Burundi: Release prominent lawyers jailed on spurious charges

Amnesty International

Press Release

28 July 2011

The Burundian government should immediately release two prominent lawyers jailed amid an ongoing dispute with the government, Amnesty International said today, as a national lawyers’ strike continues.

Head of the Bar Association Isidore Rufikiri was arrested on 27 July after speaking at a rally in the capital,Bujumbura. Burundian lawyers are on strike this week to call for the release of their colleague, Suzanne Bukuru, who was arrested on 15 July on charges of “complicity in espionage” after speaking to French journalists about a case of alleged rape.

“Arresting these lawyers violates the right to freedom of expression,” said Erwin van der Borght, Amnesty International’s Africa Programme Director.

“The Burundian authorities must immediately release these lawyers and allow them and others to practice freely. “The way they handle this will be a litmus test for the credibility ofBurundi’s justice system.”

The prosecution summoned Rufikiri to the Court of Appeal on 27 July, and interviewed him on charges of “insulting magistrates”, apparently referring to comments he made about judicial interference at a lawyers’ protest on 25 July.

Following this questioning, Rufikiri was taken directly to Mpimba Central Prison.

Bukuru was also summoned by the prosecution on 15 July, in relation to a case where she is representing five girls who allege they were raped by a French national living inBurundi. The accused was found guilty on 25 July and sentenced to 25 years in jail and a €14,000 fine. He is appealing the sentence.

Bukuru was questioned about having put her clients in touch with French journalists visitingBurundibefore the verdict. She was charged with an unrelated and spurious offence of “complicity in espionage”, which carries a life sentence and can only be applied to foreigners and in times of war.

Bukuru was immediately transferred to Mpimba Central Prison and the court will rule on 1 August on whether to grant bail.

The prosecution also questioned Edras Ndikumana, a correspondent for Radio France International (RFI), about his role in putting French journalists in contact with Bukuru.

Background

The independence of the judiciary in Burundi is regularly compromised through political interference. Magistrates are sometimes penalized by being relocated to different provinces for taking decisions seen as unfavourable to the executive.

The United Nations Independent Expert on the human rights situation in Burundi, Fatsah Ouguergouz, cited problems with judicial independence as one of the key weaknesses of Burundi’s justice system in his May 2011 report.

The UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers not only state that lawyers must be allowed to carry out their work “without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference” but also expressly recognizes that they are entitled to freedom of expression including “the right to take part in public discussion of matters concerning the law, the administration of justice and the promotion and protection of human rights”.

New Amnesty report criticises vague Rwanda laws

Posted: 31 August 2010

Amnesty International has today [31 August] urged Rwanda’s new government to review its vague laws of ‘genocide ideology’ and ‘sectarianism’ which can lead to imprisonment for up to 25 years.

In its new report entitled Safer to Stay Silent: The Chilling Effect of Rwanda’s Laws on ‘Genocide Ideology’ and ‘Sectarianism’ Amnesty raised concerns that the laws are being used to suppress political dissent and stifle freedom of speech.

It details how the vague wording of these laws is misused to criminalise criticism of the government and dissent by opposition politicians, human rights activists and journalists.

Amnesty International’s Africa Programme Director, Erwin van der Borght said:

“The ambiguity of the ‘genocide ideology’ and ‘sectarianism’ law means Rwandans live in fear of being punished for saying the wrong thing. Most take the safe option of staying silent.”

Amnesty International found that many Rwandans, even those with specialist knowledge of Rwandan law, were unable to precisely define ‘genocide ideology’. Even judges noted that the law was broad and abstract.

Accusations of ‘genocide ideology’ have also been used to settle personal disputes. Current laws allow for the criminal punishment of children as young as 12, accused of genocide ideology. Parents, guardians and teachers can all face the threat of “inoculating” a child with “genocide ideology”.

Sentences for convicted adults range from 10 to 25 years’ imprisonment.

The ‘genocide ideology’ and ‘sectarianism’ laws were introduced to restrict speech that could promote hatred in the decade following the 1994 genocide.   While prohibiting hate speech is a legitimate aim, the approach used by the Rwandan Government has violated international law.

