Security situation in Burkina Faso deteriorates by the day

IDP camp in the northern region of Barsalogho, Burkina Faso IDP camp in the northern region of Barsalogho, Burkina Faso Henry Wilkins/ Al Jazeera

5 May 2020

The country is facing an unprecedented mix of threats coming from Islamic armed groups, local militias, coronavirus, famine and displacement

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports on the deteriorating security situation in Burkina Faso. Islamist armed groups affiliated to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of the Greater Sahel are spreading terror among Burkinabe villagers in the North of the country, forcing many to flee their homes. In January 2020 only, three attacks were carried out by those armed groups in Nagraogo, Rofénèga and Silgadji, killing at least 90 civilians. The violence had already displaced 775’000 people by March 2020 and the numbers continue to rise. Moreover, the condition of vulnerability of internally displaced persons is worsened by the coronavirus pandemic. The health emergency is causing the disruption of the food chain supply and, during the holy month of Ramadan, many are fasting without knowing if there will be food on the table at sunset.  

Witnesses to the attacks describe armed men dressed with turbans and a mix of civilian clothes and military fatigues, riding motorcycles into villages and waving a black flag (symbol of the Islamic State). The attackers accuse villagers to not comply to the strict Islamic rule they aim to establish and consequently proceed with the execution of local adult men. Furthermore, those systematic killings have an ethnic component: the armed groups recruit mainly Fulani people, hence they tend to avoid killing those of Fulani ethnicity.

On 21 January, given the increasing number of attacks and fatalities, Burkinabe government passed a controversial law allowing the creation of a local militia called “Group of Volunteers for the Defence of the Homeland”. This law gives permission to local villagers to take up arms against the terrorists and to work in cooperation with the national Defence and Security Forces. This measure, taken by the government to compensate its inability to provide villagers with security against the armed groups, could have the detrimental effect of contributing to inter-communal violence in the region. In fact, this would not be the first time: the existing Burkinabe self-defence group “Koglweogo” allegedly killed 43 Fulani civilians in March, in their search for terrorists. HRW urges international donors – particularly the European Union and France – and national authorities to act in order to prevent a further increase in inter-communal tensions and the government to hold accountable those responsible of crimes against civilians of any ethnicity.


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Author: Annette Savoca

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