- 24 June 2021
SYNTHETIC REPORT OF THE PLENARY SESSION OF JUNE 24, 2021 RELATING TO THE ORAL QUESTION WITH DEBATE ADDRESSED TO THE MINISTER OF JUSTICE
In the year two thousand and twenty-one, on the twenty-fourth day of June, senators met in the Senate Chamber in Gitega for the 47th plenary session of the Sixth Legislature to debate an oral question. The proceedings of the session were chaired by the Speaker of the Senate, Right Honourable Emmanuel SINZOHAGERA. This meeting, which brought together 30 senators, began, as usual, with a prayer at 11:06 a.m. and ended at 2:30 pm.
Opening the session, the Speaker of the Senate first welcomed all the senators and the Representative of the Government, Mrs Jeanine NIBIZI, Minister of Justice. Afterwards, the Speaker of the Senate gave the floor to the Honourable Benoîte NIZIGIYIMANA, President of the Standing Committee in charge of Institutional, Legal and Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, to present the questions addressed to the Minister of Justice. The questions addressed to that minister related to the issue of respect for procedural rules in the prosecution and punishment of offenders in Burundi.
The floor was then given to the Minister of Justice to answer the various questions formulated by the committee.
To the issue related to the measures that the Ministry of Justice plans to respond positively to some challenges concerning the lack of work infrastructure and the insufficiency of office equipment in order to facilitate the proper functioning of the judiciary, the Minister recognized that some prosecution offices and courts do not have any infrastructure, in particular the High Court of justice of Rumonge and its Prosecutor’s Office, the Bururi Court of Appeal and its General Prosecutor’s Office, the Court of Appeal of Makamba and its General Prosecutor’s Office and many others.
She also indicated that the Ministry of Justice intends to renovate some infrastructure in poor condition and build others. In addition, she continued, during this year, the Ministry of Justice is considering the rehabilitation and extension of the Court of Appeal of Ngozi, the renovation of the Court of Appeal and the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Court of Appeal of Gitega, the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Gitega, the Courts of Residence of Nyarusange and Kinama. The challenge will be gradually taken up as the budget allows, she concluded.
In the section relating to the insufficiency of office equipment in the judicial police stations and in the courts, the response shows that it is obvious that this problem is felt as much in the police stations of the judicial police as in the courts and prosecution.
Responding to the issue of the transport problem which is likely to hamper the justice services, the Minister said that the Ministry in question has a glaring problem of means of transport, especially in the decentralized services of the judicial institutions. Visits for findings and execution of judicial decisions, visits for inspections of cells and for the representation of the Public Prosecutor’s Office are difficult without means of travel, she emphasizes.
Talking about the decentralization of the supply of fuel and office equipment, the Minister informed the Honourable senators that this issue has already been resolved. Currently, she specifies, the fuel is supplied at the level of the judicial regions. People from the North get their supplies from Ngozi, those from the Center and Center-East get their supplies from Gitega, those from the West get their supplies from Bujumbura and those from the South get their supplies from Makamba.
It is the same for office equipment that is stored at the Courts of Appeal for the courts and prosecution to stock up on it. Nevertheless, she adds, even though the Ministry has tried to decentralize services to bring them closer to beneficiaries, the problem still remains due to the insufficient budget available.
On the issue of the insufficiency of magistrates in the courts and prosecutions, the Minister affirmed that she is aware of this insufficiency especially in the Courts of Residence where the members of the seat can remain the same during all the hearings.
This has a negative impact on the quality of the output at this level. What at the origin of this insufficiency?
- Each year, the Ministry of Justice records many departures, either for other functions (secondment, lay-off) or for retirement;
- Since 2011, the Ministry of Justice has not been authorized to recruit new magistrates and judicial officers. The Department was only authorized to replace departures.
- Worried to serve the Burundian people and respondto their needs quickly, the Ministry has tried to decentralize the judicial services, in particular the courts and prosecution.
Thus, he initiated the creation of new judicial institutions, in particular the creation of the Special Court of Land and Other Property, the Courts of Appeal of Ntahangwa, Muha, Bururi and Makamba as well as their general prosecution offices. It is also the creation of the High Courts of Justice of Ntahangwa, Mukaza, Rumonge and Muha as well as their prosecution offices. It is also the decentralization of the General Inspectorate of Justice as well as the decentralization of land title services that is currently taking place.
