East Africa – Protecting civic space: A public interest litigation approach

This article was published in ASF’s 2022 annual report.

In 2022, ASF’s East Africa office launched a project covering three countries in the region: Burundi, Tanzania and Uganda. The objective of the project is to contribute to the advancement of the rule of law through the understanding and usage of regional human rights treaty bodies, mechanisms and instruments by local civil societies organisations.

In practice, the project focuses on promoting the use of public interest litigation as a tool for influence, to bring about positive reforms in the areas of civic space and civil liberties. In its countries of intervention, ASF has identified existing and developing cases led by civil society organisations. Through the project, financial and technical support is provided to these cases, along with strategic reflection on how their reach can be amplified through advocacy and external engagements. A key aspect of the project, given its regional nature, will also be to support cases mobilizing regional mechanisms such as the East African Court of Justice, or the African Court on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR).

With support from the Pan African Lawyers’ Union, ASF is working on legal submissions to the ACHPR on the right of association, which cover a dozen African states. Our observations and legal analyses led us to believe that practices and laws governing NGOs in many African states were in violation of the freedom of association. These submissions are aimed at upholding fundamental civil liberties and imposing a positive obligation on the states to reform the laws in force and to end the practices infringing on the right of association.  

ASF is also providing financial and technical support to a constitutional petition brought by civil society organizations, including Chapter Four, before Uganda’s Constitutional Court, to challenge the constitutionality of the Computer Misuse Act voted into law in October 2022. Though this controversial piece of legislation has been hailed by the government as a necessary protection of privacy in the digital age, it is perceived by many local CSOs as an infringement on the freedoms of expression and press.

Development of regional approaches: The regional hubs

This article is part of ASF’s 2022 annual report.

In order to develop an action that best promotes its mandate and is consistent with the specific needs of the national contexts it is involved in, ASF relies on solid analyses of the issues in the countries where it operates. Being anchored in the realities of the countries is essential in order to develop contextualised expertise, to build strategic partnerships at the local level and to be able to put in place relevant and qualitative actions for the local populations.

Furthermore, the issues we address do not stop at borders and often have transnational dimensions.

To meet these requirements, ASF has been developing regional approaches for several years through its regional hubs in the Euro-Mediterranean region and in East Africa, with offices in Tunis and Kampala respectively.

These regional offices guarantee the necessary proximity to the beneficiaries of the actions and local partners in order to strengthen ASF’s presence in the region. They promote the development of their actions by building on existing expertise and networks.

The creation of these hubs is also part of the organisation’s decentralisation process. One of their functions is to strengthen the strategic dialogue between the different offices and to ensure that the perspective, experiences and expertise developed at the regional level feed into ASF’s global approaches.

The choice to prioritise the creation of these two regional offices was guided by factors both internal and external to the organisation:

  • The choice to strengthen our presence in regions where we have demonstrated our added value, our ability to mobilise relevant stakeholders and our relationships with national and international stakeholders
  • The presence of an ASF office with significant experience of the regional context
  • The identification of transnational issues

Main functions of the hubs

1) Strategic development and guidance

The hubs provide support and guidance to existing missions, and the implementation of actions that are developed in other countries of the region or at the regional level.

2) Expertise and Knowledge

The hubs produce relevant and contextualised expertise based on data collected in the field and linked to the organisation’s advocacy strategies.     

3) International advocacy and networking

The hubs provide support to networks, which will thus be able to benefit from appropriate assistance in the development, monitoring and evaluation of influence strategies. While national issues remain the responsibility of the country offices, the hub is more specifically interested in supporting networks at the international level in order to influence the development of public policies.

4) Capacity building

This involves capacity building for country teams in the region, in areas that are functional to the development of intervention strategies and on the basis of a soft peer-reinforcement approach.

