28 July 2011
Brussels, 28 July 2011 – Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) expresses its deep concern following the detention of two Burundian lawyers in Bujumbura, including the President of the Bar Association of Burundi. ASF believes that the grounds for this double detention are at odds with the principles of independence and freedom of speech for lawyers. ASF, an NGO present in Burundi for over ten years, strongly urges the Burundi authorities to respect these fundamental principles.
ASF reacts following the detention of a lawyer of the Bar Association of Burundi, Ms. Suzanne Bukuru, on 15 July 2011 as well as the President of the Bar Association of Burundi, Mr. Isidore Rufyikiri, on 27 July 2011. Ms. Bukuru has been accused of having facilitated an interview between her clients – parties in an ongoing legal proceeding – and a television channel. Following this arrest, Mr. Rufyikiri, as President of the Bar Association, reacted immediately, both publicly and with the authorities, in support of his colleague by suggesting that the decision was arbitrary and unjust. He was subsequently summoned by the Attorney General, and detained for contempt of court.
These two lawyers have been detained on charges relating to acts undertaken in the course of the exercise of their profession. The decision by the judicial authorities constitutes a clear violation of the principles of the independence of lawyers and their freedom of speech which are necessary for defending the interests of the clients they represent. The right to a defense implies that a lawyer can express himself freely, without constraint. The subsequent arrest and detention of these two lawyers thus constitute violations of these two fundamental principles.
Active in Burundi for over ten years, ASF supports the return to the rule of law and the administration of justice in the country. In reaction to this double arrest, ASF firmly invites the competent authorities to reevaluate their position concerning the incarceration of these two lawyers, in accordance with the principles mentioned above.
ASF also demands that the judicial authorities of Burundi guarantee all lawyers in the country the free and independent practice of their profession, that is to say without interference, intimidation, harassment, and without undue influence as stated in Article 16 of the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers adopted by the United Nations in 1990.
UPDATE: Ms Suzanne Bukuru was provisionally released on Monday 1 August. On Thursday 4 August, we were informed that the President of the Bar Association, Mr Isidore Rufyikiri, was also provisionally released.
Article 16 Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers (Eighth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, Havana, Cuba, 27 August to 7 September 1990):
"Governments shall ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; (b) are able to travel and to consult with their clients freely both within their own country and abroad; and (c) shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics.”