Germain Rukuki is a human rights defender arrested in July 2017 and serving a 32 year prison sentence for his work to abolish torture in Burundi.
Prior to his arrest, Rukuki is an employee of the Burundian Catholic Lawyers Association and the president of Njabutsa Tujane, a community organization that aims to combat poverty and hunger by implementing a system of agricultural production. He was formally an employee of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT), an organization that advocated for the respect of human dignity in Burundi and documented acts of torture and crimes committed throughout Burundi, mainly by President Nkurunziza’s regime.
In November 2015, the government launched an investigation alleging that ten human rights NGOs, including ACAT, incited violence through riots in opposition to President Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term. In connection with the government’s investigation, the Burundian Ministry of Interior temporarily suspended the organizations and the Attorney General of the Republic ordered banks to freeze the organizations’ accounts and provide bank records.
On October 19, 2016, ACAT and four other civil society organizations were banned by Burundian authorities. The ban of these organizations occurred after they sent a report to the UN Committee against Torture, dated July 2016, which highlighted human rights violations in Burundi, the increased use of torture, arbitrary arrest and detentions, extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, sexual violence, and the government’s lack of investigation of these violations. The Minister of Interior accused these organizations of “tarnishing the image of the country” and “sowing hatred and division among the Burundian population.”
On July 13, 2017, at around 6:00 am, local police working with the National Intelligence Service came to Rukuki’s home and began searching it without a warrant. He was taken by the police and detained incommunicado without being informed of the charges against him and without access to a lawyer.
On August 1, 2017, Rukuki had his first hearing before a magistrate where he was charged with “threatening state security” and “rebellion” for working with ACAT. This was the first time he was informed of the ostensible reason for his arrest. Rukuki hired three lawyers, however, one was expelled from the hearing.
The trial began on February 13, 2018, where the Criminal Division of the Ntahangwa High Court moved to sit in Ngozi Prison for a public hearing. During the trial, Rukuki faced new charges including: “assassination of military, police and civilians,” “destruction of public and private buildings,” and “participation in an insurrectionist movement.”
Several procedural irregularities marred the trial, namely that the defense counsel only had access to three of the 174 files presented as evidence and that the prosecution did not interview Rukuki regarding the new charges against him. On April 26, 2018, the Ntahangwa High Court sentenced Rukuki to 32 years in prison for “participation in an insurrectional movement,” “threatening state security,” and “rebellion.”