The Burundi Human Rights Initiative

Joint statements and letters

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 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 .

Nkina was APRODH’s representative in Kayanza until the government suspended the organization in 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 in Kabarore commune, where he was visiting a client for his professional work as a lawyer. In , 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.

The hearing at the Court of Appeal of Ngozi, initially scheduled for , was postponed twice and finally held on . The prosecution failed to produce any credible evidence against Nkina and no prosecution witnesses appeared in court. Nkina and his lawyers were able to show that he had visited Kabarore for legitimate professional reasons. Nevertheless, the court upheld the conviction, quickly issuing its verdict.

“Nkina’s conviction is another stain on Burundi’s human rights record at a time when the government is trying to improve its public image,” said Deprose Muchena, director for East and Southern Africa at Amnesty International. “If the Burundian authorities want to convince domestic and international audiences that the country’s justice system is credible, they should drop all charges against Nkina and release him immediately.”

As dialogue between the European Union (EU) and Burundi progresses, edging towards a possible resumption of cooperation, the EU and its member states should make clear to President Évariste Ndayishimiye that his promises to respect human rights and reform the justice system cannot be taken seriously while Nkina remains in prison solely because of his past human rights activities.

The targeting of Nkina and his conviction and sentencing after an unfair trial are emblematic of the wider human rights situation in Burundi, where the space for civil society and the media remains highly restricted, the groups said. Other governments, as well as United Nations representatives and bodies, the African Union and other international entities, should also publicly denounce Nkina’s conviction and press for his immediate release.


For further information on the case of Tony Germain Nkina and other human rights defenders in Burundi, see the joint statement published by the six international human rights groups on : “Burundi: Release Lawyer Tony Germain Nkina”.

Burundi: release lawyer Tony Germain Nkina

Burundian authorities should immediately and unconditionally release lawyer Tony Germain Nkina, who was sentenced to five years in prison in 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 Africa 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 .

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 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.

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 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 at the Ngozi court of appeal.

Nkina was APRODH’s representative in Kayanza until the government suspended the organization in as part of a larger crackdown on civil society over opposition to President Pierre Nkurunziza running for a controversial third term. He has not worked for APRODH or any other Burundian civil society organization for the past six years. He is a well-known lawyer in Kayanza and a member of the Gitega bar. However, authorities in Kayanza may still associate him with APRODH, especially as he was riding his former APRODH motorcycle on the day of his arrest.

The prosecution accused him, among other things, of travelling to Rwanda to give information to APRODH’s president, Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, who lives in Europe, as well as to RED-Tabara. The prosecution has not presented any evidence to substantiate these allegations.

Nkina is the only known former staff member of a human rights organization imprisoned in Burundi at the present time. Two other human rights defenders were released earlier in .

Background

APRODH was one of Burundi’s most active and best-known human rights organizations. Mbonimpa narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in with life-threatening injuries. Mbonimpa’s son and his son-in-law were both shot dead in .

APRODH’s representative in Gitega province, Nestor Nibitanga, was arrested in and sentenced in to five years in prison on charges similar to those brought against Nkina. He was released in as part of President Évariste Ndayishimiye’s pardon of more than 5,000 prisoners.

Another human rights defender, Germain Rukuki, was arrested in and sentenced to 32 years in prison in on trumped-up charges related to his human rights work. His sentence was confirmed by the appeal court in , but the appeal court’s decision was subsequently overturned by the Supreme Court. The appeal court reduced his sentence to one year in . He was released the same month.

Burundi’s civil society and media organizations were among the first targets of the government repression in . The government suspended or closed most independent human rights organizations and media outlets and drove them into exile. Despite some overtures by President Ndayishimiye towards the media in , the Burundian government continues to view human rights work with suspicion, and severe restrictions on human rights, including the right to freedom of expression, remain in place.

Most independent human rights organizations have been unable to resume their activities in Burundi, especially as the Burundian authorities have issued arrest warrants for many of their leading activists in exile. Twelve human rights defenders and journalists were among a group of 34 people sentenced to life in prison in absentia in on accusations of involvement in an attempted coup in ; the Supreme Court judgment was not made public until .

