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 unconstitutional announcement of President Nkurunziza as a candidate for a third term in office, Burundi sank once again 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 arbitrary mass arrests. The Burundian Association for the Protection of Human rights and Detained Persons has already identified more than 1,000 people, including women and children, arrested between April 26, 2015 and the end of June, 2015. Ligue Iteka, spoke of more than 2,000 people arrested and detained throughout Burundi. Those arrested are being held in appalling conditions with an occupation of almost 200% percent of total capacity. More than a dozen detainees have alleged torture, especially those who have been detained in the dungeons of the national Intelligence Service.
In wake of the grave situation Burundi, many human rights NGO’s have left the country. IBJ is one of two remaining NGOs providing legal representation to detainees, especially to those people who took part in protests whom we believe are subject to torture while in detention. IBJ lawyers continue their efforts to date taking great risks to provide services to these accused persons.
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 will enable us to apply for funding that is reserved locally registered NGO’s. Since it’s inception, BBJ has established itself as a critical link working with the justice sector. The barriers that were preventing the implementation of our programs were alleviated by the partnership agreements concluded in 2017 with the ministry of Justice and with the General Inspectorate of Burundi National Police.
What We Do
- BBJ has established relationships with key justice sector partners.
- BBJ now has 8 Defender Resource Centers and has assisted 1269 cases today with 614 cases now closed.
- IBJ brings together lawyers, prosecutors, magistrates, police officers and prison officials for joint trainings on all aspects of the legal process. There have been 20 Roundtable awareness events bringing together close to 500 people in attendance.
- 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. The BBJ Prison Legal Awareness campaigns have reached 122 detainees, 30 of which are women.
- 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.
In May 2018, BBJ in partnership with the General Inspectorate of Burundi National Police, completed an intensive training of 150 judicial police officers. Ceremonies were organised under the patronage of the Ministry of Security and Fight Against Disasters. Both the General Inspector of Burundi National Police and the Minister were thankful to BBJ for support that arrived at the right time. In his address, the Minister of Security advised the officers to implement what they had been taught and contribute to solving abuses that are reported against officers on the ground. He insisted that they have been trained to serve citizens. Their wish is that BBJ keeps supporting similar training as they hope to train a further 200 officers which would enable them to appoint at least 3 judicial police officers per commune.
Sanjeewa Liyanage with Andre Ndayambaje, Inspector General of the Burundi National Police, who welcomed him to show off a class of new police recruits at the Gatumba Police Training School, whose extensive training was supported by IBJ Burundi/Burundi Bridges to Justice.