Newsletter May 2021

Dear Members and Friends,

We hope that this period will be for each and every one of you without too many worries or constraints regarding the pandemic.

1° New action in Burundi. They are prostitutes because of extreme poverty: they risk life imprisonment or death.

Vona had 3 children during her 5-year marriage. Beaten by her husband, he decided one day to chase Vona and the 3 children out of his house. As a married woman, Vona is dependent on her husband in every respect, regardless of the laws that establish equality between spouses. In Burundi, to be repudiated by your husband is to bear the seal of shame. It means bringing shame to one’s family. Once driven out, Vona found herself without a roof over her head, without money, without a field to grow crops: she was totally destitute. She had nothing but her children to feed. So she turned to prostitution. Prostitution is illegal in Burundi. By prostituting herself, Vona exposes herself to: the violence of any citizen who can take the right to beat her to death to defend morals; the torture of clients, rape, sexually transmitted diseases, imprisonment, sometimes “for life” because these cases are rarely tried and women can languish indefinitely in prison.

The association “Solidarité des femmes pour le bien-être social et le progrès” (SFBLSP), our partner in Burundi, has counted 619 situations similar to Vona’s in its area of intervention. None of these women chose to become prostitutes.

Vivere provides legal assistance to women sex workers who are victims of violence and who take the step of filing a criminal complaint, thus reminding us that everyone has the right to be treated with dignity. Vivere also supports the work of SFBLSP by providing legal assistance to ensure that women in prison are brought to trial instead of being left to rot in prison without trial.

The socio-professional integration of these women is also at the heart of the discussions with our partner in Burundi.

The budget for legal assistance for ten victims, all included until the end of each legal procedure, amounts to €3,500 (CHF 3,954), a sum that we have advanced from our own funds in the hope that solidarity contributions can be entrusted to us for this work. Thank you for passing on the message. This project will be explained in more detail at our general meeting on 20th  May.

Photo Jean N, March 21 – Burundi

2°  Syria

In a situation of extreme restrictions, affected by the pandemic and with the uncertainty of the next elections, last month the team on the ground was able to assist 64 infants with nutritional supplementation: 18 new babies were added to the 46 previously monitored. Including baby Talia in this photo:

3°          DR of Congo Fight against impunity

Our 33rd mobile court of the Uvira garrison military court was held in Bangwe, Fizi territory, from 15 to 17. The following cases were investigated and judged

– 2 cases of murder

– 1 case of armed robbery and untimely firing of a weapon of war

The three defendants found guilty by the judges were sentenced to penalties commensurate with the offences they had committed.

As the track was interrupted by torrential rains, the court was forced to finish the journey by boat on Lake Tanganyika to reach the village of Bangwe
The judges in court
Lawyers (we provide both those for the prosecution and those for the defence of defendants)
Speech given to the defendant

4°          Pakistan: Action campaign for the abolition of the death penalty for minors

A new tool for the defence of children.    In addition to defending individual cases of incarcerated minors facing the death penalty or life imprisonment, Sarmad, one of Vivere’s partner lawyers, contributes to the development of advocacy aimed at alerting public opinion to encourage the judicial authorities to better respect the rights of the child in legal proceedings. With our support in terms of resources and methodology, this lawyer initiated in February 2021 the sending of a monthly newsletter to juvenile justice professionals in the State of Punjab. This periodical contains factual information on individual cases (without disclosing the names of the young people), especially when they are indicative of the shortcomings and defects of the country’s juvenile justice system, with reference to the law enacted in 2018 at federal level. This law is not well known by police officers and/or misinterpreted by some judges, not to mention that the social workers (“probation officers”) who are supposed to have investigated minors and their families have not received any training on this law, and depend on services with very few resources – even if only to visit families or prisons.

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Identification of juveniles at risk of unjust punishment.   Our two partners, L.A.W. in Punjab and M.R.D.O. in Sindh and their lawyers, initiated a second survey in new juvenile detention centres, in order to detect cases of juveniles prosecuted and incarcerated on suspicion of crimes that could lead to capital punishment or life imprisonment, either because of doubts about their age or the seriousness of the crimes.  The first survey identified 87 individual cases, of which only one had legal representation.

In both states, government authorities have notified the creation of a ‘Juvenile Justice Committee’ to monitor compliance with the Juvenile Justice Act adopted at federal level in 2018. In another state of the country, the same Committee is functioning and has recently removed 4 individual cases of juveniles prosecuted in adult courts (sometimes for “terrorism”) and referred them to a Juvenile Court which cannot impose any death sentence or life imprisonment.

The follow-up of individual cases by our lawyer-partners continues, despite the restrictions linked to the pandemic, which slow down or postpone indefinitely the proceedings due to temporarily closed courts, difficult travel to prisons or to the minors’ home villages. Initiated at the beginning and prefaced by Vivere, this work has been supported both in its technical development and its budget. This document is available on request.

Iran. According to statistics published last March by Iran Human Rights Watch and Ensemble contre la peine de mort, Iran “confirms its status as the world’s leading executioner per capita”. In 2020, 267 people were executed, including 4 minors and 6 women. And according to different sources the authorities do not announce all executions.

5°          Coronavirus: fair access to vaccines for all!

Similar to the call made by Vivere in the 2020 annual report, we receive the following message from the Friends of Amnesty International Belgique francophone: “If pharmaceutical companies share their knowledge and technology, other companies will be able to produce vaccines against COVID-19 and we will be able to end the pandemic without leaving anyone behind. Act now and call on the pharmaceutical industry to play ball so that everyone has fair access to COVID-19 vaccines.

Thank you for your attention to this work, and we remain at your disposal for any information you may require.

With our best consideration,

The Vivere Committee