Burundian Human Rights Leader Granted Asylum

Mr. S worked as a human rights activist to bring change to his home country of Burundi. In turn, the government tortured him. 

The seeds of Mr. S’s activism were planted early in his life when his parents were killed in the aftermath of ethnic cleansing in Burundi in 1994. He and his sister managed to escape. As a college student, he participated in the nonviolence movement and wrote articles about peace and tolerance for the college newspaper.

As a member of a human rights group, he marched in a variety of demonstrations, protesting killings in Burundi. He denounced, during a radio interview, the imprisonment of journalists who had criticized the ruling Nkurunziza government.

The government lashed out at Mr. S voiced with a violent rebuke, by having its secret service invade his family’s home in the middle of the night and taking him into custody. While imprisoned, the government beat and starved him, and threatened him with death. After more than 20 days of captivity, the secret service released Mr. S after forcing him to sign a pledge to never again level criticisms against the government.

Undaunted, he continued to speak out about injustice. When he publicly condemned the government in 2007 for taking the lives of 16 prisoners, the secret service again seized him from his home. The government imprisoned him for almost two months, torturing him and threatening to let him starve to death.

Human rights organizations spoke out against his detention, prompting the government to release him. His freedom didn't last long. The next day, the secret service attacked his house, killing Mr. S’s infant son and Mr. S’s sister. His wife and two other children went missing. Mr. S escaped to the United States on a visitor visa soon after.

He contacted The Advocates for Human Rights. The Advocates’ volunteer attorneys, Mark Lee, from Maslon Edelman Borman & Brand, and Matt Lewis, from General Mills, represented Mr. S in removal proceedings. After five anxious years, the U.S. government granted him asylum in June 2012.

“The Advocates saved my life; they represent my hope,” he said. “They took me in when I was desperate. If I hadn’t found them, I don’t know what I would have done. Now I can finally breathe.”