Ensuring the recognition of a torture victim’s rights in Burundi

22.03.2019 ( Last modified: 25.03.2019 )

Léo was sentenced to life imprisonment by a court in Bujumbura. However, how much are his “confessions” worth if they were obtained under torture? Despite several denunciations, the Burundian authorities continue to turn a deaf ear.

In 2015, while violence was on the rise in Burundi, Léo (real name withheld) was arrested by law enforcement agents. His only wrong-doing was being in a vehicle carrying alleged opponents. After being beaten up in the street, he was forcibly taken away to be “interrogated”.

Tortured and incarcerated in degrading conditions

Léo was accused of participating in the armed conflict against the current regime. In order to make him “confess” the allegations, the jailers beat Léo several times, insulting him and striking him all over his body. To put an end to his suffering, Léo “admitted” the charges against him.

Despite these “confessions”, Léo was held in custody for several more days, a period during which he continued to be tortured. He was also incarcerated in deplorable conditions. He was not able to receive any medical attention during his entire detention and was left to agonize in an overcrowded cell, without being able to consult a lawyer nor even contact his relatives.

In video: a former Burundian detainee testifies

Two procedures, two paces

Each time he has been brought before penitentiary or judicial authorities, Léo has never stopped denouncing the methods of his torturers. A formal complaint was also filed. However, no investigation has been undertaken by the Burundian authorities. As a result, and despite Léo’s efforts, his torturers have not been identified and the facts surrounding his torture remain unpunished.

While the proceedings against his torturers are at a standstill, the proceedings against Léo have well and truly continued. On the basis of his “confessions” obtained under torture, Léo was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Burundi in breach of international law

However, Burundi has ratified legal instruments that should protect Léo and his fellow citizens, such as the Convention against Torture and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. It was to enforce these obligations that TRIAL International brought the case before an international body, requesting not only that the violations pertaining to the particular matter be recognized, but also that Léo be granted immediate measures to guarantee his safety.

The procedure is ongoing.