February 24, 2017
The Law Society of Upper Canada expresses deep concern about the disbarment of lawyers Vital Nshimirimana, Armel Niyongere, Dieudonné Bashirahishize and the suspension of lawyer Lambert Nigarura in Burundi.
Armel Niyongere, Lambert Nigarura, Dieudonné Bashirahishize and Vital Nshimirimana are Burundian human rights lawyers who are openly critical of the Burundian government’s human rights violations and have represented victims of such crimes before international courts.
Recently, these four lawyers contributed to a report on human rights violations in Burundi. This report was discussed during a session of the United Nations Committee Against Torture on July 28 and 29, 2016. Three of the four lawyers attended the session.
On July 29, 2016, the President of the Bar Association in Bujumbura, Burundi received a request from the Attorney General of the Court of Bujumbura, Burundi to disbar Armel Niyongere, Lambert Nigarura, Dieudonné Bashirahishize and Vital Nshimirimana. The lawyers were accused of non-compliance with professional ethics and several criminal offences, including “involvement in an insurrectionist movement” and an attempted coup. However, because no criminal case had been brought against the lawyers and no other justification for the requested disbarment existed, the President of the Bujumbura Bar Association, on September 27, 2016, decided to dismiss the Attorney General’s request and refused to sanction the four lawyers.
This decision was appealed to the Bujumbura Court of Appeal and overturned on January 16, 2017. Consequently, Vital Nshimirimana, Armel Niyongere and Dieudonné Bashirahishize were disbarred from the Bujumbura Bar Association, while Lambert Nigarura was suspended for one year and excluded from the Council of Bujumbura Bar for five years.
The Law Society is troubled by the arbitrariness of these sanctions, especially in light of the fact that the trial itself was reportedly replete with procedural irregularities, one of which was the Court of Appeal’s refusal to allow the lawyers to be represented by their counsel.