Human rights defender
Irwin from Burundi works on advocacy for human rights and social development in the areas of LGBTI and sex workers’ in Africa. He works both locally and regionally to fight for these human rights. As a member of the advisory board of the 2016 Mandela Washington Fellowship, he represented the full diversity of over two hundred fellows from fourteen countries in East and Central Africa. In 2016, Irwin edited Walking the Tightrope: Poetry and Prose by LGBTQ Writers from Africa, a poetry anthology that seeks to challenge and engage individuals and institutions that consider homosexuality immoral. The anthology has valued him recognition by being featured in the first-ever fiveFilms4freedom 2016 Global List by the British Council – increasing visibility on his work and profile as a LGBTI Human Rights Defender.
Human rights violations in Burundi
In 2009 homosexuality was criminalized in Burundi. Violation of article 567 of the Penal Code can lead to a sentence of two years in prison. In addition, since President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his controversial third term in April 2015, Burundi has plunged into a spiral of political violence and widespread human rights abuses. Burundi became the first country to withdraw from the ICC on October 27, 2017. The ruling party has banned the most prominent Burundian human rights organizations and impunity is widespread. Most leading civil society activists remain in exile.
Threats and harassment
Irwin and his organization have recently faced cases of threats, harassment and persecution for the advocacy work that they do. LGBTI people in Burundi often face public hatred. Currently the police is carrying out investigations on ‘homosexuals’ networks’ in the country, referring to LGBTI organizations and outspoken activists. The situation has led to temporary closure of offices, temporary relocation for those who were in need and activists not showing up publicly out of fear of arrests.