UN experts call for release of Burundi human rights defender Germain Rukuki

GENEVA – A group of United Nations experts* has called on the authorities in Burundi to release a human rights defender who has been detained since 13 July 2017 and faces serious charges including rebellion.
“We are concerned by the seemingly arbitrary detention of Germain Rukuki, which is evidently linked to his work in defending human rights,” the experts said.

We are particularly dismayed by the decision of Higher Court of Ntahangwa to hold him in custody despite the lack of concrete indications of guilt, which the country’s criminal code sets as a precondition for keeping someone in preventative detention.

We call on the Burundian authorities to release Mr. Rukuki, to guarantee his physical and psychological wellbeing, and to ensure that the proceedings against him are carried out with full respect for due process.

Mr. Rukuki has been formally charged with attacking the internal security of the State, and with rebellion for having worked for the NGO Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT), where he is a previous treasurer.  ACAT was banned in October 2016, along with four other Burundian organizations.

We are concerned at the use of national security charges to target the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression and freedom of association. The charges in this case carry heavy prison sentences and have the effect of deterring the work of other human rights defenders in Burundi,” the experts said.

“They form part of an overall context of threats and harassment against human rights defenders in Burundi,” they added. “We call on the Government to allow human rights defenders to work freely and safely.”
 
Mr. Rukuki is president of the community organisation Njabutsa Tujane, which works to combat poverty and hunger and to improve public health. He is also a member of the Burundian Association of Catholic Lawyers (AJCB).

He was initially detained in the capital, Bujumbura, before being transferred to Ngozi prison in the north of the country.

(*) The experts: Mr. Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and Ms. Annalisa Ciampi, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Mr. José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez, Chair-Rappourteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.