJ team continued interviewing beneficiaries and partners whose input facilitates IBJ’s activities at Muramvya.

Two women and one man are three of the seven members of a family successfully assisted by IBJ

Amongst the interviewees were two women from the same family. Seven members of this family have been acquitted after receiving legal assistance by IBJ. All in all twelve people from the same family were in custody at Muramvya after being accused of stealing cows. Mothers and fathers, children and adults had been taken to the prison resulting in none of the members of this family remaining at their home. Almost one year later, an IBJ lawyer learned of this case while visiting women and children jailed at Muramvya. As of September 28th, 2012, seven of the family members now walk free. They have returned home to find all of their belongings stolen and now have been trying to recover from this situation. “God bless that man and the organization for which he works!” is what they told the journalist who wanted to know how they were feeling. They even vouched for the remaining prisoners. Thus, they would like IBJ to continue assisting the other women in the prison and to assist all undefended prisoners.

The father and mother of Melissa Akimana, a child acquitted after receiving legal defense from IBJ at the court of Muramvya

The second group of interviewed beneficiaries consisted of the parents of children acquitted of their charges after being assisted by the IBJ lawyer. A father and mother of one of the children welcomed the team. They live in Murinzi, a place located about 7 km from the town of Muramvya. This is where the IBJ team met with them. Their daughter Melissa Akimana was accused of infanticide. It was not possible for the team to meet her because just after the acquittal decision, she went back to school. The prosecutor called for life imprisonment as penalty for the crime she was accused of, which was then overruled with the help of an IBJ lawyer. The father and mother of Melissa are very glad for the help they have received from IBJ. They said that by themselves it was not easy to afford legal fees, and they even reveled that they did not know before this trial how important a lawyer really is to have.

This kind of post-legal assistance showed its importance through another case of a girl assisted by IBJ. The girl in question was accused of abortion. She was in the sixth year of primary school at the time of arrest. She has been condemned to one year and 7 months in jail. She will be released in January 2013. Through the interview she revealed that she does not wish to go back to school. The IBJ team then got the opportunity to explain to her that it is extremely important for her to return back to school. So, a lesson the IBJ team learned is that while giving legal assistance to children in custody, they must also think about the social assistance that should follow a child being released from prison. The stress of being in prison can disturb all the aspects of the life of that child and should be given consideration upon their release.

The President of the Court of Muramvya welcomes members of Burundi IBJ team

On behalf of IBJ’s partners, the president of the court of Muramvya shared with the IBJ team her impressions and the court’s vision to improve their criminal practices. Their update concerns bringing cases in front of the court more rapidly than has been seen in the past. “We are committed to keeping good collaboration with IBJ,” she expressed. Accordingly, she said that she would be very glad if IBJ continues working in Muramvya as a pilot province of intervention in order to ensure the implementation of the special procedures of juvenile justice. She revealed that soon they are going to begin with a special session for children in conflict with the law by respecting special legal safeguards due to their age.

IBJ applauds the sharpness of the court of Muramvya and remains committed to maintaining good collaborative ways of intervention in this area where the impact of its activities can strongly strengthen the legal atmosphere of the town and in turn, country.

IBJ successful legal assistance at MURAMVYA

Muramvya is one of seventeen provinces of Burundi, located about 48 km from Bujumbura, the capital city. One of the eleven prisons in Burundi, with a capacity of 100 prisoners, is located within this province in a rural area. A total of 471 prisoners were there as of September 30th, 2012, four times over capacity level. There is one small cell within this prison reserved for children. A prosecution court operates there mainly in criminal or civil matters.

This province has already hosted one IBJ roundtable event and three rights awareness campaigns. The criminal stakeholders of Muramvya have taken part in discussions conducted by the IBJ team around the implications of the principle of innocence presumption in criminal procedure and, thus, have been connected with IBJ lawyers who have begun collaborating with them. From then on, IBJ has assisted with making progressive changes in their criminal justice practices, which explains why positive results of legal assistance targeted at women and children are being observed there.

On July 5th, 2012, IBJ legal fellow Janvier Ncamatwi visited the prison of Muramvya. He identified fifteen women and children needing legal assistance. He then began working on their cases.

Two months later, nine cases (60%) have already been treated by the court. This rapid treatment of cases is not standard of Burundi courts, even for children in conflict with the law. Insufficient personnel explains why it takes so long for courts to assign themselves to cases  submitted to them. However, Muramvya court is trying to change this practice. We think that this is the direct outcome of legal assistance and the keenness of IBJ lawyers to change this practice. IBJ applauds the way the court of Muramvya is dealing with the cases of juvenile and women, and wishes this practice would become the guiding rule even for people not assisted by lawyers.

