An application from three human rights NGOs to participate in a freedom of association legal case brought against Burundi before the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) will be heard tomorrow.

In December 2016, five major Burundian NGOs filed a formal complaint to the EACJ, following the arbitrary and unlawful decision of Burundian authorities to shutdown their organizations and freeze their bank accounts.

In support of these organizations, in their struggle to reclaim their rights, FIDH, together with its member organizations, the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) and the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI, Uganda) made a request to submit an amicus curiae brief in the case.

Today, the EACJ is hearing oral arguments on the request. Since 2015, Burundi has been engulfed in a severe political crisis characterized by the continuing perpetration of murders, enforced disappearances – as of today, the treasurer of the Ligue ITEKA, Marie- Claudette Kwizera, who was kidnapped in December 2015, is still missing – acts of torture, sexual violence and other serious crimes, mostly against those perceived as opposing the regime.

In parallel, authorities have allegedly engaged in a serious crackdown against independent human rights organizations to alter their capacity to document and report the crimes and to assist the victims.

In October 2016, the decision to ban and freeze the accounts of the five NGOs was made as part of this crackdown. In January 2017, a similar decision was notified to the ITEKA League, FIDH member organization in Burundi.

The targeting of civil society was recently illustrated again by the unlawful sentencing of activist Germain Rukuki to 32 years in prison.

Before the EACJ, the five Burundian NGOs argue that their banning and the freezing of their accounts was in violation of the country’s regional and international legal obligations related to freedom of association. Represented by the law firm Leigh Day and human rights lawyers Nani Jansen Reventlow and Catherine Anite, FIDH, the KHRC and FHRI wish to provide expertise in the field of human rights and freedom of association to assist the Court in the interpretation and application of relevant legislation.

Rosa Curling from the human rights team at Leigh Day said: “The organisations we represent feel that it is extremely important that they are allowed to intervene in this case to enable the court to benefit from their experience and knowledge in the field of regional and international human rights law. We hope that the court will agree to allow them to intervene as we believe that it would be in the interest of justice to do so.”