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Activist's killing fails to deliver justice

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - London, May 24, 2012 - The verdict on May 22, 2012, in the trial of those accused of killing Ernest Manirumva, a Burundian anti-corruption activist, has been a missed opportunity to deliver justice, 20 Burundian and international nongovernmental organizations said today in a joint statement. The outcome was a grave disappointment to those who have campaigned for his killers to be held to account, as potentially important evidence in the case was not pursued.

Manirumva had been investigating several sensitive cases at the time of his killing in 2009, including allegations of large-scale police corruption and illegal weapons purchases. Human rights defenders and journalists work in difficult conditions in Burundi and are regularly harassed and intimidated because of their work.

“The Public Prosecutor willfully ignored calls to investigate senior figures within the Burundian security services and national police who may have been involved in the killing of Manirumva,” said Hassan Shire Sheikh, executive director of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project.

On May 22, the Higher Instance Court of Bujumbura sentenced 14 individuals to lengthy prison terms for the murder of Manirumva. Early reports have stated that eight individuals were sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Manirumva, three individuals to 20 years' imprisonment for complicity to murder, and three individuals to 10 years' imprisonment for failure to inform public authorities/non-assistance to persons in danger. After procedural delays of one year and nine months, the trial was completed in just three days, between April 5 and 11. The Public Prosecutor did not consider important leads and recommendations from reports by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which assisted in investigations, and a commission of inquiry established by the Burundian authorities.

Manirumva, vice president of the civil society organization Anti-corruption and Economic Malpractice Observatory (Observatoire de lutte contre la corruption et les malversations économiques, OLUCOME) and vice president of an official body that regulates public procurement, was found stabbed to death outside his home in the capital, Bujumbura, on April 9, 2009.

“Since 2009, the Burundian authorities have left the family of Ernest Manirumva and Burundian civil society wondering if light would ever be shed on this crime,” said Erwin van der Borght, Amnesty International's Africa Programme Director.

“The court's ruling today fails to uncover the truth and leaves possible perpetrators at large.”

The Burundian government established three commissions of inquiry to investigate the killing and accepted an offer from the FBI to assist in investigations. The first two commissions were criticized by Burundian civil society organizations for lacking independence and being inactive. A third commission was more effective and led to a number of arrests. The FBI report called on the Burundian government to carry out additional investigations, including questioning and taking DNA samples from individuals cited in the FBI report.

“The judicial authorities have at every stage in the proceedings disregarded the FBI's recommendations, and none of the police or military officials mentioned in the FBI report have even been investigated,” said Pacifique Nininahazwe, delegate general of the Forum for the Strengthening of Civil Society (FORSC).

Read the full news release

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