ASF concerned about attacks on the right of defence in Burundi

BurundiDetentionHuman rights defendersNews

Bujumbura, 5 September 2015 – Everyone has the right to defend themselves against accusations made against them. In Burundi, in the current context of intense repression of political protest, the rights of those arrested are being threatened by the practices of certain authorities contrary to the laws in force. The illegal detention of a lawyer by police forces on 2 September highlights the intimidation practised with regard to these protectors of rights. Faced with such obstacles to the administration of a fair justice system, Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) and the Bar Association of Bujumbura are calling on politicians and members of the judiciary to respect the constitutional and legal principles of the country.

Burundi has been undergoing a severe political and social crisis for several months. The protest movement is being heavily suppressed by the police authorities, who are increasing the number of arrests. Several hundred people have been arrested since April 2015.

Under Burundian law, these people may only be arrested and detained in strict compliance with the penal procedure. However, numerous prisoners are being denied their essential rights, including the right to counsel and independent representation. As part of the judicial assistance activities provided to detained persons by ASF and the Bujumbura Bar, several witness statements collected report that some members of the police are trying to prevent lawyers from ensuring the rights of detained persons are respected.

“Every person who is arrested, whether innocent or guilty, has the unconditional right to be assisted by a lawyer, with whom they may communicate freely. Preventing the exercise of this right is illegal”, declares Céline Lemmel, Avocats Sans Frontières Head of Mission to Burundi.

Several lawyers from the Bujumbura Bar Association have also reported being subject to pressure from members of the police forces. In June 2015, a lawyer defending one of the alleged perpetrators of the failed uprising of 13 May 2015 was prevented from meeting with his client and received threats relating to his defence assignment. On 2 September 2015, a lawyer from the Bujumbura Bar, who regularly assisted those detained by the Bujumbura special investigation unit, was assaulted and placed in detention without charge for 24 hours by police authorities. Intervention by the Bar to the competent authorities was necessary to obtain the release of the lawyer in question.

These individual cases are part of a climate of intimidation against the defence of the rights of arrested persons.

In Burundi as elsewhere, lawyers perform an independent and fundamental profession, governed by a legal framework so that the rights of all those seeking justice are respected. The exercise of their profession must be respected. This is essential for the guarantee of a fair and impartial justice system, a foundation of the Rule of Law“, recalls ASF’s Head of Mission.

Picture: The Mpimba prison in Bujumbura © Amani Papy/Studio Jamaica