In November 2015, a young resident of Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo, was attacked by men wielding machetes and was critically injured. The following morning, the district police chief arrested several people as suspects. Fiston*, 15, and Bernard*, 16, were among them. While the two boys—both students—were the victim’s neighbors, they were not involved with the attack. Yet, they were held in a juvenile holding cell awaiting trial in the juvenile tribunal.
The ABA ROLI attorney discussed the case with the prosecutor, who—after examining the details and evidence—dismissed the case and ordered the release of Fiston and Bernard.
Jean-Charles Kirusha, an attorney who worked on the ABA Rule of Law Initiative’s (ABA ROLI’s) child protection program, was visiting a holding cell for minors to prepare a defense for other children when Fiston and Bernard reached out to him to explain their situation. Fiston and Bernard told Jean-Charles that the night the attack happened, they were in a nearby neighborhood watching a televised soccer match. Bernard said that they later learned that the attack resulted from a “conflict between two families who were disputing and fighting for the role of district chief in their community.” Fiston lives with his mother, who can barely make ends meet selling sugar cane in the streets of Bukavu, making it difficult if not, impossible, for her to pay for a lawyer to defend her son and get him out of detention. “I did not see how my mother could get by, between her fight to provide for my younger brothers and sisters and her fight to free me from the court,” says Fiston. “I began to think of death as a way to alleviate this suffering.”
After taking a closer look at the facts, the ABA ROLI attorney decided to take on their case. He contacted and discussed the case with the prosecutor, who—after examining the details and evidence—dismissed the case and ordered the release of Fiston and Bernard. The boys were reunited with their families, who said they were grateful to ABA ROLI for the free legal services. One of the mothers said that she was concerned that the trial against the children “would never end,” adding, “[I] feared that this trial would further impoverish the family, and force [us] to sell the only plot of land that the family owned to be able to afford a lawyer.” Expressing his gratitude for the ABA ROLI attorney’s assistance and relieved to be back home with his parents, Bernard remarked, “Luckily, the juvenile tribunal has served justice.”
To learn more about our work in the Democratic Republic of Congo, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at [email protected].