PRESS RELEASE

Germain Rukuki’s Sentence Reduced

A judicial victory for the Burundian HRD


 

[Nairobi/Brussels, 22 June 2021] – After a series of drawn-out court proceedings, the Appeal Court has ruled that the sentence for Burundian human rights defender (HRD) Germain Rukuki has been reduced from 32 years to 1 year, with a fine of 50,000Fbu. Germain was acquitted of the charges of “participation in an insurrectionist movement”, “threatening state security” and “attacking the authority of the State”. Only the charge of “rebellion” was upheld. Germain has been imprisoned since 2017, therefore the 1 year sentence has already been served. In accordance with Burundi’s judicial process, this final decision cannot be further appealed. Protection International celebrates this verdict, which allows Germain to return to his family who he has been separated from for nearly 4 years.

During the hearing, which took place in Ngozi prison on 24 March 2021, both Germain and his legal team were able to express themselves freely and engaged in an in-depth debate with the magistrates from the Appeal Court. The trial observation was allowed for the duration of the hearing, which lasted 3 hours, and it was attended by two EU diplomatic observers present, as well as by the Burundian Commission Nationale Indépendante des Droits de l'Homme.

“This is a glorious day not only for Germain, who will be finally reunited with his family and young children but for all of Burundi,” says Susan Muriungi, Protection International’s Regional Director for Africa. “The verdict sets an important precedent for invalidating the criminalisation of human rights defenders. Germain’s release sends a powerful reminder to all defenders in Burundi and across the African continent. Your work has legitimacy. Your work has value. And you have the right to defend human rights.”

Protection International hopes that this promising occasion will improve the environment for the right to defend human rights in Burundi. This verdict is a step in the right direction for the country, but the fate of other imprisoned HRDs, such as former member of parliament Fabien Banciryanino, must not be forgotten. Defending human rights is not a crime, and we urge that all HRDs be recognised and protected.

Protection International reminds decision-makers within the international community to ensure that Burundi makes clear and concrete commitments to democratic principles and values, human rights, human rights defenders, and the rule of law. This is especially true for the European Union and its member states who have begun to implement a new roadmap of cooperation with Burundi.

For more information about Germain’s case, please contact Emily Humphreys: emily.humphreys [at] protectioninternational.org (emily.humphreys(at)protectioninternational.org)

 

Background

Germain Rukuki (age 42) is a Burundian citizen, father to three children, and a human rights defender who has been serving a 32-year prison sentence for his activism. His story is emblematic of the unjust threats and retaliation that many Burundian human rights defenders face, and with the harshest sentence ever imposed on any HRD in the country’s history, the previous Burundian Government used Germain’s case to dissuade others from carrying out human rights work. Many HRDs across the world are being shackled by long-term prison sentences, a disturbing trend of repression under which Mr. Rukuki has been a clear victim.

Germain is the founder of Njabutsa Tujane, a community-based association that fights poverty, famine and improves access to health. At the time of his arrest, he was an employee of the Burundian Catholic Lawyers Association (Association des Juristes Catholiques du Burundi - AJCB), and for many years he worked as an accountant for ACAT-Burundi, an organization that campaigns against torture and the death penalty, and was definitively disbarred from the list of non-profit associations by the government on 19 October 2016.

In July 2017, Germain was arrested in his home and later charged with “rebellion”, “threatening state security”, “attacking the authority of the State” and “participation in an insurrectionist movement”, although no conclusive evidence was ever presented to back the prosecution’s counts. Last July 2020, the Supreme Court of Burundi rejected the Appeal Court’s upholding of his over three-decade-long sentence and called for a second appeal hearing, which took place on 24 March 2021. Germain’s case has experienced many procedural irregularities over the years, which is why the Supreme Court determined that his right to a fair trial had been violated. The decision of the first appeal was issued in a public hearing without Germain or his defence being notified, in addition to the fact that his initial appeal decision was issued six months after the legal deadline.