Although the long years of war are over, and the last rebels have put down their arms, torture still exists in Burundi. In 2009, through small grants to the Burundian Association for the Defense of Prisoners’ Rights and seven other civil society organizations, USAID’s Burundi Policy Reform Project provided legal, medical, and psychosocial assistance to 453 victims of torture in 16 provinces.
Besides direct services to victims, the fund supported capacity building of organizations fighting torture, sponsored public events on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, provided advocacy skills training, and financed study tours examining other countries’ approaches to fighting torture at the community level.
“I was tortured in August 2008 by police officers. I received a bullet in my leg and blows from a rifle,” said Fabrice, one of four hospitalized prisoners in Mpimba Prison in Bujumbura being aided by the association, which received a small USAID grant to work with victims of torture.
“Before the operation, I had constant aches that prevented me from sleeping,” Fabrice said. “At first, I stayed in bed, but now I am able to move three toes and sit in a wheelchair.” Fabrice was accused of complicity in the killing of a livestock trader, but after the association hired a lawyer for his legal assistance, he was found innocent.
When Fabrice is stronger, he may also benefit from “Capacitar” sessions, as have 35 other detainees at Mpimba Prison. The Capacitar approach, developed by Capacitar International and based on the spiritual traditions of many cultures, has been used in more than 30 countries and was adapted for use in Burundi. Those trained in this technique find it helps them deal with the psychological trauma of torture, think of their future in a more positive way, and even forgive their torturers. This training is part of the project’s broader effort to help Burundi come to terms with torture, work for its abolition, and build a stronger base for peace and stability.
Fabrice, meanwhile, waits for a second surgical procedure. He hopes that when he gets out of prison he can resume his former life as a bicycle or motorbike taxi driver. “It is thanks to (the association) that I underwent surgery to remove the bullet and I am grateful to them,” he said.