Brussels, 26 April 2019
Today marks one year since Burundian human rights defender Germain Rukuki was unlawfully sentenced to 32 years in prison in Burundi. On this sad occasion, Protection International (PI) calls for international solidarity and action to show Burundian authorities that we have not forgotten about Germain and that we will continue asking for his immediate release.
Germain was convicted for his work in defence of human rights. He is a defender, but also a Burundian citizen, a husband, a father of three children. With the aim of getting to know Germain better, we asked his family and friends to tell us about his personality, his life and his commitment to human rights. This is what they told us:
“When we think of Germain, we think of someone who loves others and wants to help them. His strong commitment to fighting social injustices has permeated throughout his entire life, particularly with the creation of the Njabutsa Tujane, a community association which fights poverty, famine and improves access to health.
Germain has a great inner strength that has allowed him to continue his dedication to social justice despite the unstable political context and repression. For him, solidarity and commitment to human rights are stronger than anything else. We are convinced that, despite this testing struggle, his innate sense of humour is a source of energy for him.
Germain is not a criminal. He was arrested because he was fighting for the defence of human rights and helping the most vulnerable, principles that do not interest the Burundian government. His trial is completely political, and if Germain is finally released, a message can be sent to all defenders: we recognize the legitimacy and value of your work.
In prison, the hardest part for him was having surgery on his ankle after an accident last summer. He was sent back to prison immediately after the operation, without any medical follow-up. The poor hygienic conditions, his reduced mobility and the need for continuous assistance were very stressful consequences for him. His mobility is now partially recovered, but he continues with a metal prosthesis in his ankle that requires appropriate medical follow-up and treatment as this could have long-term disabling effects on his health.
Since his arrest, the whole family has felt a huge void. The psychological impact is very strong. Germain’s three children were condemned to grow up far from their father, without being able to see him. We fear that this extremely violent situation will leave them with psychological after-effects that will last a lifetime.
Germain’s place is not in prison. He must be released, close to his family and friends. The legitimacy of his work in achieving social justice and protecting human rights must also be recognized. We are convinced that once he is free, he will continue his tireless pursuit to protect human rights and build a better Burundi.”
Germain’s case continues under significant uncertainty. On 26 November 2018 his appeal hearing took place, and while no decision came after the 30-day wait period, it was subsequently publicized nearly a month ago that his judicial file had been lost. While this highlights flagrant violations of judicial proceedings, Germain remains unlawfully detained with no further developments foreseen on the future of his case.
Protection International maintains the following demands:
To the Burundian authorities:
- Release Germain Rukuki immediately and unconditionally, and quash his conviction and sentence;
- Comply with international and regional human rights standards, notably the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, and the right to a fair trial;
- Until he is released, ensure Germain Rukuki and his lawyer have timely and adequate access to his case file;
- Launch an immediate, effective, impartial and transparent investigation into the circumstances of and responsibility for the loss of Germain Rukuki’s file;
- Recognise the legitimacy of human rights work in Burundi and ensure a safe and enabling environment in which it is possible to defend and promote human rights without fear of punishment, reprisal or intimidation.
To the international community:
- Advocate for the release of Germain Rukuki and respect for international fair trial standards;
- Until he is released, continue monitoring Germain Rukuki’s legal proceedings and pay regular visits to him in jail;
- Publicly communicate their support for and solidarity with Germain Rukuki and his family;
- Publicly condemn the policy of harassment, including arbitrary detention and prosecution, of human rights defenders in Burundi.