Nestor Nkurunziza, PhD candidate at the Faculty of Law and HRREC member at the University of Ottawa, presented a paper on “The role of human rights activism in promoting an independent justice system in Burundi” during an international conference on “The requirements of an independent and efficient judiciary”. The conference was held in Nairobi (Kenya) between the 11th and 13th of February, 2016 with the support of the Robert Bosch Foundation and was organized by the Association de Droit Africain. The event was part of an exchange program between young lawyers from Germany, Burundi, Kenya, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda run by the African Lawyer Association with the support of the Robert Bosch foundation.
Nelson’s paper notes the existence of legal and institutional guaranties for an independent justice system despite some barriers. It suggests that these guaranties should be understood as achievements of a human rights activism within the civil society and observes that these legal and institutional guaranties have a limited impact in practice. Nelson attributes this limitation mainly to the current lack of a large scale civic activism strong enough to mobilise around the principles of rule of law and hold institutions, including the judiciary, accountable to the populations. The paper suggests that, from now on, the human rights movement should work to promote civic engagement as this is the condition for establishing a culture of rule of law principles and values which is key to an independent justice system. To this end, human rights activists should favour approaches aimed at promoting economic, social and cultural rights to complement the current human rights discourses and practices so far dominated by liberal approaches with civil and political rights in the background. In the Burundian context and to a great extent in the context of most countries in the region, economic, social and cultural rights have a great potential to address structural barriers to rule of law principles.