Help 250 children in prison in Burundi + Cambodia

by International Bridges to Justice
Help 250 children in prison in Burundi + Cambodia
BBJ Lawyer Mr. Barakamfitiye and his client, Jean
BBJ Lawyer Mr. Barakamfitiye and his client, Jean

Your support means that International Bridges to Justice’s taskforces of lawyers in Cambodia and Burundi can reduce the time children spend in pre-trial detention, minimize their risk of torture during police interrogations, and increase their chances of receiving a fair trial. Too often, detained children slip are held with adult populations in over-burdened justice systems, putting them at even greater risk of harm.  Children in Burundi and Cambodia are incarcerated at alarming rates, with more than 2,000 detained in Cambodian prisons and mass police arrests this summer of Burundian street children. Children should be in school, not behind bars, where they suffer not only from a lack of education but also from poor nutrition and neglect.

Your donation helps make our work possible. Please see below the stories of just three of the 42 children we have helped since May of 2022:

 

Cambodia

Incarceration should a last resort, especially when a youth is arrested. Being arrested, detained, interrogated, and possibly tortured has long-lasting and devastating effects, not only on their physical and mental health, but also on their future. In Cambodia, for example, an accused juvenile could spend years in prison for a theft that s/he did not commit. 

Because of the dire shortage of lawyers in Cambodia, courts tend to appoint a lawyer at the last moment before a trial. The lawyer is often unable to meet the client before trial, making it impossible to prevent his/her rights from being violated while in detention. Cambodia Bridges to Justice’s  (CBJ’s) work at the earliest stages of the criminal justice process is fundamental to protecting youth in conflict with the law. 

From May through August 2022, our affiliate in Cambodia, CBJ provided legal representation to 10 children through its case appeals program. Here is one of their stories:

Boy, tortured by police, freed on bail

“Kosal” is a 15-year-old boy who was arrested by the police with two of his friends in June. They were accused of stealing motorcycle parts, although there was no evidence of the crime. Kosal was scared and did not understand his legal rights. Contrary to the law in Cambodia regarding minors, two police officers immediately started their interrogation of Kosal without a lawyer or a guardian present. When Kosal insisted on being innocent, the police officers beat him.

Kosal was then taken to a correctional center in Phnom Penh for women and juveniles. While awaiting trial, Kosal spent two months in an overcrowded prison cell that housed approximately 140 prisoners. He had to sleep on the floor with no access to a shower, and contracted an infectious skin disease. The prison does not provide medical care or sufficient food for the detainees. His days were long, with nothing to do; no opportunity to exercise and no classes.

Kosal’s parents were informed by police the day after his arrest. They went immediately to CBJ lawyer Mr. Vandeth for assistance. Mr. Vandeth pleaded before the judge for Kosal’s release on bail, while he waited for a trial date to be set. Mr. Vandeth reminded the judge of Kosal’s age and argued that he should be in school and not languishing in jail. Although the judge initially denied the bail request, Mr. Vandeth’s persistence eventually worked and the judge released Kosal on bail. He was relieved to be free and reunited with his family. While the trial has not yet occurred, Mr. Vandeth believes that he will be able to convince the judge to dismiss the case, because there is insufficient evidence that Kosal committed a crime.

 

Burundi

From May through August 2022, the Burundi Bridges to Justice (BBJ) Taskforce of professional lawyers assisted 30 children (17 boys and 13 girls) in police custody in Bujumbura’s police stations. To prevent children from getting lost in the criminal justice system, BBJ’s lawyers were successful in obtaining the immediate release of 22 of these children. Here is the story of two of these youths:

Boy, living on the street, arrested for theft but released for lack of evidence

“Jean”, 15 years old, was living partly with relatives and partly on the streets. In June, he was accused of stealing a mobile phone and arrested by police who found him sleeping on the street next to the Bujumbura Town Hall. The police illegally interrogated him without a lawyer present, despite his age. A week later, after Jean had been transferred to the Mukaza prosecutor’s office for investigation of his case, one of BBJ’s Taskforce lawyers, M. Barakamfitiye, found him. M. Barakamfitiye showed the Mukaza prosecutor that there was no evidence and reminded him of the boy’s situation, arguing that he should not be accused and punished simply because he lives on the street. Thanks to his legal assistance, Jean regained his freedom.   

