Government Says No to High Court of Justice

14 Jul 2011

Government Says No to High Court of Justice

Bujumbura, July 07, 2011_Authorities in the Burundian capital of Bujumbura have rejected the creation of a High Court of Justice, fearing a potential destabilisation of the country's institutions.

However, some Burundian lawyers and political players think such an argument is unfounded, as the mandate of the High Court is already outlined in the Burundian Constitution.

"The socio-political context in Burundi does not allow for the creation of the High Court of Justice", said Justice Minister, Ancille Ntakaburimvo. She adds that ill-intentioned people could use the high authority of such a court to destabilise the country's institutions: "Besides, only a few people stand to be prosecuted by this court; the socio-political context is therefore not favourable."

Grave violations unpunished

However, this argument is rejected by Isidore Rufyikiri, the President of the Burundi Bar Association, who indicates that the absence of such a high judicial authority could encourage some Burundian officials to commit grave crimes without fearing any form of prosecution.

"Some high-ranking officials, including ministers and police officers, tend to commit grave crimes such as embezzlement of public funds, knowing that they are protected under the President's immunity umbrella", says Rufyikiri. He adds: "Today, the Burundian people are complaining about crimes such as embezzlement of public funds and political assassinations going unpunished".

An incomplete system

As for political actors in Burundi, former President and member of the Sahwanya Frodebu party, Sylvestre Ntibantunganya, pointed out that the judicial body in Burundi is incomplete without the High Court of Justice. According to him, there is no convincing argument for not creating this superior judicial authority.

"Imagine a parliament composed of one chamber instead of two, that would be an incomplete parliament. Today, it is the judiciary that is incomplete even though the Burundian constitution provides for the creation of the High Court", emphasises Sylvestre Ntibantunganya.

Article 234

In fact, Article 234 of the Burundian constitution gives the High Court of Justice the authority to try the President of the Republic for high treason; the President of the National Assembly, the President of the Senate and the Vice Presidents of the Republic for crimes and violations committed during their tenure.

The constitution also states that the ruling of the High Court of Justice cannot be appealed or overruled except in cases of grace or revision.

The High Court of Justice is to be chaired by the President of the Supreme Court and the Prosecution, represented by the State Prosecutor, as per Article 233 of the constitution. As these two authorities are already operational, there is a need for an organic law, as stated in Article 236 of the Burundian constitution.