Tag Archives: Burundi

Interview: Paying the Price for Defending Human Rights in Burundi


Tony Germain Nkina is a lawyer and one of the last people publicly associated with Burundi’s once thriving human rights movement still in jail today. He was arrested in 2020 and convicted in 2021, despite the lack of any evidence against him. Human rights groups have called his trial a travesty of justice and believe he is serving a five-year sentence in all likelihood because of his past human rights work. Human Rights Watch’s Birgit Schwarz talks to Burundi Researcher Clémentine de Montjoye about why Nkina’s case is emblematic for the state of human rights in Burundi today, and how his release would signal that Burundi’s authorities are serious about democratic reforms and breaking with the country’s repressive past.

How did you meet Nkina?

Tony is a lawyer who used to work with a group advocating for human rights and better prison conditions. We met in 2014 when I was researching abuses against human rights defenders and journalists for a regional organization.

Back then, Burundi had a vibrant civil society and human rights movement. The organization Tony represented in Kayanza province, the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons (Association pour la protection des droits humains et des personnes détenues, APRODH), was one of the most prominent human rights organizations in the country. Tony was a committed and principled human rights defender who cared deeply about helping the most vulnerable, especially in Burundi’s notoriously tough prisons.

When, in April 2015, Burundi’s former president, Pierre Nkurunziza, decided to run for a controversial third term despite a two-term limit set forth in the Arusha Accords – the peace agreement brokered at the end of a brutal civil war that left roughly 300,000 dead – independent nongovernmental organizations were at the forefront of organizing protests. Security forces responded with brutal force. Extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, torture, and threats against those perceived to be political opponents became almost daily occurrences and plunged the country into a crisis of escalating violence and repression.

Most of the main independent civil society organizations, including APRODH, were suspended. Their bank accounts were frozen. Several human rights defenders were jailed, among them was one of Tony’s former colleagues who was arrested and sentenced to five years imprisonment for alleged state security offenses. The president of APRODH, Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, almost lost his life in an assassination attempt. Working as a human rights defender became too dangerous. Activists either fled into exile or went underground. After the suspension of APRODH in 2015, Tony ceased his human rights activities and only worked as a lawyer. But the worry that his past would catch up would always be there. Being associated with Burundi’s human rights movement can have severe repercussions.

Why was he arrested?

Tony was arrested in October 2020 while visiting an area in northern Burundi where rebel groups were active at the time. He had gone there to meet a client he was advising on a land dispute. In June 2021, Tony was found guilty by a provincial court of collaboration with armed groups, despite a lack of evidence. This is a common accusation against perceived opponents and critics in Burundi. He was subsequently sentenced to five years in prison.

In September 2021, an appeals court upheld the conviction, even though his lawyers showed he had visited the area for legitimate professional reasons, and despite prosecutors producing zero credible evidence that Tony was supporting a rebel group.







https://www.hrw.org/fr/news/2022/09/22/entretien-le-prix-payer-pour-la-defense-des-droits-humains-au-burundi (FRANCAIS)

Burundi: Lawyer’s Conviction a Travesty of Justice


Tony Germain Nkina

Appeals Court Upholds 5-Year Sentence for Tony Germain Nkina

The decision in the Court of Appeal of Ngozi to uphold the conviction and five-year prison sentence for a lawyer who had been affiliated to a human rights group in Burundi was a travesty of justice, Human Rights Watch and five other international human rights groups said today. The following is their statement:

Shocking Decision as Appeal Court Upholds Conviction of Lawyer Tony Germain Nkina

Six international human rights groups – Amnesty International, the Burundi Human Rights Initiative, DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project), Human Rights Watch, Protection International Africa and TRIAL International – condemned the decision of the Court of Appeal of Ngozi on 29 September to uphold the conviction and five-year prison sentence of Burundian lawyer Tony Germain Nkina following an unfair trial.

“Tony Germain Nkina’s trial was a travesty of justice,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The decision by the Court of Appeal to keep him in prison, despite all the evidence about the unfairness of the trial, makes a mockery of the Burundian justice system.”

The groups believe that Nkina, a lawyer in Kayanza province, was arrested and convicted because of his former affiliation with the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons (Association pour la protection des droits humains et des personnes détenues, APRODH), a leading human rights group in Burundi until 2015.

Nkina was APRODH’s representative in Kayanza until the government suspended the organization in 2015 as part of a crackdown on independent civil society. He has not worked for APRODH or any other Burundian civil society organization for the past six years.