Boy subjected to an arbitrary citizen arrest and immediately released 

“Eric”, aged 15, was the victim of an unlawful citizen arrest. They took him to Kanyosha prison where our lawyers found him. He had been unjustly accused by a neighbor of stealing a mobile phone. However, the accusations were unfounded because, on the day that the phone was allegedly stolen, Eric was away from home. The BBJ lawyer was able to find witnesses to testify in Eric’s defense, and, as a result of his work, Eric was immediately released.

 

Thank you again for your support to IBJ!  Every child deserves legal protection!

CBJ Lawyer Mr. Vandeth with his client
CBJ Lawyer Mr. Vandeth with his client

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Lawyer from Cambodia Bridges to Justice
Lawyer from Cambodia Bridges to Justice

MAY 6, 2022

Your support through GlobalGiving means that International Bridges to Justice can provide justice to more children in Cambodia and Burundi. Our documentation shows that the assistance of our lawyers reduces the time children spend in pre-trial detention, minimizes their risk of torture during police interrogations, and increases their chances to a fair trial. Too often, detained children slip through the cracks of over-burdened and under-resourced justice systems and are held with the adult population, putting them at even greater risk of harm. Currently, the child incarceration rates in Burundi and Cambodia are concerning, with more than 2,000 detained in Cambodian prisons and nearly 50% of children in the Burundian prison system languishing in pre-trial detention. These children should be in school, not behind bars.

Your donation helps make our work possible. Please see below the stories of two of the children we have helped during the start of 2022…

 

Cambodia 

Detention for juveniles in Cambodia should be a last resort but limited access to legal aid and the lack of an effective juvenile justice system results in children being detained, beyond the legal time limit, in adult detention facilities and then tried as adults. A donor exodus from Cambodia has contributed to an increase of human rights violations that are linked tothe criminalization of impoverished groups. COVID-19 has further exacerbated human rights abuses with people who have been arbitrarily detained. 

A lack of funding for investigations translates to an over-reliance by the court on confessions, sometime obtained through torture. Furthermore, a shortage of legal defenders means courts often cannot appoint a lawyer until the last minute, resulting in ineffective counsel for the detained juvenile. For these reasons, our work in Cambodia is essential for protecting the rights of children in conflict with the law. 

From January through April 2022, our affiliate in Cambodia, Cambodia Bridges to Justice (CBJ), provided legal representation to two children through its case appeals program. Here is one of their stories:

16-year-old father obtains case dismissal                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

In northern Cambodia, a 16-year-old boy was eking out a living collecting scrap metal. Earning less than $50 a month, he struggled to feed his young wife and baby. Living in such extreme poverty means that losing a day’s wage has dire consequences for the entire family.

One day in August 2021, the police arrested him for stealing a wooden chair and a small metal cart. He was frightened, did not understand what was happening, unaware of the circumstances of his arrest, and had no understanding of his rights. Contrary to the law regarding minors, he was questioned by the police without a lawyer or guardian present. Despite all of this, he maintained his innocence. However, during the interrogation, he admitted to occasionally using drugs. Consequently, the police added a charge of drug use and requested his transfer to a drug rehabilitation center. The boy spent the next four months in an overcrowded adult detention facility. 

Just before his trial, the court appointed a CBJ lawyer to defend the charges against him. Due to a lack of evidence, our lawyer was successful in having the case dismissed and the boy returned home to his family.

 

Burundi

From January through April 2022, the Burundi Bridges to Justice (BBJ) Taskforce of professional lawyers assisted 35 children they found in police custody. 

