4 August 2011
Brussels, 4 August 2011 – An important ASF study on legal advice and representation in Burundi promotes the establishment of a durable legal aid system in this central African country. According to the study based on a large opinion survey of the local population in five provinces, aid for people subject to trial – particularly those who are most vulnerable – should be improved.
Legal aid encompasses all acts of assistance given to people seeking justice, from providing legal advice to accompanying them in court. The ASF study carried out in March 2011, in agreement with the Ministries of Justice and of Interior of Burundi, consists of an opinion survey of 1,079 people who have faced trial over the past five years. According to this survey, legal aid is insufficient and not sufficiently coordinated to properly respond to the demand. Thus, 87% of the people surveyed declared to be in need of a specialist to assist them in court hearings.
After the civil war which hit Burundi in the mid 90s, justice, along with other areas of public authority, was deeply put into question. The legal aid sector has slowly been rebuilt over the past decade but the challenges are still vast. “Even if the Lawyers’ Order of Burundi has developed, those seeking justice are essentially being helped by civil society organisations.”, notes Julien Moriceau, the consultant in charge of the ASF study. “Furthermore, the justice system in Burundi is still affected by numerous malfunctions: procedures are slow, information sent to lawyers is often incomplete and there are frequent corruption suspicions with State officials”, he adds. This situation particularly affects the most vulnerable people within the Burundi society, such as prisoners, women, minors and the impoverished.
Legal consultation at the ASF centre in Gitega, east of the capital Bujumbura. © ASF – Namuezi Fedi
Based on its study, ASF is proposing ways of improving legal aid in Burundi. “There are only 170 lawyers and these are mainly located in Bujumbura, the capital city”, says Ingrid Kanyamuneza, project coordinator at the ASF mission in Burundi. “There is a need for more lawyers in the provinces in order to guarantee a minimum number of people able to represent those seeking justice for their rights violations in the different parts of the country”, she explains. ASF also recommends that lawyers and the Bar take on more free legal aid work (pro bono and pro deo), with the financial support of the State who must be responsible for the coordination of legal aid. Another need identified by the ASF analysis concerns the development of measures for prevention, awareness and psychological support for people seeking justice, particularly the vulnerable ones.
This first analysis financed by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) identifies four priorities for legal aid in Burundi: more effective involvement on the part of lawyers, NGOs and authorities; more recognition of the needs of those seeking justice; a consensus on the further development of the sector; and enhanced training of the professionals involved. “We have sent out our analysis to those involved in legal aid in Burundi: civil society organisations, the Bar and the Ministry of Justice. Brought together in a Forum, they will further consider our recommendations taking into account the final objective: a minimum legal aid system for the benefit of the most vulnerable people, such as prisoners”, concludes Ingrid Kanyamuneza.