Nkina was arrested on 13 October 2020 in Kabarore commune, where he was visiting a client for his professional work as a lawyer. In June 2021, a court in Kayanza found him guilty of collaboration with armed groups – a common accusation against perceived opponents and critics in Burundi – and sentenced him to five years in prison. His client, Apollinaire Hitimana, whom he had been advising on a land dispute, was found guilty of complicity in the same offence and sentenced to two and a half years in prison. The Court of Appeal also confirmed Hitimana’s conviction and sentence.






https://www.hrw.org/fr/news/2021/10/08/burundi-la-condamnation-de-lavocat-tony-germain-nkina-est-une-parodie-de-justice (FRANCAIS)



Burundi: Release lawyer Tony Germain Nkina


Burundi - Wikipedia

Ex-Member of Civil Society Sentenced to 5 Years in Prison

Burundian authorities should immediately and unconditionally release lawyer, Tony Germain Nkina, who was sentenced to five years in prison in June 2021 in all likelihood because of his past human rights work, six international human rights groups said today.

The groups – Amnesty International, the Burundi Human Rights Initiative, DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project), Human Rights Watch, Protection International and TRIAL International – believe that the likely reason for Nkina’s arrest was his former affiliation with the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons (Association pour la protection des droits humains et des personnes détenues, APRODH), which was one of the leading human rights groups in Burundi until 2015.

The prosecution and imprisonment of Tony Germain Nkina is a worrying reminder that those who used to be part of Burundi’s once vibrant human rights movement are still at risk. The Burundian authorities should demonstrate their commitment to protecting human rights by immediately releasing Nkina and dropping all the charges against him. Burundi’s international partners should support the calls for his release.

Nkina, a lawyer in Kayanza province in northern Burundi, was arrested on October 13, 2020, in Kabarore commune, where he was visiting a client for his professional work. He was briefly detained by the intelligence service in Kayanza, then transferred to police detention, and finally to Ngozi prison, where he is currently detained.

October 2020 was a tense period in Kayanza following attacks by an armed group in the previous weeks, with several people killed or abducted. Nkina happened to visit Kabarore, one of the areas affected, soon after these attacks. The authorities accused him of collaborating with the armed opposition group RED-Tabara (Resistance for the Rule of Law in Burundi), which they hold responsible for the attacks, and charged him with endangering internal state security.

On June 15, 2021, the court of Kayanza convicted Nkina of “collaboration with rebels who attacked Burundi,” and sentenced him to five years in prison and a fine of one million Burundian francs (approximately US$ 500). His client, Apollinaire Hitimana, whom he had been advising on a land dispute and was arrested with him, was found guilty of complicity in the same offence and sentenced to two and a half years and a fine of 500,000 Burundian francs. An appeal hearing is scheduled for August 12, at the Ngozi court of appeal.






https://www.hrw.org/fr/news/2021/08/10/burundi-liberez-lavocat-tony-germain-nkina (FRANCAIS)



Burundi: Statement on the sentencing to lifelong imprisonment of three Burundian lawyers


Vacature stage ondersteunen focusgroepen - Lawyers for Lawyers

In February 2021, Burundian lawyers Dieudonné Bashirahishize, Armel Niyongere, Vital Nshimirimana were informed that they were sentenced to lifelong imprisonment.

In January 2017, the three Burundian lawyers had already been disbarred from the Burundi Bar Association by request of its Ministry of Justice on the charges of “participation in an insurrectional movement”, “attempt to overthrow the state institutions” and “violation of the code of conduct”. It is believed that their disbarment is connected to their work on a human rights violation reports in Burundi, which was discussed in July 2016 by the United Nations Committee against Torture in Geneva.

Recently, the Supreme Court sentenced the lawyers, among other human rights defenders and journalists, to life imprisonment and accused them of a coup attempt against the former president. We have been informed that this judgement was issued in secret in June 2020. It was not until 2 February 2021, that the three lawyers were informed about the judgment of the Supreme Court, after the Supreme Court published a document about the case.