All these institutions are calling for an increase in the number of magistrates and officers of the judiciary. Yet, instead of increasing, the staff of the Ministry is decreasing following the departures it notes. As a result, the distribution of the remaining staff causes shortcomings in some departments. The solutions to be considered, she specifies, is that the Government give the authorization to proceed with the recruitment of new ones and the replacement of departures.
Regarding irregularities in preventive detention and the duration of proceedings, the Minister said that she is aware of these irregularities. To avoid them, the Code of Criminal Procedure provides for monitoring of detention by the hierarchy of the Public Prosecutor’s Office and / or by the judicial hierarchy. All those controls are defined within the time limits set by the Code of Criminal Procedure. Currently, she continued, preventive detention is carried out in penal establishments.
Burundi has 11 prisons and 2 rehabilitation centers for minors in conflict with the law, spread across 10 provinces. So, we know very well that Burundi has 18 provinces. This means that there are judicial provinces which are obliged to move their detainees to other provinces. But, the Ministry accuses a glaring lack of means of transport and insufficient staff. This is not without consequences:
- The first consequence is that magistrates cannot perform the services of their ministry properly, which causes procedural irregularities;
- The second consequence is that the investigative acts which require the magistrates to travel to the scene of the crime do not always comply with the procedural deadlines;
- The third consequence is that prisoners who are accommodated in penitentiary establishments, far from their natural judges, will experience delays in the treatment of their cases by the judge who is obliged to travel to places of detention;
- The fourth consequence is the difficulty of moving witnesses to those places of detention which are very far from their residence and whose movement entails enormous costs which are borne by the witnesses themselves or the families of the detainees who, for the most part, are without means.
However, there are irregularities which are attributable to the magistrates and they are sanctioned disciplinarily and criminally.
As for the issue of the penalties provided for the magistrate who doesn’t observe the rules of procedure as provided for in article 159 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Minister said that in order for someone to be punished for his actions, there must be fault on his part.
Then there has to be an intention to commit this fault, but most irregularities are not due to the will of the magistrates, she emphasized. She said that it does not mean that acts committed intentionally by magistrates are not punished. The sanctions are disciplinary and criminal as provided for in article 159 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, she added. However, she admits, the Ministry doesn’t hesitate to penalize its staff when there is a serious breach that calls for criminal prosecution. The proof is that currently, there 19 magistrates and 2 agents of the judicial order who are in the prisons, stressed the Minister.
About the proposition of resorting to the application of the sentence of community service as a solution to prison overcrowding which would bring added value to the state budget, the Minister replied that the Government has already shown its desire to render justice more humanized, adding that it has provided for the necessary mechanisms to relieve the congestion in prisons. Indeed, she added, every day there are provisional release measures taken by the prosecution, general prosecution, courts and tribunals. She reported that almost every year there is always a presidential pardon which is decreed releasing more than 2,000 detainees per year. But the observation is that the prisons remain overcrowded, she said.
But, the problem is where?
First of all, there is a disparity between prison infrastructure, the judicial map and Burundian demography which is galloping. All the penitentiaries were built during the colonial era except the prison of Ngozi for men which was built in 1984. At this colonial time, the Burundian population was estimated at 2 million, today the Burundian population is estimated at 12 million. Changing demographics, living conditions, changing technology are some of the factors that increase crime.
• Then there are times when people commit serious crimes in mass. This is particularly the case in the year 2015 when we were forced to enter prisons a large number of people at the same time because they had committed serious mass crimes. The Ministry of Justice plans to build more prisons in KARUSI, MWARO and CIBITOKE to try to cope with this challenge.
Starting from the sentence of prisoners by community service, the Minister indicated that attempts to apply this sentence have been made since 2014, but the sentence of community service is not yet fully implemented.
As for the issue of disagreement between the magistrates and the administrative authorities who want to consider the magistrates as their subordinates instead of collaborating, the answer was that some magistrates complain about the interference of some administrative officials.
The Minister said that the latter also complain, saying that some magistrates do not work properly, which can be a source of conflict in society. Collaboration should not lead to misunderstandings because everyone is at the service of Burundian people, she added. She clarified that it is private interests that create disagreements and not the public service. She went on saying that there are meetings which are organized every week in all the provinces and which bring together administrative officials, judicial officials and officials of the Defense and Security Corps, which are consultation frameworks on all issues that hinder the smooth running of activities in the province.
To the issue of detainees who complain about the insufficiency of the daily ration is and the lack income-generating activities to supplement this ration, the Representative of the Government replied that each detainee receives 350g of beans, 350g of corn or cassava flour, 30g of oil and 6g of salt each day. Experts claim that this ration is sufficient enough in terms of calories. The only, problem lies in the variation of this diet, she said.
