Burkina Faso: volunteer fighters role remains unclear

Burkinabe volunteer fighters driving their motorbikes Burkinabe volunteer fighters driving their motorbikes AP Photo/Sam Mednick

12 October 2020

With violence seamlessly wrecking Burkina Faso, volunteers’ security forces stir up controversy

In January 2020, Burkina Faso’s national Assembly unanimously passed legislation that allows the state to recruit volunteers to join the fight against terrorist groups. Despite Nigeria promoted an akin approach in the past, the plan stood for its innovativeness, given that it was the first time volunteers were co-opted in the war on terror in Sahel through a legally codified regime. After nine months, the volunteer’s vigilantes are yet to fully abate controversies surrounding their involvement and remain largely ill-equipped and under-trained.

Indeed, several rights organizations report that their mandate is caught amid rampant allegations of human rights abuses and remarkable actions to protect local communities.

Regarding the first, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that in April Burkina Faso’s self-militias perpetrated 31 extrajudicial killings, targeting armed Islamist in the country’s northern regions. As the West Africa director for HRW puts it, committing atrocities in the name of security is both unlawful and deeply counterproductive, considering the risks of retaliatory raids by the ranks of terrorists. Predictably, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) since February at least 40 attacks have been directed towards volunteers.

While arming voluntary groups have not stemmed violence in Burkina Faso, government officials claim that volunteers have successfully prevented the extremists from attacking larger towns, and also credited them with helping to escort residents on risky roads, bringing them to their farms during the ongoing rainy season.


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Author: Gianmarco Italia; Editor: Barbara Caltabiano

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