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Burundi: Two prisoners denied access to health care

Burundi’s penitentiary establishments are experiencing a serious overcrowding problem. The number of detainees often exceeds the capacity of prisons. Photo FIle

Two detainees at Mpimba central prison in Bujumbura city, are deliberately experiencing poor health conditions but do not yet have legal authorization to be transferred outside the prison.

The prison nurses reportedly declared they were unable to treat these two inmates; the prison director would have been a barrier to their transfer.

The first of two seriously ill called Etienne Nzeyimana orginates from the Kibezi zone in Mugamba commune of Bururi province. Prosecuted for murder, he must serve 20 years in prison.

It is believed that he can’t go to toilets. He would have intestinal obstruction.

Etienne Nzeyimana also suffers from kidney, according to sources who warn that the detainee needs surgery.

The second seriously ill prisoner is Lambert Nduwarugira. He was arrested by the Mukaza Commune prosecutor’s office in Bujumbura town and sentenced to 5 years in prison. He also can’t manage to go to toilets.

He does all where he lies. According to sources in Mpimba prison, the medical staff at Mpimba prison would have liked the two to be transferred to hospitals outside the detention house but the director of the prison would have refused their transfer.

The senate intervenes in favor of the prisoners

Cases of prisoners dying in prisons due to lack of appropriate care continue to surge. In the late night of January 18 in Bururi prison, a 50-year old man died following the carelessness of those in charge of the prison. He had just spent a week bedridden in the same prison.

On January 24 during the oral questions session in the Senate, revealed their indignation about the violation of the right of access to health care for certain prisoners.

”Normally we cannot ignore that every person has the right to be treated, whether they are prisoners, or not. Getting treatment is the right of every human being,” declared Senator Benoite Nizigiyimana, member of the permenant committee in charge of legal affairs.

“Unfortunately, it is shocking to see that there are still prosecutors who deny prisoners sick authorization to seek for further treatment outside the prison”.

The cause roots for these refusals are not yet traced, and that is why inmates die in prisons. There must be a regulation that fosters access to health care for prisoners,” she added.

Prisoners crowding rates

Burundi’s penitentiary establishments are experiencing a serious overcrowding problem. The number of detainees often exceeds the capacity of prisons.

However, the Ministry of Justice announced promising measures at the beginning of the 2023 year. However, more than 7 months later, prisons remained overcrowded.

What mechanisms should be adopted to plummet prison congestion?

In 2023, the capacity of Burundian prisons was 4,330. But the reality was paradox in the prisons.

In a press release in the beginning of the year, Domine Banyankimbona, the Minister of Justice in Burundi, declared that until January 12, 2023, the number of prisoners was 12,313 which is 284 prisoners for a place of 100.

The prisons of Muramvya, Mpimba, Gitega and Ngozi hold the record numbers in terms of prison population.

Several prisons were built in the 1960s when Burundi only had around 3 million inhabitants.

More than 7 billion BIF per year . Here is what it costs to care for the prison population in Burundi according to the Minister of Justice.

Mrs. Banyankimbona believes that it must be revised downwards and proposes to allocate this large sum to development work, such as the construction of public infrastructure.

Root causes of the surge

According to a report from the Action of Christians for the Abolition of Torture, Acat-Burundi in acronym, the slowness in the processing of judicial files following the lack of required means, the incompetence, corruption and judicial dysfunctions which affect the judicial system are the major causes of prison overcrowding.

According to Yaga a local blog, this report also pointed out the continued detention without titles or rights of political prisoners and detainees accused of minor offenses.

It also denounced the non-compliance with the provisional release measure by judicial decision (counsel chamber) which the prosecution arbitrarily refuses to implement, in accordance with the judge’s decision, or the non-release of detainees who have already served their penalty

Possible solutions

Lawyer Gédéon Hakizimana suggests that the mechanisms already provided for by law should be implemented. At the top, he placed the transactional fine.

“Any person prosecuted for an offense punishable by a sentence of less than one year does not need to spend time in prison”, he specifies.

Then, he talked about provisional release on bail where judges, in council chambers, can decide to let someone appear free, provided they pay bail instead of imprisoning them.

It also proposes community service which, moreover, was introduced in the 2009 penal code, with prison reduction as one of its main objectives. It can be pronounced for all offenses and contraventions. This means that crimes are not within the scope of this punishment. However, this sentence seems to have remained a dead letter.

The other solution proposed by Mr. Hakizimana is conditional release. This is an early release of the person sentenced to imprisonment on the condition of good behavior during the time remaining until the expiration of the sentence, and sometimes even until a planned later date. He also mentions the presidential pardon which is a removal or reduction of criminal sanctions granted by the Head of State.

Finally, he mentions amnesty which is an act by which the legislative power prohibits the exercise or continuation of criminal proceedings and erases convictions pronounced on an individual. “If all these mechanisms, provided for by Burundian legislation, were implemented by the authorized institutions, there would be no prison overpopulation”, estimates the lawyer.

Moïse Ndayiragije
Moïse Ndayiragije
Moise Ndayiragije, journalist, Visual presenter, Environmental Advocate. He has been covering social ground based stories. He stretches from climate change to Biodiversity loss and social linkages. He covers news about Burundi, Great Lakes, and Africa.


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