IBJ established its first Defender Resource Center in Burundi in Bujumbura in 2008. Since then, Burundi Bridges to Justice has worked to strengthen the legal system in Burundi and carried out numerous activities, such as building a group of “Women Lawyers Team” to offer pro-bono legal defense to female detainees by female lawyers, conducting training for prison officials, police, and judges, organizing roundtables in order to promote best practices and legal reform, and providing training for defense lawyers.

Impact in Numbers

When IBJ first came to Burundi in 2008, there were only 70 lawyers working in the entire country, and there was no form of legal aid for its approximately 9 million people. A decade after IBJ started working in Burundi, the number of lawyers adhering to the Bujumbura Bar Association multiplied by ten. Another development in that regard is that Burundi has got another bar association, the Gitega Bar Association which counts around three hundred lawyers. In 2018, the first National Legal Aid strategy was adopted.

  • 347 lawyers trained
  • 5,131 cases represented by BBJ lawyers
  • 451 justice officials trained through roundtables
  • 4.8+ million people reached through rights awareness campaigns

Systems Change

BBJ has Memorandums of Understanding with the General Inspectorate of Burundi National Police, the Ministry of Justice and Civic protection, and the Burundi Bar Association. It also developed strategic partnerships with the Gitega Bar Association, the Governmental Action Observatory (AOG), the African Union Human Rights Observers Mission, the National Independent Commission for Human Rights (CNIDH), the Association of Catholic Jurists of Burundi (AJCB), and the Trauma Healing and Reconciliation Services (THARS).

High impact successes include:

  • BBJ sent a letter to the Minister of Justice suggesting measures to prevent and protect Burundi detainees against Covid-19.
  • BBJ launched a Women Lawyers Team, and its first retreat session was conducted after an intensive legal defense to women detainees offered on a pro bono basis by women lawyers.
  • In partnership with the General Inspectorate of Burundi National Police, BBJ conducted an intensive training of 100 days to 154 Judicial Police Officers.
  • BBJ intensified its early access to a counsel program and launched the rebuilding trust through the rule of law project which was targeting security forces and the general population in Bujumbura.

Defender resources

In Burundi, IBJ provides training, tools, manuals and eLearning, developed with our partners, funded through grants, and resourced through pro-bono assistance.

  • DefenseWiki in French, English and Spanish– references, legal codes, and assessments
  • Defender Manual – Criminal Defender ToolKit – French
  • Defender Manual – Pre-trial detention ToolKit – French
  • eLearning Modules – in-depth and topic-focussed training (login required).

What we need

There are many ways to get involved, to help make a long term difference. Please get in touch.


Case Story I – Finding a Voice, and Finding Hope

In Burundi, women who’ve been accused of a crime can be forced to endure horrific conditions of incarceration, even without any charges proved.


Selene, a mother of two in southern Burundi, was accused of theft by her employer. Arrested and placed in pretrial detention, Selene initially tried to defend herself at her hearings, but her voice was never heard. Her employer did not attend the trial at any point.

An IBJ lawyer met Selene during a visit to the women’s prison as part of a program developed by IBJ. As Selene was unaware of her right to be represented by a lawyer, she was simply grateful to tell her story and she found hope in the possibility that justice could be done.

The IBJ lawyer immediately secured hearing dates and represented Selene at her court appearances. Although sentenced to 6 months imprisonment, at the date of sentencing Selene had already been imprisoned for 12 months for a crime she could not have committed. Exhausted by prison, and eager to see her children again, she decided to accept the sentence rather than fight to prove her innocence.

Case Story II – Freedom is the Rule, Detention is the Exception

IBJ’s roundtable discussions in Burundi have achieved unprecedented results.


In 2009, Burundi’s prison population swelled to nearly three times its built capacity, creating desperately overcrowded, insanitary, and dangerous conditions. To address this significant strain on Burundi’s criminal justice system, IBJ organized a series of roundtable discussions involving stakeholders working within the Burundian criminal justice system.

The discussions about excessive, unjust and inhumane rates of pre-trial detention resulted in the initial release of 94 detainees, and a further circular from the Ministry of Justice calling for the release of all pre-trial detainees under the age of 15.

A further four IBJ roundtables addressing prison overcrowding and pre-trial detention were covered in the media by two widely followed national radio programs. IBJ also conducted complementary rights awareness campaigns with banners stating, “Freedom is the rule, detention is the exception.”


Histoire de cas I – trouver une voix et l'espoir de trouver

Au Burundi, les femmes qui ont été accusées d'un crime peuvent être forcées d'endurer horribles conditions d'incarcération, même sans aucun frais a prouvé.


Selene, une mère de deux au sud du Burundi, a été accusée de vol par son employeur. Arrêté et placé en détention provisoire, Selene initialement essayé de se défendre à ses audiences, mais sa voix n'a jamais entendu parler. Son employeur n'a pas assisté au procès à tout moment.

Un avocat IBJ a rencontré Selene lors d'une visite à la prison pour femmes dans le cadre d'un programme développé par IBJ. Selene étant pas au courant de son droit d'être représenté par un avocat, elle est simplement reconnaissante à raconter son histoire et elle a trouvé l'espoir dans la possibilité que la justice pourrait être faite.

L'avocat IBJ a immédiatement fixé des dates d'audience et représenté Selene à ses comparutions devant le Tribunal. Bien que condamné à 6 mois d'emprisonnement, à la date de la sentence que Selene avait déjà été emprisonnée pendant 12 mois pour un crime qu'elle ne pourrait pas commis. Épuisé par la prison et avide de revoir ses enfants, elle a décidé d'accepter la peine plutôt que le combat pour prouver son innocence.

Histoire de cas II – la liberté est la règle, la détention est l'Exception

Tables rondes de l'IBJ au Burundi ont obtenu des résultats sans précédent.


En 2009, la population carcérale du Burundi gonflé à près de trois fois sa capacité intégrée, création désespérément surpeuplée, conditions insalubres et dangereuses. Pour remédier à cette souche importante sur le système de justice pénale du Burundi, IBJ a organisé une série de tables rondes impliquant des intervenants travaillant au sein du système judiciaire burundais.

Les discussions sur les taux excessifs, injustes et inhumains de la détention préventive a entraîné dans la version initiale de 94 détenus et une nouvelle circulaire du ministère de la Justice réclame la libération de tous les prévenus âgés de moins de 15 ans.

Quatre autres tables rondes IBJ, abordant la surpopulation carcérale et la détention provisoire ont été couvert par les médias de deux programmes de la radio nationale largement suivie. IBJ a également mené des campagnes de sensibilisation des droits complémentaires avec des banderoles déclarant: « la liberté est la règle, la détention est l'exception. »


Country Background

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 trained 293 lawyers in criminal defence procedure  and assisted 4558 cases to date.
  • 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.
  • IBJ rights awareness campaigns demonstrate  legal rights to counsel, to a fair trial, and to be free from torture and have reached 4,529,524 individuals. 
  • 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.

All data as of December 31, 2019

Generating Change

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.

Read Burundi country case stories

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IBJ in Burundi 2009| IBJ in Burundi 2010| IBJ in Burundi 2011-2012| IBJ in Burundi 2013-2014

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