The decisions taken by judges relating to the cases assisted by IBJ lawyer are either acquittals or shortened sentences. Two children and two women have been acquitted. The prosecution had called for life imprisonment for all of them. For the children, one was accused of infanticide and the other was charged with abortion. The two women could have been punished with 5 to 10 years of imprisonment. To the others who had been sentenced, penalties now range between 6 months and three years of imprisonment for children accused of rape or gang robbery and for women accused of infanticide or homicide. Without legal assistance, such cases encounter penalties that could vary between 5 years to life imprisonment. This is one fact that supports why the legal assistance of IBJ to poor people in a country like Burundi is so important, because there is not a formalized legal aid service yet.

Nowadays at Muramvya, the court has five cases to see. Four of them have already been taken to the court and Janvier expects that, by the end of October 2012, all the cases of women and children will have come to a close.

IBJ’s two months evaluation of reduction in Burundi prisons population

During the Golden jubilee of the Independence of Burundi celebrations, the problem of overcrowding in Burundi prisons has been rethought. Certainly, prison overcrowding is one of the forms of ill-treatment referred to in all the texts against torture. Not only was there a strong necessity to reduce the number of inmates in order to conform with acceptable conditions defined in international norms on prisons, but also, in this period of national festivities, common practice is to give pardon to some prisoners. A Commission has been set up to carry out the task of releasing detainees just after these measures were taken. The Commission has been working for about two months. A look to the current data on the number of prisoners in all the eleven prisons shows that on August 10, 2012 there were 7,648 prisoners whereas on June 15, 2012, the total number of prisoners was 10,562. Upon this data, about 2,914 prisoners have been released. Indeed, the total number of released prisoners until now goes beyond. Yet in the same period, there are new comers in Burundian prisons. But, IBJ hopes that, at the end of this month, the total number of released prisoners will reach 4,000. However, this Commission remains far from reaching the aims of pardon decrees through which 7,000 prisoners were expected to recover freedom.

The analysis of inmates’ situation as provided by the Burundi Direction for Prisons Affairs shows that the number of children in Burundi prisons has also decreased. Almost half of them went out of the prisons. On  August 10, there were 177 juvenile offenders while on June 15, 2012, 342 children were imprisoned.

Disquieting is the number of defendants. On August 10, there were 4,163 defendants whereas on June 15, 2012, 4,863 defendants were in custody. This proves that, as long as lasting solutions are not applied, it will remain difficult to have a decrease in the prison population in Burundi because while some prisoners are being released, others are being incarcerated.

At all, one is to note that Burundian authorities need to make additional efforts to concretize the will of improving living conditions in prisons. We think that enforcement of principles like:” Freedom is the rule, detention the exception” needs to be correctly done in order to reach the goal.  True is the fact that solutions to prison overcrowding go beyond the single fact of releasing. Not only the measures have to be correctly applied but, also, global and fundamental changes must intervene in criminal practice in Burundi, as it has been suggested several times by human rights defenders. The Burundi criminal justice system actors need to improve their throughput in order to handle all cases in real time. This is what IBJ claims for through varied roundtables and training events organized in Burundi until this day.  All criminal Justice stakeholders and even the population must be sufficiently sensitized on criminal practice and basic rights of the persons accused of crime. Also, revising the legal framework on detention is worth an improvement. Then, if the bill to the Code of Criminal Procedure discussed by many Burundi penal system stakeholders in IBJ roundtables is promulgated, the socio-juridical state of prisoners will change. This code would recognize to all children the right to legal representation; it would have also clarified many legal safeguards that are important to humanize criminal justice in Burundi. Another text that needs rapid adoption is the Code of the Protection of the Child. This act could innovate in the implementation of juvenile justice and then lighten the application of the alternative penalties on children cases.

While celebrating the Golden Jubilee of Burundi Independence, the President of the Republic enacted a pardon decree regarding prisoners

Burundi Prisons are hugely overcrowded. On June 15th 2012, there were a total of 10,484 prisoners while the official capacity of the country’s 11 prisons is 4,050 detainees.  This situation has served to worsen prisoners’ living conditions, resulting in a prison system that is both inhuman and unlawful. The question of overcrowded prisons has been frequently discussed during various roundtables debates organized by International Bridges to Justice, especially regarding the high rates of pre trial detention in Burundi. On June 25th 2012, a few days before the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Burundi’s Independence, the President of the Republic enacted a pardon decree regarding prisoners. This pardon applied to all those condemned to 5 years of penalty or less, condemned children under the age of 18, pregnant women or women detained with their infant, elderly prisoners of at least 60 years, and sufferers of incurable disease as proven by a commission of doctors. Exceptions apply to those convicted of rape, crime against humanity, carrying a weapon without license, gang robbery, the use of a weapon whilst robbing, and those convicted of undermining the internal State security.

