In December 2016, five major Burundian NGOs* filed a formal complaint to the EACJ, following the arbitrary and unlawful decision of Burundian authorities to shutdown their organizations and freeze their bank accounts. In support of these organizations, in their struggle to reclaim their rights, FIDH, together with its member organizations, the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) and the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI, Uganda) made a request to submit an amicus curiae brief in the case. Tomorrow, the EACJ will hear oral arguments on the request.
Since 2015, Burundi has been engulfed in a severe political crisis characterized by the continuing perpetration of murders, enforced disappearances – as of today, the treasurer of the Ligue ITEKA, Marie-Claudette Kwizera, who was kidnapped in December 2015, is still missing – acts of torture, sexual violence and other serious crimes, mostly against those perceived as opposing the regime. In parallel, authorities have engaged in a serious crackdown against independent human rights organizations to alter their capacity to document and report the crimes and to assist the victims. In October 2016, the decision to ban and freeze the accounts of the five NGOs was made as part of this crackdown. In January 2017, a similar decision was notified to the ITEKA League, FIDH member organization in Burundi. The targeting of civil society was recently illustrated again by the unlawful sentencing of activist Germain Rukuki to 32 years in prison on trumped-up charges**.
Before the EACJ, the five Burundian NGOs argue that their banning and the freezing of their accounts was in violation of the country’s regional and international legal obligations related to freedom of association. Represented by the law firm Leigh Day and human rights lawyers Nani Jansen Reventlow and Catherine Anite, FIDH, the KHRC and FHRI wish to provide expertise in the field of human rights and freedom of association to assist the Court in the interpretation and application of relevant legislation.
“Burundian civil society has been relentlessly targeted through bans, assets freezing, repressive legislations, enforced disappearances, arrests and illegal detention or judicial harassment. Intervening in this case will allow us to provide the Court with our expertise and valuable information on freedom of association and on the way it has been observed in Burundi over the past recent years”, says Sheila Muwanga Nabachwa, FIDH Vice President and FHRI Deputy Director of Programs.
“We consider this joint intervention to be an act of solidarity that pushes against a worrying trend of shrinking civil space in the region which has served to undermine the prospects for true democracy”, says George Kegoro KHRC Executive Director.
“The organisations we represent feel that it is extremely important that they are allowed to intervene in this case to enable the court to benefit from their experience and knowledge in the field of regional and international human rights law”, says Rosa Curling from Leigh Day law firm. “We hope that the court will agree to allow them to intervene as we believe that it would be in the interest of justice to do so.”