The Rwandan government announced a review of the ‘genocide ideology’ law in April 2010. The government should also launch a review of the ‘sectarianism’ law and demonstrate a new approach to freedom of expression in order to stem the chilling effect of past legislation.

Amnesty International is urging the Rwandan government to significantly amend the laws, to publicly express a commitment to freedom of expression, to review past convictions and to train police and prosecutors on how to investigate accusations.

Erwin van der Borght added:

“We hope that the government review will result in a meaningful revision of the ‘genocide ideology’ and ‘sectarianism’ laws, so that freedom of expression is protected both on paper and in practice.”

Notes to Editors

· Rwanda’s ‘genocide ideology’ law was promulgated in 2008 and the ‘sectarianism’ law was promulgated in 2001.

· According to government figures, there were 1,034 trials related to ‘genocide ideology’ in 2007-2008. These were prosecuted under charges ranging from assassinations to damage to cattle.

· According to government figures, 435 ‘genocide ideology’ cases were tried at first instance in 2009.

· In the lead-up to the 9 August presidential elections two opposition candidates were arrested and charged, among other things, with ‘genocide ideology’. A newspaper editor was also arrested on the same charge.

· The BBC and VOA have both been accused of disseminating ‘genocide ideology’ by the government. These accusations led to the suspension of the BBC Kinyarwanda service for two months from April 2009.

Uganda forcibly returns 1,700 Rwandan asylum-seekers

(16 July 2010) Amnesty International has condemned the forced return of around 1,700 Rwandan asylum-seekers from two refugee settlements in Uganda in a joint operation between the governments of Uganda and Rwanda this week.

On Wednesday, armed police officers rounded up the asylum-seekers and forced them on to waiting trucks during two major operations at the Nakivale and Kyaka II refugee settlements in southwestern Uganda.

When some asylum-seekers tried to escape, police officers fired shots into the air. In the ensuing panic and stampede people were reportedly injured and children were separated from their parents.

The asylum-seekers were then driven into Rwanda and taken to Rukomo transit center in Byumba province.

“Any forced removal of rejected asylum-seekers must be carried out in accordance with Uganda’s obligations under international refugee and human rights law, including access to a fair and efficient asylum procedure,” said Erwin van der Borght, Director of Amnesty International’s Africa Programme.

“The conduct of the authorities and the disturbing manner in which these individuals were rounded up raises serious concern that people with genuine protection claims were returned.”

Reports indicate that a number of recognized refugees may have been placed on the trucks and returned to Rwanda. The Office of the Prime Minister, however, has stated that the forced returns targeted rejected asylum-seekers who had exhausted the asylum procedure.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that 25 people who were not among the deported were injured, some from police beatings. Among the injured were six pregnant women who were treated at a local hospital and then released. UNHCR also stated that the operations resulted in the deaths of two men who jumped off trucks en route to Rwanda.

Amnesty International questions whether the correct refugee status determination (RSD) procedure was applied in these cases by the Ugandan authorities.  The two groups of Rwandans – both recent arrivals to Uganda – were subjected to an ad hoc procedure whereby authorities sent mobile RSD units to conduct decisions in the camps, without appropriate procedural safeguards.

Despite provisions under national legislation, the UNHCR was not provided with access to the refugee status determination procedures of these two groups.

“The flawed decision making process for these cases raises concerns that those returned have not been granted effective access to a fair and efficient asylum procedure,” said Erwin van der Borght.

According to the UNHCR, since the beginning of 2010, 3,320 Rwandans have filed for asylum in Uganda. Ninety-eight per cent were rejected in the past six months.

UNHCR’s Executive Committee (ExCom), a body of 79 member states who advise on international protection issues and which includes Uganda, has stated clearly that the “return of persons found not to be in need of international protection should be undertaken in a humane manner, in full respect for human rights and dignity and, that force, should it be necessary, be proportional and undertaken in a manner consistent with human rights law…”

INVESTIGATE MURDER OF RWANDAN JOURNALIST

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL

URGENT ACTION

Rwandan journalist Jean Leonard Rugambage was killed on 24 June.  Authorities must establish an independent commission of enquiry into the killing and ensure other journalists can work in safety.

