Burundi: rape case involving minor before the judges
Caritas was raped at the age of ten. In an unusual turn of events for Burundi, a trial took place… unfortunately under unfavourable conditions.
In Burundi, holding a trial against a member of the military is rare enough to warrant praise. As a general rule, men in uniform enjoy total impunity. Perhaps this time the facts were too overwhelming to turn a blind eye: a raped minor, the accused caught red-handed, and several witnesses…
For once, the legal machine swung into action. In six years of work on the country, this is the first time that a case led by TRIAL resulted in a trial at the national level. Given the inertia of the Burundian justice system, TRIAL’s cases are most often brought before regional institutions or UN bodies.
“The case was thoroughly examined by the police and the prosecutors”, rejoices Mr B.N., a lawyer trained by TRIAL International and the victim’s legal representative. “We had great hopes that Caritas (real name withheld) would obtain justice.”
Unfortunately, optimism was short-lived. From the very outset of the trial, the number of irregularities only increased.
Among other anomalies, Mr B.N. has been cut off several times when he attempted to support the allegations of the public prosecutor. When he requested that the judge ask the accused and the defence witnesses certain questions, the judge refused, promising that observations could be submitted at the end – a promise that was never fulfilled.
What is worse, discussions took place between two defence witnesses and the accused. After being heard, witness X consulted outside the courtroom with witness Y, also on the side of the defence. Only afterwards did the latter appear before the judges. Similarly, witness Y was allowed to speak to the accused in open court. Such practices seriously hamper attempts to establish facts because the accused and the witnesses are able to match their testimonials.
“Despite our protests, the judges minimised these gestures. The witness and the accused were heard nevertheless: both gave a new version of the facts. All of this happened right in front of the judges”, Mr. B.N. said, astonished.
Despite the irregularities in the proceedings, TRIAL hopes that the verdict will vindicate the young victim and punish the culprit. It is high time the Burundian justice system adopted a firm stance against crimes committed by the military.
“Caritas is only ten years old. She deserves justice and reparation”, says Pamela Capizzi, Legal Adviser and Head of TRIAL International’s Burundi project. “If the Burundian justice system is unable to respond to the need for justice of young Caritas, it does not deserve its name”.
The verdict is expected in the coming weeks.