Recently, the Burundi government banned mobile vending which is a common income-generating activity for young people there. This legislative change demonstrates the criminalization of life-sustaining activities that target young and economically-disadvantaged people. To fight against this increased risk of torture and arbirtrary detention BBJ, hasincreased its monitoring of police cells and other detention centers. Police lock-up visits can stop torture in its tracks; allowing our lawyers to advocate for the immediate release of detainees. Here is the story of one of the young people they found during a monitoring visit: 

Girl arbitrarily arrested and wrongfully accused is freed

 “Natalie” is 15 years old and worked as a maid. After she helped her friend “Lauren” to find work, Lauren stole the equivalent of $500 USD from her employer and disappeared. Because she was believed to have been involved in the theft, Natalie was arbitrarily arrested, without being informed of the reason, by ordinary citizens. This arrest occurred even though, according to the Burundi code of criminal procedure, only the police have the power to arrest.  

Fortunately, a BBJ Taskforce lawyer found Natalie in detention and was able to obtain her release based on a lack evidence. Our lawyer was able to show that the mere fact of her friendship with Lauren, and her assistance in finding her employment, was not evidence that Natalie was involved in the theft.   

Thank you again for your support to IBJ!  Every child deserves a second chance!

Lawyer and client - Burundi Bridges to Justice
Lawyer and client - Burundi Bridges to Justice

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January 7, 2022

With your support, International Bridges to Justice is working to ensure that every child in prison has access to a lawyer. Thank you! Your support helps guarantee that detained children do not slip through the cracks of over-burdened and under-resourced justice systems to spend their most formative years behind bars, vulnerable to harm. All children deserve our care.

The child incarceration rates in Burundi and Cambodia are concerning, and it is not uncommon for the police to incorrectly record the age of an arrested child or to fail to notify their families. Many of these children go unnoticed but for the work of our lawyers. By providing legal aid at the earliest possible stage of the criminal procedure process, we give these children a second chance. Our lawyers help reduce their time in pre-trial detention, minimize their risk of torture during police interrogations, and increase their chances to a fair trial. This allows them to go home to their families and return to their education sooner.

Your support is helping to make this possible! Learn more below… 

 

Cambodia

While Cambodian law requires a parent or lawyer to be present when a minor is interrogated by the police, there are few legal aid lawyers in the country. Often, children go through the legal process alone, unaware of their right to have a lawyer. Because the presumption of innocence within the justice system is not respected,  many children spend unnecessarily long periods of time in a horrendously overcrowded prison system, putting them at risk of COVID-19 and worse. Cambodia´s prison system is ranked 5th in the world in terms of overcrowding. And while there are approximately 1,500 children in detention at any one time, there is only one juvenile detention center. As a result, often children are put in overcrowded cells with adults, leaving them vulnerable to abuse.

With your support, from October through December 2021, our partner organization in Cambodia,  Cambodia Bridges to Justice, provided legal representation to six vulnerable children living in rural areas of the country. Here is one of their stories:

Victim of feuding families freed

In March 2021, a 15-year-old boy, “Atith” was falsely accused of rape and detained with adult prisoners while he awaited trial. In October, one of our lawyers, Mr. So Bengtharun (see photo) proved that Atith could not have committed this offense given that the medical evidence revealed the alleged victim had not been sexually assaulted. During his investigation, So Bengtharun also discovered that this false accusation stemmed from a quarrel between families. Atith was a victim of their dispute. Although traumatized by living in horrific prison conditions for seven months, with our help Atith was freed and able to return home and go back to school where he is well-liked and his teachers praise him for being an excellent student. 

 

Burundi

With your help, from October to December 2021, the taskforce of lawyers at IBJ’s partner organization in Burundi, Burundi Bridges to Justice, provided legal assistance to 14 children. Despite clear legal provisions that a minor under the age of 15 cannot be found criminally liable, the Burundian police continue to arrest and detain 13 and 14 year-olds, sometimes for long periods. This is one reason our lawyers routinely visit detention centers searching for young children to provide legal aid as early as possible after their arrests.