Talking of income-generating activities, the Minister clarified that some prisons have carpentry and sewing workshops for learning craftsmanship; others practice basketry, fish farming, agriculture and livestock depending on the land in which are at the disposal of prisons. Currently, she says, the Ministry is requesting for sufficient land for each prisoner to be productive.
On the issue of knowing if the State has thought of supporting the most disadvantaged parents in order to allow them to visit their children in detention and whether the creation of a public service responsible for monitoring these minors should not be considered as soon as they go back to their respective families for their social reintegration, the Minister said that Burundi is very advanced in terms of juvenile justice.
However, she said, the rehabilitation centers for minors in conflict with the law are very far from the places of residence of the biological families of the children accommodated in these centers. She said that these children need frequent visits to the centers to contribute to their amendment and facilitate their social reintegration into the communities of origin. It is also evident that family ties must be kept between children and their families, she added.
What the Ministry has done with the support of its partners, especially the Terre des hommes Foundation, is to organize one visit for parents every three months. The Terre des hommes Foundation supports these visits by paying travel expenses (round trip), accommodation for those who come from far, meals with their children in the centers while they take the opportunity to give them required advice. In addition to the visit organized quarterly, she said, even a telephone line has been set up in each center to allow communication between children and their parents, whenever necessary.
To continue to reflect on how to improve the conditions of children in conflict with the law, a service has been set up within the Ministry of Justice. That service is responsible for the protection of minors and morals, whose missions are clearly defined to propose measures to meet the needs of children.
To prepare children for social reintegration, they benefit from training in diverse craftsmanship (welding, sewing, agriculture, breeding, knitting, carpentry) and other psycho-social support during their stay in the centers, not to mention patriotic training.
In addition, she specifies, on leaving the centers, released minors benefit from reintegration kits such as sewing machines, welding stations, etc. depending on the profile of the child’s profession. They are also accompanied to their native villages where the local chiefs and their parents or relatives welcome them and collaborate in their monitoring and supervision in the community. This post-reintegration monitoring and supervision work is carried out by:
• The Ministry of Justice via the service for the protection of minors;
• The Ministry having National Solidarity in its attributions through the provincial and communal CDFCs;
• Reintegration partners, namely: Terre des Hommes, SOJPAE, FVS / AMADE and STAMM Foundation, each in their province of intervention.
Considering the article 54 of the law revising the penitentiary regime, The Honourable senators refer to the cases of convicts who spend days or months in prison after having already served their sentences. The question is whether the judicial actors are really made aware of this case, if the Ministry does not find that such cases constitute violations of the rights of prisoners and the strategies envisaged so that such situations do not repeat in the future. To that, the Minister replied that all judicial actors know the law so well that they do not need to be made aware of these cases, because they must be sensitive to any case of violation of the law. Such cases occur just when these detainees have other pending cases, she said.
She recommends that both judicial and prison staff always comply with the law. Hierarchical authorities should carry out the necessary checks so that no case of violation of the law should go unnoticed and unpunished, she added. After answering these questions, senators asked other subsidiary questions in the debate.
To the issue related to the lack of follow-up of the trials which have already ended but which have not yet been carried out, , the Minister there is the will to follow up those trials, specifying that the problem that often arises is the lack of fuel and vehicles to travel to carry out the inspection.
Regarding prisoners who have served their sentences but remain in prison, the Minister said that the Ministry is in the process of making an inventory on a case-by-case basis. She also indicated that if such cases arise, release will be automatic.
At the end of this debate, the senators made some recommendations to the Government:
- To revalue the village council in order to reduce the cases which are in the courts;
- For the purpose of the uniqueness of the Government, it is necessary to create a rubric in the budget of the communes which will help the courts to have necessary materials in order to facilitate the proper functioning of the judiciary;
- Severely punish magistrates who have made mistakes in their work, publish them in newspapers and broadcasters so that the population should be informed;
- Increase the ration of prisoners and seek agricultural land in order to apply the sentence of general interest. In that case a solution will be found and will bring added value to this lack of ration;
- Appoint a single judge instead of making a panel of three judges for a trial seat to avoid corruption cases;
- Carry out an awareness campaign to make known the verdict of the revised trials in the provinces of Gitega and Makamba and continue the same work with the other provinces;
- Set up a commission to carry out in-depth investigations into the cases of prisoners who have already served their sentences;
- Promote the competent magistrates in the general inspectorate of justice.
It was on these recommendations that the meeting, which took place in a climate of mutual understanding, was closed.