Jean Leonard Rugambage, the Deputy Editor of Rwandan newspaper, Umuvugizi, was shot dead outside his home in the Rwandan capital, Kigali on 24 June 2010. Jean Leonard Rugambage is the first Rwandan journalist murdered in recent years.

Jean Leonard Rugambage returned home around 10pm on 24 June 2010. He was shot dead as he reached the gate of his home in the Kigali suburb, Nyamirambo. His exiled Managing Editor-in-Chief, Jean-Bosco Gasasira, has stated that witnesses who heard the gunshots saw the unknown assailant drive away in a car.  Police arrived at the scene soon afterwards, but Jean Leonard Rugambage was already dead.

The Rwanda Police have confirmed that Jean Leonard Rugambage body remained at Kigali’s Police Hospital and would not be released for burial until a later date. Police investigations have been opened.

Jean Leonard Rugambage had been investigating the shooting of the exiled former Chief-of-Staff of the Rwandan Army, Kayumba Nyamwasa, which took place in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 19 June 2010. Umuvugizi had published an on-line article on 24 June 2010, the day of Jean Leonard Rugambage’s murder, alleging that Rwandan intelligence officials were linked to the shooting. In the days before his murder, Jean Leonard Rugambage had told colleagues that he felt that the surveillance on him had intensified.

PLEASE WRITE IMMEDIATELY in English, French or your own language:

n  urging them to ensure that any autopsy of the body of Jean Leonard Rugambage is undertaken by independent medical experts;

n  calling on them to establish an independent commission of enquiry into the killing of Jean Leonard Rugambage;

n  demanding that they ensure that the perpetrators are brought to trial promptly and in accordance with international fair trial standards;

n  urging them to make public assurances that all Rwandan journalists can work freely, independently and with full protection from state authorities.

PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 6 AUGUST 2010 TO:

President

Paul Kagame

Office of the President

BP 15

Urugwiro Village
Kigali
Rwanda

Fax: +250 572431

Salutation: Dear President Kagame

Police commissioner

Emmanuel Gasana

Commissioner General

Rwandan National Police

Kigali

Rwanda

Fax: +250 58 66 02

Salutation: Dear Commissioner General

Prosecutor General

Martin Ngoga

National Public Prosecution Autnority

BP 1328

Kigali

Rwanda

Fax: +250 589 501

Salutation: Dear Prosecutor General


Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country. Please check with your section office if sending appeals after the above date.


URGENT ACTION

INVESTIGATE MURDER OF RWANDAN JOURNALIST

Additional Information

Jean Leonard Rugambage’s newspaper, Umuvugizi, was suspended in April 2010 until after Rwanda’s presidential elections scheduled for August 2010. The Rwandan High Media Council, a regulatory body aligned with the government, suspended Umuvugizi for six months alleging they had incited opposition to the government and divided the army.  Umuseso, another private newspaper, was also banned for six months. The High Media Council later started court proceedings to initiate a permanent ban against both papers.  After the suspension, Umuvugizi continued to publish on their website, launched in May, though their website was not accessible from within Rwanda.

Jean-Leonard Rugambage became the Acting Editor of Umuvugizi after the Managing Editor, Jean-Bosco Gasasira, fled Rwanda in April 2010 after threats following Umuvugizi’s suspension. Jean-Bosco Gasasira had been brutally assaulted in February 2007 by unidentified men with iron bars. Prior to the attack, Jean-Bosco Gasasira, had also published several articles critical of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the ruling political party.

Over recent years, Rwandan journalists working for non-state media have frequently been threatened and physically assaulted. Criminal sanctions have also been used against them to stifle freedom of expression. There have been no known cases of Rwandan journalists murdered in Rwanda in recent years, but several journalists have fled Rwanda for their safety.

Such an attack comes, as the space for independent reporting fast diminishes before Rwanda’s August 2010 presidential elections. Amnesty International has called on the Rwandan authorities to respect the rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression and to ensure that journalists can work freely, independently and with protection from state authorities.

