IBJ in Action
When IBJ first came to Burundi, there were only 70 lawyers working in the entire country, and there was no form of legal aid for its approximately 9 million people. This is not surprising given that Burundi ranks among the three poorest countries in the world. With the agenda for development straining to meet a myriad of urgent needs, few resources are directed towards fostering the rule of law.
IBJ recognises that local criminal defense attorneys operate on the front lines to end torture. In April 2015, following the announcement of President Nkurunziza as a candidate for a third term in office, Burundi once again sank into serious political instability. This has led to an outbreak of numerous demonstrations in Bujumbura by members of civil society and opposition parties, provoking violent clashes with the police force resulting in mass arrests. Those arrested are being held in appalling conditions, with most prisons at an occupation rate of over 200 percent of total capacity. In fact, by the end of 2016, the penitentiary population has reached over 10,000, while the detention establishments’ normal capacity is only to hold 4191 people. Of the 441 detainees assisted by IBJ in Burundi in 2016, 19 percent of them alleged being subject to torture. The rate was about 13 percent for the first quarter of 2017.
In wake of the grave situation Burundi, many human rights NGOs have left the country. IBJ is one of the the few remaining NGOs providing legal representation to detainees, assisting anyone who cannot afford a lawyer and especially vulnerable categories. IBJ lawyers continue their efforts, taking great risks to provide services to accused persons even during a period of political crisis.
Despite the tense political situation, IBJ managed to register itself as a local NGO under the name, Burundi Bridges to Justice. The creation of this legal entity enables IBJ to apply for funding that is reserved locally registered NGOs.
IBJ Defender Resource Center
- IBJ Burundi has assisted over 2,000 detained individuals since its Defender Resource Center was established in Bujumbura in 2008.
- IBJ has trained 91 defense lawyers since 2008.
- IBJ has established relationships with key justice sector partners.
- IBJ mobilises defense lawyers to directly represent clients.
- IBJ brings together lawyers, prosecutors, magistrates, police officers and prison officials for joint trainings on all aspects of the legal process.
- Rights awareness campaigns demonstrate individual legal rights to counsel, to a fair trial, and to be free from torture.
- Rights awareness posters are distributed in prisons, police stations, local government offices and other public centers, sparking an overwhelming demand for legal assistance.
- IBJ proposes to expand these activities, particularly to support its effort to build grassroots support for the development of a national policy of legal aid for those in need.
Looking Toward the Future
IBJ seeks to maintain the highest professional standards for its team. Over the next two years, IBJ hopes to conduct several in-house sessions to improve staff members’ advocacy skills while also building their capacity to deliver effective legal defence trainings locally. Additionally, IBJ Burundi staff will participate in IBJ’s annual Fellows Summit, where they will benefit from sharing experiences with peers from other IBJ country programs and will improve management and evaluation processes. An intensive training session is planned for August 2017.