For some prisoners in Burundi, the real suffering begins when their release falls through. They are illegally detained beyond their release date, often without explanation, after they have been acquitted, after a court has ordered their provisional release or after serving their sentence. Many of those kept in prison illegally have been accused of political or security-related offences.
A new report by the Burundi Human Rights Initiative, “Forgotten prisoners: Burundi’s justice system ignores the law”, describes how judicial officials and prison directors frequently violate the law, which clearly states that prisoners should be released as soon as they’ve been acquitted or served their sentence, or as soon as a judge has decided to provisionally release them.
Even when judges rule in favour of prisoners, prosecutors have the final say over whether they’re released. They often obey instructions from officials of the ruling party, the CNDD-FDD, or intelligence agents not to release certain prisoners.
The problem is compounded by delays at the appeal courts, particularly at the Supreme Court’s appeal chamber, where cases can get stuck for several years.
President Évariste Ndayishimiye’s unkept promises to reform the justice system have cast a shadow over his reputation and bring up larger questions: if he is willing to speak out publicly on the ills in the judicial system, why doesn’t he acknowledge interference in political and security-related cases? Will he finally take action to ensure court rulings are implemented and give the minister of justice and senior judicial officials the power to correct these injustices?
The report is available in English and French.