Burundi: The Human Rights Council should continue its scrutiny and pursue its work towards justice and accountability

To Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council, Geneva, Switzerland

Excellencies,

At the 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council (the Council) in , the Council renewed the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry (CoIs) on Burundi for a further year. This allowed the only independent mechanism mandated to document human rights violations and abuses, monitor, and publicly report on the situation in Burundi to continue its work. By adopting resolution 45/19, the Council recognised that changing political circumstances do not equate to human rights change, and maintained its responsibility to support victims and survivors of violations and continue working to improve the situation in the country.

Ahead of the Council’s 48th session (-), we are writing to urge your delegation to support efforts to ensure that the Council continues its scrutiny and pursues its work towards justice and accountability in Burundi. In the absence of structural improvements, and in view of the recent increase in human rights violations against persons perceived as government opponents, we consider that there is no basis, nor measurable progress, that would warrant a departure from the current approach or a failure to renew the mandate of the CoI. At the upcoming session, at minimum, the Council should adopt a resolution that reflects realities on the ground, including the following elements.

Open letter: the EU should honor its commitments to human rights in Burundi

Dear High Representative,
Dear Foreign Ministers,

As the Council of the European Union (EU) and its preparatory bodies review the situation in Burundi and related EU policy, the undersigned organizations wish to express their concern that the EU and some of its member states appear willing to overlook the lack of meaningful human rights progress and widespread impunity for past and ongoing serious human rights violations in the country.

Despite a series of recent one-off gestures by the Burundian government regarding public freedoms, the Council should maintain its position that sustainable and tangible progress regarding the opening of political and civic space and the fight against impunity are necessary to address fundamental human rights concerns in Burundi. The EU should not rely on promises of human rights reforms from the Burundian authorities, and insist instead that they meet concrete benchmarks proving their commitment to ensuring accountability and embarking on a human rights- respecting path.

Burundi: Once again, human rights defender Germain Rukuki’s right to a fair trial is violated

Appeal to the Authorities of Burundi

We, the undersigned organisations, express our dismay that the Burundian Appeals Court of Ntahangwa has not yet announced a verdict in the case of human rights defender Mr. Germain Rukuki. According to legal statutes, this verdict was due within 30 days of the appeal hearing, by . This undue delay adds to the litany of irregularities that have characterised the legal proceedings in this case since the arrest of Mr. Rukuki in , and further compounds the violation of Mr. Rukuki’s right to a fair trial and due process.

On , the Supreme Court of Burundi set aside the ruling by the Appeals Court to uphold the 32-year sentence in Mr. Rukuki’s case and ordered a second appeal hearing, citing violations to his right to a fair trial. This second appeal hearing took place 8 months later on in Ngozi prison, where Mr. Rukuki is currently detained. According to the Burundian Code of Criminal Procedure, following the hearing the Court has 30 days to return a verdict on the case, but this verdict is still pending nearly 60 days later. This delay clearly demonstrates a lack of due process in the case of the internationally recognised human rights defender and political prisoner.

Burundi: Sixty-five organizations call for immediate release of Iwacu journalists

On the first anniversary of their arrest, 65 organizations call for the immediate and unconditional release of the Iwacu journalists Agnès Ndirubusa, Christine Kamikazi, Egide Harerimana and Térence Mpozenzi who were convicted on charges against state security for simply doing their job. Their continued detention on baseless charges is a stark reminder that, despite a recent change in leadership, the Burundian government has little tolerance for independent journalism and free speech, the organizations said.

On , the four journalists were arrested along with their driver Adolphe Masabarakiza as they went to report on clashes between the security forces and an armed group in Bubanza province. Although they had informed the provincial authorities of their plan to travel to the area, they were arrested on arrival and later accused of threatening internal state security. However, during the trial, the prosecution presented no evidence of the journalists having any contact with the armed group.

Burundi: Vital role of the Commission of Inquiry in prompting meaningful human rights progress

To Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council, Geneva, Switzerland

Excellencies,

Ahead of the 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council (hereafter “HRC” or “the Council”), we, the undersigned national, regional and international civil society organisations, write to urge your delegation to support the renewal of the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi. In the context of recent political developments, such a renewal, building off the investments to date in and from the CoI, would provide the best opportunity to prompt meaningful human rights progress in Burundi.

As of today, the CoI remains the only independent mechanism mandated to document human rights violations and abuses (including on their extent and whether they may constitute crimes under international law), monitor, and publicly report on the situation in Burundi, with sufficient resources and experience to do so. Changing political realities do not amount to systemic human rights change, and the Council has a responsibility to continue supporting victims and survivors of violations and working to improve the situation in Burundi.