The OLUCOME Trial: a verdict but no truth

BurundiHuman rights defendersNews

Bujumbura/Brussels, June 7th, 2012- Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) believes that the verdict announced 22May does not reflect the whole truth surrounding the murder of Ernest Manirumva, Vice President of the Burundian civil society group, Anti-corruption and Economic Malpractice Observatory (Observatoire de Lutte contre la Corruption et les Malversations Économiques [OLUCOME]). ASF calls upon the tribunal to clearly explain their decision, which condemned all accused parties, and to allow for an appeal process according to the rules of a fair trial. ASF also insists that a new investigation be opened to identify all plausible suspects.

The 14 people accused of murdering Ernest Manirumva were sentenced by the High Court of Bujumbura to prison terms ranging from 10 years to life. “This sentence does not in any way compensate the victims of this crime, including the NGO OLUCOME,” stated Jean-Charles Paras, ASF Expert on Civil and Political Rights. “We hope that the Burundian justice system will finally give the means to expose the whole truth and truly commit itself to the fight against impunity for crimes against human rights defenders,” he says. However, many doubts exist about the role that each defendant could have played, and especially as to the responsibility of other people who have never been questioned or prosecuted.

For ASF, several important elements of the case in particular should have led to further investigation. The lawyers representing OLUCOME have repeatedly asked during the trial that further investigations (hearings and DNA testing) be carried out but these requests were rejected by the prosecution and the tribunal. The reasons for their refusal remain unknown. In fact, the verdict of 22 May was announced without any of the parties or lawyers present and no detailed justification was communicated. “We are still waiting for their explanation so that the plaintiffs can establish an appeal strategy because we believe that the real perpetrators do not fear being held accountable,” explains Jean-Charles Paras.

Since the trial began in July 2010 (cfr. picture), ASF, along with the lawyer hired by OLUCOME, has supported the organization of civil defense of the parties as well as the direct involvement of Mr. Alexis Deswaef, member of the Brussels Bar, supported by a member of the “pool” of ASF lawyers in Burundi.

Ernest Manirumva was found beaten to death on April 9th, 2009, outside his home. OLUCOME has been investigating for years several cases of economic malpractice and corruption linked to high authorities of the country.