GENEVA (04 April 2019) – UN human rights experts* are urging the Government of Burundi to immediately release human rights defender Germain Rukuki, whose case awaits a decision by the Bujumbura Court of Appeal.
Mr. Rukuki, a well-known activist engaged in peaceful protest and dissent, was convicted and sentenced to 32 years imprisonment in April 2018 on charges including rebellion and breach of state security. He has been in detention since his arrest in July 2017.
“The charges against Germain Rukuki have no basis in fact, and are a pretext to silence his voice and criminalise his human rights work,” the experts said.
“We call upon the Government to free him immediately and to allow all human rights defenders in Burundi to carry out their vital work.”
Although a decision on Mr. Rukuki’s appeal, which was lodged in November 2018, should have been given within a 30-day period, his case remains pending. The delay is said to relate, in part, to the alleged loss of his case file.
Mr. Rukuki’s trial was reportedly beset with other irregularities and procedural problems, including an expedited process, closed-door proceedings and lack of access by his legal counsel to court documents and hearings. It is also reported that the prosecution presented virtually no evidence against him.
“The reported loss of Mr. Rukuki’s case file is just the most recent in a long series of incidents of judicial malpractice. He should not only have had the right to a fair trial; but should not have been detained in the first place,” the experts said.
Since 2015, human rights defenders and organisations in Burundi have been faced with an increasingly shrinking civil space, and have often been targeted by the authorities. In October 2016, ACAT-Burundi, an anti-torture organisation for which Mr. Rukuki had previously worked, was banned.
UN experts have raised concerns with the authorities twice before – in July 2017 when he was first detained, and in May 2018 when he was convicted and sentenced. The Government has not responded to either communication.
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Proceduresof the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.