This strategy of strengthening regional dynamics has proven its worth in the first year of setting up regional offices:

  • Regional projects have already been launched in East Africa and in the Euro-Med region.
  • This has enabled us to initiate actions at the level of regional bodies, such as the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights in Arusha.
  • It allows us to develop actions in countries where we do not have a permanent team, such as Tanzania or Kenya.
  • Rationalisation and pooling of human resources through the creation of regional functions, covering actions in several countries

Press release – Publication of the expert report on Belgian colonial past : Signatories call for a holistic and inclusive justice process

Closure of our offices in Burundi

Like all international NGOs in Burundi, Avocats Sans Frontières had its activities in the country suspended by the National Security Council on 1 October this year, due to failure to comply with the law on foreign non-governmental organisations (FNGO) adopted in January 2017. The Burundian Minister of the Interior will only lift the suspension on condition that an application, made up of four documents, is submitted and approved before 31 December this year. Specifically, these consist of a partnership agreement with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a draft agreement with the Ministry of Justice, a commitment to respecting banking regulations and the law on FNGOs, and a plan of action for implementing recruitment measures to ensure that the ethnic composition of our staff meets defined quotas. After serious consideration, we believe that complying with some of the authorities’ demands would go against the founding principles of ASF and its values. We will, therefore, be unable to have our suspension lifted. With the deepest regret, after twenty uninterrupted years in Burundi, we must therefore close our offices in Bujumbura and leave the country on 31 December 2018. We remain committed to working towards access to justice for the Burundian people, and we hope we can contribute to it again in the future. We are extremely grateful to all the people, associations, and institutions that have supported our activities in Burundi since 1999, and we wish them the best of luck for the future. Please contact us for any further information on this subject.
Picture © ASF/Monica Rispo
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Bridging the gap between formal and informal justice mechanisms in Burundi

Bujumbura, 20 March 2018 – At the start of March the first discussion workshop was held with ninety lawyers from the two bar associations of Burundi, selected to take part in the ASF “Menya Utunganirwe” (“Know and Assert Your Rights”) project. The main objective was to raise awareness among the lawyers of the use of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). Not covered as part of their training, ADR mechanisms are not well-known to lawyers. ASF nonetheless considers them an essential tool for resolving conflicts and believes that lawyers have a vital role to play in their promotion. In Burundi, ADR (such as mediation, negotiation, and conciliation) exists in law, but these mechanisms are not often used by lawyers. Salvator Kiyuku, President of the Bujumbura Bar Association, believes that “the lack of access to justice makes it difficult to meet the needs of lawyers and citizens alike.” Here, “lawyers are given the opportunity to provide a way forward, to give people a voice, and to play a social role to assist people who are suffering.” To meet the needs of the people of Burundi, justice must be approached in a broad manner, which goes beyond its institutional and formal aspects; it must be reconciliatory, transforming destructive conflict into an opportunity to build lasting peace for the future. There are many advantages to this approach: this form of justice is less costly in terms of both time and money, gives control to the parties in conflict, and protects confidentiality. Céline Laloux, ASF Strategy and Development Coordinator, invited the lawyers to “open up their customs and practices, to be ‘lawyers without borders’, in order to gradually bridge the gap between formal and informal justice mechanisms, so that they can complement each other.” Jean Bosco Bigirimana, President of the Gitega Bar Association, added that “a bad settlement is better than a good court case.” This remark caused quite a stir among the lawyers! The discussion about ADR raised a number of questions about the role of lawyers within society and about perceptions of their profession: “If the parties come to an agreement without the lawyer pleading the case, will the lawyer still be paid?”, for example, or “The client won’t think that they have won if there is no ruling in court.” Longin Baranyizigiye, ASF Research and Training Coordinator, responded that, in practice, lawyers must be well-informed and draw up a framework with their client. “If the outcome is positive for relations between the parties, the client will be satisfied, and the lawyer’s skills will be recognised,” he explained. He invited the lawyers to develop innovative good practices when they are accompanying clients in conciliation proceedings. “For the lawyer, it’s an opportunity to break away from the rigid framework of the formal procedures and demonstrate their talent and creativity in the service of their client.”
The five-year (2017–2021) “Menya Utunganirwe” project is funded by the Belgian Development Cooperation and carried out by ASF, the bar associations of Bujumbura and Gitega, the Association pour la Paix et les Droits de l’Homme, and the Association des Femmes Juristes.
Picture © ASF/H. Talbi
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Five partners working together for better access to justice in Burundi