According to the information received, the three lawyers have tried to get access to the procedural files; however, this was not allowed and was met with threats and intimidations. As of today, the lawyers still have not had access to any case files.



https://afrique.lalibre.be/58173/crise-au-burundi-des-avocats-contre-les-poursuites-de-confreres-defenseurs-des-droits-humains/ (FRANCAIS)





Burundi: Me Cyriaque Nibitegeka Libéré

le 10 mai, 2018

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L’avocat burundais, Maître Cyriaque Nibitegeka est enfin libre après 14 mois de détention arbitraire en République Démocratique du Congo. Il avait été arrêté le 16 février 2017 par le renseignement militaire congolais alors que l’avocat “avait pris rendez-vous avec les autorités [congolaises] afin d’offrir ses services d’avocat à deux burundais qui étaient alors détenus et menacés d’extradition irrégulière vers leur pays d’origine” selon le communiqué de CAVIB. Loin d’être reçu comme avocat, Me Nibitegeka a été détenu avec ses clients dans des conditions horribles. Il aura passé un mois au centre d’interrogatoire de l’armée congolaise à Uvira, quatre jours dans des cachots secrets à Bukavu et Goma, 7 mois dans le cachot du renseignement militaire à Kinshasa et six mois à la prison centrale de Makala. Pourtant, ce n’était qu’un avocat, un défenseur de droits humains qui ne volait qu’au secours de ses frères burundais. Il n’a jamais été présenté devant un juge. Maitre Nibitegeka et ses deux clients ont été libérés sur une décision du parquet.

Me Cyriaque Nibitegeka est un militant des droits humains très engagé, il a déjà payé un lourd tribut pour son activisme dans la lutte contre la violation de la constitution burundaise. Il a dû sacrifier sa carrière d’enseignant à l’Université du Burundi alors qu’il était sur le point d’entamer une formation doctorale en Belgique. Le 29 mai 2015, il avait déjà été arrêté et séquestré à l’Aéroport de Dar-es-Salaam en Tanzanie où il se rendait pour le plaidoyer auprès des instances de l’EAC. Son engagement n’a pas faibli pour autant et il se dit toujours déterminé à continuer la lutte.

Nous nous réjouissons de sa libération (de même que ses deux clients) et saluons tous ceux qui, en toute discrétion, ont intervenu en sa faveur. Encore une fois, notre profonde gratitude à l’ONG Defend Defenders qui s’est particulièrement démarquée dans l’assistance à ce défenseur des droits humains.

Bon retour cher ami et bonne continuation.

(Facebook 9/5/18)

Burundi: UN experts call for release of Burundi human rights defender Germain Rukuki

August 27, 2017

A group of United Nations experts* has called on the authorities in Burundi to release a human rights defender who has been detained since 13 July 2017 and faces serious charges including rebellion.

“We are concerned by the seemingly arbitrary detention of Germain Rukuki, which is evidently linked to his work in defending human rights,” the experts said.

“We are particularly dismayed by the decision of Higher Court of Ntahangwa to hold him in custody despite the lack of concrete indications of guilt, which the country’s criminal code sets as a precondition for keeping someone in preventative detention.

“We call on the Burundian authorities to release Mr. Rukuki, to guarantee his physical and psychological wellbeing, and to ensure that the proceedings against him are carried out with full respect for due process.”

Mr. Rukuki has been formally charged with attacking the internal security of the State, and with rebellion for having worked for the NGO Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT), where he is a previous treasurer. ACAT was banned in October 2016, along with four other Burundian organizations.




https://www.fidh.org/fr/themes/defenseurs-des-droits-humains/burundi-transfert-de-m-germain-rukuki-poursuite-de-sa-detention (FRANCAIS)

https://www.fidh.org/fr/themes/defenseurs-des-droits-humains/burundi-detention-arbitraire-de-mr-germain-rukuki (FRANCAIS)

Burundi: Public Statement – The Law Society of Upper Canada expresses deep concern about the disbarment of lawyers Vital Nshimirimana, Armel Niyongere, Dieudonné Bashirahishize and suspension of lawyer Lambert Nigarura in Burundi

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.


http://www.lsuc.on.ca/newsarchives.aspx?id=2147485737&cid=2147503541 (FRANCAIS)

http://images.lexbase.fr/sst/CIB/lettre1_13.pdf (FRANCAIS)

Burundi: Représailles contre quatre avocats engagés dans la défense des droits humains

le 18 janvier, 2017

L’Observatoire pour la protection des défenseurs des droits de l’Homme (partenariat OMCT-FIDH) condamne fermement la décision de la Cour d’appel de Bujumbura qui a confirmé la radiation d’Armel Niyongere, Vital Nshimirimana et Dieudonné Bashirahishize du Barreau de Bujumbura. La Cour a également suspendu pour un an Lambert Nigarura et lui a interdit de siéger au Conseil de l’ordre pendant cinq ans.