UA: 143/10 Index: AFR 47/004/2010 Issue Date: 25 June 2010

Paul Kagame: The monster out of a “hero”

NICK WADHAMS – NAIROBI (Time)

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda is often lauded around the world for pulling his country out of the mire of genocide 16 years ago. But Rwandan opposition leaders, diplomats and rights activists fear Kagame is now cracking down on his opponents ahead of national elections in August. They cite two prominent examples: Charles Kabonero, a Rwandan newspaper editor, sits in exile in Uganda, doing internships with civil society groups; and Victoire Ingabire, an opposition politician, sits in a different sort of exile, unable to leave Rwanda’s capital Kigali, until a trial against her ends.

The banning of Kabonero’s Umuseso newspaper earlier this month and Ingabire’s arrest on Wednesday were only the most recent in a series of actions — including a military shakeup, arrests and the decision by many ambassadors, opposition leaders and rights activists to go into exile — that have western diplomats and regional experts worried that Kagame may be purging supposed enemies and cutting out potential threats before the vote.

“Things are not good,” Kabonero, whose Umuseso was shut down for six months on April 13, tells TIME. “We are seeing a situation where the government is doing everything it can to instill fear, and to make sure that the opposition doesn’t have the opportunity to access the public.”

Rwanda has come an incredibly long way since the genocide, which saw Hutus slaughter 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in just three months. But opposition figures say they believe Kagame is now preying on fears of another genocide to crush the opposition. He won 95% of the vote in 2003 elections that were seen as flawed.

They point to the “genocide ideology” law that is meant to keep people from fanning ethnic hatred, but which critics say has been used to stifle dissent.

Kagame is a conundrum to western diplomats, who say that despite his flaws, Rwanda’s president has fought to control corruption and has expanded the economy. “This is a country that has a vision, this is a country that has made miraculous progress since 1994,” said a western official in Rwanda, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with the press. “On the other hand, there’s the issue of democracy. And there it gets a lot more complicated.”

Kagame’s attitude toward dissent was thrust into the spotlight when Victoire Ingabire, leader of the opposition United Democratic Forces, was arrested Wednesday, after returning to the country in January. She was charged with associating with a terrorist group and propagating “genocide ideology” for comments she made at a genocide memorial event in which she said Hutu victims of the genocide must also not be forgotten. Ingabire said she is innocent and simply wants to start a dialogue that has been stifled for years. The government and some western officials, speaking to TIME anonymously, fear she is essentially using ethnicity to win support among fellow Hutus. Her party has not been allowed to register and it seems unlikely so far that she will be allowed to run for the presidency.

“What we say is that the government will use the genocide for political ends,” Ingabire tells TIME by phone from Rwanda. “If we say ‘Hutus were also victims,’ for the government, this is genocide ideology. There was a genocide but there were also other crimes in Rwanda, there were crimes against humanity, and we have to remember all the victims of this tragedy.”

Similar accusations of stirring hatred and inciting violence were leveled against the two newspapers that were banned earlier this month. Kabonero’s Umuseso and another opposition newspaper Umuvugizi had been critical of the government in the past. The Media High Council, a nominally independent body, said they had insulted Kagame, incited insubordination among the police and army, and stirred fear. The council’s executive secretary, Patrice Mulama, says that in Rwanda — where pro-Hutu radio played such a huge role in fanning the genocide — the media must be especially careful not to provoke tension.

“We didn’t do this because we wanted to suppress media freedom but we did it because freedom comes with responsibility,” Mulama tells TIME. “We want to ensure that there is media freedom but that the people who practice journalism do it responsibly. There is no freedom that can be accepted if it infringes on the rights of the others or where it endangers the safety of citizens and incites the public to violence.”

The latest sign of the crackdown came late Friday. That was when the New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch announced that the Rwandan government had denied a work permit to its new researcher there, Carina Tertsakian. She was on a three-month visa that expires Saturday. According to Human Rights Watch, the government said there were “anomalies” in Tertsakian’s application, a claim the group denies. It claims that the decision is part of a government strategy of targeting individuals rather than risking international condemnation by kicking out the rights watchdog itself.

“It’s a blow for Human Rights Watch and is part of a broader pattern of what’s going on Rwanda,” says Georgette Gagnon, Africa Director at Human Rights Watch. “The Government has chosen to go after an individual because they think it is easier than going after the organization and is less likely to draw attention from the international community. Human Rights Watch will appeal the decision and will continue working on human rights in Rwanda.”

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1984315,00.html#ixzz0m3Q2YXNU