 

Two underage girls found in detention successfully released

“Priscilla”, a 13-year-old schoolgirl, was arrested by police on December 4, 2021, when she was found drinking with another minor in a pub. Two days later, one of our female lawyers found her in a police jail cell detained with adults. Our lawyer was able to secure Priscilla’s immediate release, given her age, which allowed her to return to school.

14-year-old “Sonia” was falsely accused of selling drugs after being framed for this offense for an undisclosed reason. One of our female lawyers found her in jail, alone and afraid, ten days after her arrest while the prosecutor’s office was investigating her case. When our lawyer pointed out that Sonia was legally under the age of criminal liability, she was able to secure her freedom.

Thank you again for your support to IBJ! Every child deserves a second chance!

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With Defender Resource Centers around the globe and a presence on each continent, International Bridges to Justice (IBJ) is able to help people in need of legal representation globally. Analyzing judicial systems in different regions of the world, we see that in many places access to justice is still a privilege and not a right. In fact, the vast majority of detainees we encounter during the course of our work are not even aware of the legal rights available to them.  Because of this, they consistently fall victim to ineffective and corrupt judicial systems.

Two of IBJ’s country offices, Burundi Bridges to Justice and Cambodia Bridges to Justice, seek out detainees in local prisons and police stations where a distressing number of inmates are children who have spent weeks, months, and even years in detention without knowing why they are being detained or if they will ever be released. In many cases, they are held with the adult prison population, exposing them to further abuse. This unnecessary injustice is preventable with simple interventions made at the right moment by an IBJ lawyer.

BURUNDI

Over the last four months, Burundi Bridges to Justice (BBJ) lawyers were able to provide legal assistance to 21 more children.

Success Story – Less than 24 hours in police custody

Two 16-year-old girls were accused of stealing a cellphone and arrested for robbery. The night before, they had been at a sleepover in the house where the cellphone was taken. The next morning, one of the residents of the house lost his phone and so accused the girls of stealing it.  The girls were brought to the nearest police station, placed in custody, and investigated for theft. Thanks to an existing agreement between BBJ and the police, our lawyers were quickly notified of the girls’ arrest because they did not have legal representation. BBJ immediately went to the police station and advocated for their release based on the absence of evidence against them.  Thanks to our swift intervention through our early access to justice program, the girls spent less than 24 hours in police custody and were not tortured or beaten in interrogation. Based on our experience, without representation, they would still be imprisoned to this day.

Success Story – Too young to be criminally charged

BBJ lawyers defended three boys, aged 12, 14, and 16 years old, who were accused of theft by their former boss. They had been taken from their schools and brought to Bujumbura by “Madame BM” who employs children as cheap labor, even though only the 16-year-old was legally permitted to work. When they finally decided to quit, Madame BM filed a complaint against them for stealing a cellphone and a SIM card, and all three were arrested by the police. Despite the fact that the two youngest boys cannot be criminally charged due to their age, the prosecutor pursued them regardless. Our lawyer reminded the prosecutor that no child under the age of 15 can be criminally prosecuted in Burundi. She also argued that there was no evidence that the boys had committed the theft, and so they were declared innocent and released.

CAMBODIA

Over the last four months, Cambodia Bridges to Justice lawyers were able to provide legal assistance to five children between the ages of 16 and 17.

With your help and the assistance of GlobalGiving, our frontline legal defenders have been able to take on more cases of detained children and we can provide continuing support to the projects of our Youth Justice Champions.   

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May 12, 2021

Thanks to the continuing generous contributions that our project has received through GlobalGiving, International Bridges to Justice (IBJ) has been able to increase efforts and intensify focus on children in detention by assisting them with early legal assistance and by training lawyers on children’s rights and best practices for defense strategies. In light of the broad international network of donors we are now able to access thanks to GlobalGiving, we have received $13,386 since October 2020 in furtherance of our $25,000 goal. Because of this support, our legal defenders continue to chip away at the estimated 1 million children in detention around the world for petty offenses or crimes they did not commit (UNICEF).