In a further Golden Jubilee announcement, the Ministry of Justice ordered the provisional release for detainees who have served the first quarter of their penalty and who had behaved well in prison. Approximately 2,946 prisoners are expected to be released. Furthermore, the Ministry of Justice issued a circular to the Supreme Court and the General Attorney, providing for provisional release of defendants whose pre-trial detention has exceeded six months while the offense they are accused of, under Burundi criminal Law, could not be punished by more than five years of penalty if proven guilty.

Across Burundi, hundreds of prisoners are being released according to these three main measures. Overall, the government estimates that around 7,000 prisoners will walk free.

IBJ applauds these governmental efforts to improve living conditions in prisons, and to improve the treatment of the accused in Burundi. These measures are very encouraging and have come at a time where they were sorely needed. IBJ is pleased to find that, among the prisoners who are to be released, are some whom IBJ’s lawyers have worked with. However IBJ notes that many juveniles helped by IBJ lawyers fall outside the remit of these measures, because they were convicted of rape. Henceforth we suggest that when these measures are going through the application stage, the Minister of Justice takes into consideration this vulnerable category of inmates, whom deserve particular attention according to the Convention of the rights of the child ratified by Burundi in 1990.

Many additional efforts must be taken by all criminal justice system stakeholders in order prevent future prison overcrowding. We believe that early access to counsel is one of the main pillars with which to address these criminal issues, both for the benefit of the accused and of prison administrations alike. IBJ gratefully acknowledges the Ministry of Justice Four Years Policy (2011-2015) and will continue to contribute to its objectives of humanizing criminal Justice in BURUNDI.

IBJ supports the idea of creating a network of organizations involved in the field of child’s rights after the Burundi Janusz Korczak 2012 Award Jury

 

On 30th April, 2012, International Bridges to Justice welcomed the meeting of the Jury of BURUNDI JANUSZ KORCZAK AWARD and was member of the Jury of this AWARD which aims to advance research in the field of the rights of the child as well as strengthen commitment to excellence on academic field. Student of universities of Burundi write essays on topics related to children rights and submit them to the selection committee.
The winner gets a scholarship to attend the Summer University on Children Rights, an international seminar organised by the International Institute of Children Rights (IDE) (www.childsrights.org) based in Switzerland. (Visit www.aidh.org/korczak for more details)

The members of this Jury are personalities mandated by key institutions and organizations working on children rights or scientific research.  Members are: the Burundi Ministry of Youth and Culture, the Burundi Ministry of high education and scientific research, the University of Burundi, the Light University of Bujumbura, the United Nations, Scientific, Educational and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the United Nations for International Children Emergency Funds (UNICEF), the Swiss Association of Janusz KORCZAK’s Friends and International Bridges to Justice as new member.

According to Jean-Claude Barakamfitiye, Secretary of Burundi Janusz Korczak Award and first Laureate of this award, IBJ have been involved in this selection committee because of its remarkable interventions in the protection of the basic rights of children accused of crime in Burundi. For him “The IBJ awareness campaigns conducted in Burundian prisons with a special focus on juveniles, the legal assistance already provided to hundreds of children, the roundtable sessions gathering key criminal stakeholders such as lawyers, judges, prosecutors, police officers, prison officials  on the topics related to juvenile justice, all these efforts have brought positive impact in the welfare of many children and their families in Burundi and it is for this reason that IBJ has been asked to be member of  the Janusz Korczak Prize Jury ”.

The country manager of IBJ in Burundi, Mr Astère Muyango, in his opening speech, welcomed in the IBJ office, institutions and organizations present for the Jury, and he expressed his appreciation on the initiative taken by both Centre Indépendant de Recherche et d’Initiatives pour le Dialogue (CIRID) and the Swiss Association of Janusz KORCZAK Friends to launch in Burundi this award, that allow to students of Universities to get aware of different challenges faced in the area of the rights of the child. Through their work, they highlight innovative recommendations. According to him, the publication of the winner’s researches will contribute to improve the rights of the child and can also bring a global change since the youth of today is the leaders of tomorrow and potential child rights defenders.

This Award is an opportunity for academics, individual researchers, public actors, UN agencies, and active organizations to meet and discuss issues regarding the compliance of the Burundi system to international convention on the rights of the child. In addition, participants expressed the idea of creating a network in order to address challenges met by each of the actor and fulfil the gaps found in the frame of the protection of the rights of the child.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


On the left, Prof Philippe Ntahombaye, Lecturer at University

of Burundi,moderating debates