Bujumbura (Burundi), 7 December 2017 – After several months of preparation, the official launch of the “Menya Utunganirwe” (“Know and Assert Your Rights”) project took place last week in Bujumbura. Avocats Sans Frontières, the bar associations of Bujumbura and Gitega, and two civil society organisations, the Association pour la Paix et les Droits de l’Homme and the Association des Femmes Juristes du Burundi, came together with a shared objective: bringing people closer to justice, by facilitating access to justice through local mechanisms which respond to their concerns and address their needs. Despite being a recognised right, access to justice remains difficult for the majority of Burundian citizens. One of the problems they face is a lack of knowledge about procedures, due in part to their complexity and to the high rate of illiteracy. Citizens are not informed. “Selling your patch of land to pay for a legal procedure, is that a solution?”, asks Sistor Havyarimana, ASF Project Coordinator. “The individual must have the ability to be informed of the possibilities that exist and make a choice according to their situation.” Distance and poor access to lawyers also restrict access to justice. “Conflicts can escalate: a simple dispute over property could lead to a murder, when an earlier intervention might have yielded a peaceful solution.” Mr Arcade Harerimana, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Justice, and Ms Christella Kankindi, head of the “Demande de Justice” (“Demand for Justice”) coordinating group, stressed that the right to access to justice is enshrined in the Ministry’s sectoral policy. Nonetheless, they both highlighted the obstacles that exist for many vulnerable citizens. “This vulnerability may be financial, personal (age, sickness, education, religion, etc.), or it could be linked to the nature of the problem,” explains Ms Kankindi. That is why ASF and its partners have committed themselves to spending five years working together on a project made up of three approaches:
  • Strengthening people’s power to act in order to encourage the prevention of conflicts, by enabling them to be actors in the realisation and assertion of their rights. Community facilitators, close to the population, will receive assistance in responding to the population’s need for information and advice. This also entails diversifying modes of conflict resolution.
  • Strengthening independent, effective, and good-quality justice mechanisms, to contribute to bringing about a state based on the rule of law. Lawyers will have their skills enhanced and will receive training in identified areas. ASF will also provide assistance to lawyers in the delivery of quality legal aid services. According to Mr Salvator Kiyuku, President of the Bujumbura Bar Association, lawyers are keen to resolve the issues encountered by Burundian citizens. The lawyer has a social role to play and must defend vulnerable citizens: “It’s a moral, ethical, and social obligation,” he explained.
  • Coordinating those involved in the justice system and exchanging innovative practices. Legal mechanisms and alternative mechanisms for resolving conflict are considered complementary and actors can strengthen one another by establishing a shared framework for their activities.
The “Menya Utunganirwe” project is funded by the Belgian Development Cooperation. >> Download the document presenting the project (PDF in French).
– Picture above: the official ceremony for the launch of the project was held on 1 December in Bujumbura © Papy Amani for ASF – Cover picture: awaireness-raising session about land rights in Bubanza © APDH
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Does the pre-trial detainee have judicial guaranteed on conditions of detention?

Does the pre-trial detainee have the right to see a doctor?

L’article 33 de la loin°1/016 du 22 septembre 2003 portant régime pénitentiaire fait mention de l’accès aux soins, et au transfert auprès d’une institution médicale si le rapport du médecin ou du responsable de l’infirmerie de l’établissement l’établit.

Bases légales:

  • Article 33 de la Loi n°1/016 du 22 septembre 2003 portant régime pénitentiaire

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Does the pre-trial detainee have the right to communicate?

Les communications entre l’inculpé et les tiers peuvent être restreintes pendant une durée déterminée par le magistrat instructeur dès que celui-ci intervient dans la phase pré-juridictionnelle.

Cependant, aucune restriction ne peut être imposée quant à la communication entre l’inculpé et son avocat lorsque le juge statue sur la détention préventive ou la mise en liberté.

Bases légales:

  • Article 97 alinéa 6 du Code de procédure pénale
  • Article 98 du Code de procédure pénale

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Does the pre-trial detainee have the right to access case files?

L’inculpé et son avocat peuvent prendre connaissance du dossier dès la phase pré-juridictionnelle, sauf en cas de suspension prévue par l’article 97 alinéa 3 du Code de procédure pénale.

Bases légales:

  • Article 96 du Code de procédure pénale
  • Article 97 alinéa 3 du Code de procédure pénale

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