Sentenced to 32 years in prison, Germain Rukuki is the victim of a travesty of justice

Press release
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Paris-Geneva, April 27, 2018 – Human rights defender Germain Rukuki has been sentenced to 32 years following a trial marred by irregularities. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT) condemns one of the heaviest sentences ever handed down against a human rights defender in Burundi.

On April 26, 2018, the Ntahangwa High Court sentenced human rights defender Germain Rukuki to 32 years in prison for “participation in an insurrectional movement”, “undermining State security” and “rebellion”. Neither Germain Rukuki, nor his lawyers were present while the sentence was read out. Germain Rukuki has been detained since July 2017 for his work with Action des chrétiens pour l’abolition de la torture in Burundi (ACAT-Burundi), which documents acts of torture and other crimes committed throughout the country, mainly by President Nkurunziza’s regime.

This decision, which is clearly politically motivated, comes three weeks ahead of a highly controversial constitutional referendum aimed at allowing President Nkurunziza to remain in power until 2034, and three years after the beginning of the Burundian crisis, sparked by the announcement of Pierre Nkurunziza’s intention to run for a third term.

"Tried behind closed doors within the Ngozi prison, charges brought last minute without investigation, lawyers prevented from accessing parts of the file, Germain Rukuki’s harsh sentence clearly illustrates the Burundian authorities’ willingness to silence all human rights defenders in the country"

Drissa Traoré, FIDH Vice-President

Throughout his trial Germain Rukuki became a symbol of the repression and judicial harassment targeting Burundian human rights defenders since the beginning of the crisis in April 2015. All of the judicial proceedings against him were marred by numerous irregularities. Germain Rukuki was first arrested and illegally detained within the national intelligence premises (SNR) before he was transferred to the Ngozi prison and appeared before the Court twice, facing systemic violations of his right to a fair trial. No concrete or convincing proof of his guilt was ever presented, and numerous elements show that his sentence is above all a political decision. During his first hearing, on February 13, 2018, some foreign diplomats were prevented from observing the trial. According to our sources, Germain Rukuki intends to appeal the decision.

"This is an unprecedented decision and a clear message to all those who are shedding light on the crimes committed by the regime. We firmly condemn this travesty of justice which illustrates the complicity of Burundian judicial authorities as willing executioners the regime’s orders"

Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General

This sentence is a clear act of reprisal against Germain Rukuki’s peaceful and legitimate human rights activities. The Observatory calls upon the Burundian authorities to ensure his immediate and unconditional release and to ensure that his right to a fair trial is upheld.

Since 2015, the Observatory has documented daily human rights violations committed by the Burundian authorities, who do not demonstrate any tolerance towards those considered to be political opponents and systemically kill, torture, kidnap, arrest and jail outside of any legal framework those who criticize the government. Similarly, the Burundian civil society has been relentlessly targeted, through bans of major human rights organisations, adoption of legislation aimed at controlling civil society organisations, enforced disappearances, arrests and illegal detention of human rights defenders, continued judicial harassment and heavy criminal sentences. The treasurer of the Ligue ITEKA, Marie-Claudette Kwizzera, was kidnapped by SNR agents on December 13, 2015. She remains missing and is likely to have been killed.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and OMCT. The objective of this program is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

For more information, please contact:
• FIDH: Maryna Chebat: +33 6 48 05 91 57
• OMCT: Marta Gionco / Delphine Reculeau: +41 22 809 49 39

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