DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project) welcomes the release of human rights defender Aloys Habimana, Protection Coordinator for East and Southern Africa at Front Line Defenders. On 17 February 2018, Mr Habimana and another individual were arrested at the border between Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo for unspecified reasons. They were detained for two days by the Sevice National de Renseignements (SNR) in Bujumbura, Burundi.
According to Front Line Defenders, Mr Habimana was denied access to visitors and a lawyer during his detention, contrary to international human rights standards that require such access once an individual is arrested or detained. Burundi’s Constitution, and regional and international human rights standards prohibit arbitrary arrest and decree the right to liberty and security of the person. No person should be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds as prescribed by the law.
In addition, the treaty establishing the East African Community allows free movement within the region for citizens of its member states. The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights also recognises the right to freedom of movement, provided it is exercised within the law. As a signatory to the aforementioned regional and international human rights instruments, Burundi is obliged to respect fundamental rights and freedoms, including the right to liberty and security of the person, and the right to freedom of movement.
“It is a relief to learn of the release of Aloys Habimana who, as an East African citizen, should not have been arrested in the first place,” said Hassan Shire, Executive Director of DefendDefenders. “I have known Mr Habimana since 1998 when we met at the Amnesty International – All African Human Rights Defenders Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa. Human rights defenders like him work to ensure that others can enjoy their fundamental rights and freedoms. If they are harassed, the people without a voice suffer the repercussions.”
DefendDefenders urges Burundian authorities to recognise the important work of human rights defenders and refrain from harassing them. They should be allowed to continue their legitimate activities in an environment free from fear and intimidation.