Arusha, Monday, March 18, 2019
Banned civil society organisations in Burundi will know their fate in 60 days when judges of the East African Court of Justice rule on their petition to restore their registration and unfreeze their bank accounts.
Five Burundian civil society organizations sued their government and the East African Community secretariat after they were deregistered in 2016.
Lawyers for the Association Burundaise pour la Protection des Droits Humains et des Personnes Détenues (APRODH) Forum pour la Conscience et le Développement (FOCODE), Action by Christians for the abolition of torture in Burundi (ACAT), Forum pour Renforcement de la Société Civile (FORSC) and Réseau des Citoyens Probes (RCP) told the five EACJ judges that the deregistration violated Burundi’s law on civil society, and breached the East African Community treaty on freedom of association.
Burundi’s Prosecutor-General issued an order on November 19, 2015 freezing the organisations’ bank accounts, and later, on November 23, 2015, the Home Affairs minister suspended their activities. One year later, on the October 19, 2016, the Home Affairs minister banned in contravention of the law, which provides that only occur a court of law can issue bans.
Through lawyer Diomede Vyizigiro, the Burundi government has claimed that the organisations were banned to safeguard national security because “they were involved in political affairs, in an insurrectional movement”. He argued that when there was a breach of order, the Home Affairs was empowered to take any measure, and that “it is not mandatory to go through a judicial process”.
Donald Deya, the Pan Africa Lawyers Union (PALU) chief executive officer who is the advocate for the five organisations, retorted: “The role of civil society organisations, and especially human rights organisations, is to point out any violation of human rights by any government institution, may it be executive, legislative, judicial, or central government, and it is [neither] a crime nor politics, rather it is advocacy.” He pleaded that this is provided for in EAC Treaty on good governance, democracy and people’s rights.
The Burundi government argued that the organisations were using “those accounts were [move] funds to destabilize the country”. He said that although no proof of this had been provided to the court, it was available in the criminal lawsuit being pursued by the Prosecutor General and was not available to him.
Deya asked the court to “reverse and quash those decisions” and to award reparations due to prejudice suffered. He also urged the court to order that the EAC Secretary General, who is also a defendant in the case, “be more proactive in engaging the government of Burundi to make sure that the laws that were violated are corrected (… ); to engage the government of Burundi to reverse the unlawful acts, and to create an enabling environment not only to the five civil society organisations, but also to the civil society in Burundi generally”.
Dr Anthony Kafumbe, who is representing the EAC Secretary General, claimed that “the Secretariat was not aware of what was happening in Burundi at the time nor had control over it”. He acknowledged, nevertheless that he was aware that the Burundian civil society had a window, through the Inter-Burundi Dialogue to “influence what happens in Burundi and to seek remedies”.
The court is composed of Justice Monica Mugenyi (Pincipal Judge), Dr Faustin Ntezilyayo (Deputy Principal Judge), Fakihi Jundu, Dr Charles Nyawello and Charles Nyachae.