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.”