Le 16 janvier 2017, la Cour d’appel de Bujumbura a décidé de radier de l’ordre des avocats de Bujumbura MM. Armel Niyongere, président de l’ACAT-Burundi et directeur de SOS-Torture/Burundi, Vital Nshimirimana, délégué général du Forum pour le renforcement de la société civile(FORSC) et Dieudonné Bashirahishize, vice-président de l’Association des barreaux de la Communauté d’Afrique de l’Est. La Cour a également décidé de suspendre pour une période d’un an M. Lambert Nigarura, président de la Coalition burundaise pour la Cour pénale internationale (CPI), et lui a interdit de siéger au Conseil de l’ordre pendant cinq ans.

Cette décision fait suite à la participation des quatre défenseurs à la session d’examen du Burundi par le Comité contre la torture (CAT) des Nations unies. Les quatre défenseurs avaient tous participé à la production du rapport alternatif soumis au CAT sur la pratique généralisée de la torture au Burundi, avec l’appui de l’OMCT. Ils sont accusés de « participation à un mouvement insurrectionnel », « tentative de coup d’Etat », « trafic d’images » et « prise de position en violation des règles déontologiques ». Le 29 septembre 2016, l’Ordre des avocats du Burundi avait déclaré « non fondée » puis classée sans suite la demande de radiation transmise le 29 juillet 2016 par le procureur général près de la Cour d’appel de Bujumbura.




Burundi: Bujumbura Court of Appeal disbars four lawyers

January 17, 2017

Kiyuku Salvator, chairman of Burundi Bar Association “We deplore the fact that the Court of Appeal refused the defense lawyers to represent their clients…..”

Bujumbura Court of Appeal decided on 16 January to disbar three lawyers from the Bujumbura Bar Association while another one is suspended for one year and excluded from the Council of Bujumbura Bar for five years. The chairman of Bujumbura Bar says the trial is characterized by many irregularities.

Lawyers Vital Nshimirimana, Armel Niyongere, Dieudonnee 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 . They were all accused of non-compliance with professional ethics.

“We were not surprised by this decision of the Court of Appeal of Bujumbura to ban us from the list of Bujumbura Bar lawyers. Given how the trial took place, there were many procedural violations and even the violation of the Basic Law in its Article 38 to refuse our defense lawyers to represent us in the trial, “says Armel Niyongere, one of the four lawyers disbarred.

He accuses the Government of taking harsh measures against them because of their involvement in the denunciation of human rights violations and in defending the victims of crimes committed in Burundi before international courts, in particular the International Criminal Court -ICC.

For Niyongere, this measure is a non-event. He says they will continue their struggle against impunity in Burundi and these reprisals strengthen them in their struggle.

“Even though we do not expect much from Burundi justice because it is not independent, we are going to respect all the appeal process internally, if need be, externally so that the international justice handles our case, “says Niyongere.



https://www.fidh.org/fr/themes/defenseurs-des-droits-humains/represailles-contre-quatre-avocats-engages-dans-la-defense-des-droits (FRANCAIS)

Burundi: Armel Niyongere: A duty to protect the voiceless in conflict-ridden Burundi, even in exile

December 15, 2016

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Armel Niyongere loves the law. He became a lawyer because he cannot bear injustice. Living in war-torn Burundi were human rights violations occur on a daily basis, he decided to defend the voiceless victims. But this noble choice has a price: exile.

“Living outside the country with my family is difficult,” he said. “I see that they are in danger, that I am in danger.”

Harassed and threatened by the Burundian Government that also issued an international arrest warrant against him, Mr. Niyongere was forced to leave his home country in 2015 – and to take his family with him. Mr. Niyongere was among those who said it was unconstitutional for Pierre Nkurunziza to run for a third presidential term in April 2015. The candidacy announcement sparked weeks of widespread demonstrations, a failed coup attempt, and the arrest of hundreds of demonstrators framed as “terrorists”.

This permanent state of violence, with killings and injury of protesters and police officers having become routine, takes place in a country that had already suffered two ethnically-based genocides and a 12-year civil war that had left some 300,000 dead. It raises concern over another looming civil war and humanitarian crisis fuelled by propaganda aimed at dividing the country along ethnic lines.

In this unrest, the anti-torture organization Mr. Niyongere heads, Action des Chrétiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture (ACAT Burundi), was quickly outlawed, as were many other civil-society organizations that had been monitoring the human rights situation in Burundi. Its funding was frozen, leaving it incapable of any action from inside the country.