Since 2000, IBJ has worked ceaselessly to ensure that every accused person is provided early access to a skilled lawyer to prevent torture and ensure the right to a fair trial. Nonetheless, COVID-19 disruptions continue to have a profound impact on our work. Faced with shuttered courtrooms, locked-down prisons, and mass arrests of curfew violators, IBJ’s global team of justice first responders have leaned into an “adapt and act” strategy, armed with financial support, digital COVID-19 legal resources, and tailored training to safeguard the rights of everyday people in conflict with the law. The brave and effective work of IBJ’s legal defenders is illustrated in the success stories below. Since January 2021, our team in the DRC provided legal assistance to 41 children in conflict with the law in 3 detention centers (Bukavu, Kabare, and Walungu) in South Kivu province.

Of these 41 children, we were able to obtain the immediate release of 13, 9 children were acquitted, and 8 were placed in the juvenile detention center attached to the Central Prison. We will continue to closely monitor the remaining 11 cases, in addition to the 14 cases that remain pending since last year. In March, our lawyers in DRC assisted a group of 5 street children who were accused of assaulting a police officer, which they denied. The children testified that some patrolling police officers tried to sexually assault a girl, also living on the street and they defended her.

Our lawyers pleaded not guilty on behalf of these children and the court found them innocent of all charges and released them the very same day. In 2021, our team of lawyers in Burundi, who we personally trained and mentored, provided 6 children in police custody with free legal assistance at the earliest stage of their criminal proceedings. Thankfully, they were able to secure the release of all 6 children. One of these children is “Anthon”, a 16-year-old from Buyenzi (a Bujumbura suburb) who was accused of raping another boy, which he denied. Two days after his arrest, Mr. Ferdinand, one of our lawyers, met with Anthon and began defending him the very same day. Unfortunately, he was unable to secure Anthon’s release from the Judicial Police who insisted that the case be handled by the Prosecutor’s office maintaining that homosexuality is a serious offense punishable under Burundi’s criminal code. Nonetheless, when Anthon’s case was transferred to the Prosecutor’s office the next day, Mr. Ferdinand was able to convince the Prosecutor to dismiss the case for lack of evidence and release Anthon.

This case highlights not only the need for the decriminalization of homosexuality in Burundi but also for the legal assistance and protection of people, particularly children, who are victimized due to prejudices that persist in the criminal justice system. Mr. Ferdinand also defended three children accused of robbery, ages 16 to 17. Unable to find jobs, the boys sold peanuts and eggs on the side of the road until their merchandise was seized by police because they lacked a permit to sell. They were reduced to stealing a bucket and a bag of rice from a local shop, and theft was caught on camera. When the shopkeeper confronted them with the videotape, they returned the stolen goods but were nonetheless arrested by the police, who severely beat them in detention. Mr. Ferdinand found them a week after their arrest, and he argued for their release given that they had voluntarily returned the stolen goods. They were all released the same day.

In Cambodia, since October of 2020, our team of defenders has provided free legal assistance to 28 children who were accused of a wide variety of offenses including theft and destruction of property. In Syria, our lawyers took on the cases of 18 children who could not afford a lawyer. Due to this legal assistance, all 18 were exonerated or had their sentences commuted. One of the children was a 14-year-old boy accused of theft. The boy had stolen a small amount of cash from a parked car and had used it to buy food for his starving siblings. When Ms. Ilham, one of our defenders, questioned the boy, he burst into tears and explained that his father had been killed when warplanes bombed his family home in Aleppo, and that he, his mother, and his siblings had been displaced. Ms. Ilham pleaded not guilty on the boy’s behalf and the court released him back to his family.

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Organization Information

International Bridges to Justice

Location: Geneva - Switzerland
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @IBJGeneva
Project Leader:
Sanjeewa Liyanage
International Program Director
Geneva, Switzerland
$21,656 raised of $25,000 goal
 
105 donations
$3,344 to go
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