Burkina Faso's security forces should scrupulously respect human rights during a new military operation launched in response to a deadly uptick in attacks by armed Islamist groups, Human Rights Watch said today.
In mid-May 2019, the government began Operation Doofu in the Nord, Sahel, and Centre-Nord administrative regions. Human Rights Watch is investigating allegations of unlawful killings by both sides, including alleged executions of people in security force custody.
"The violence in Burkina Faso is reaching fever pitch as thousands flee their homes in panic, and new reports of unlawful killings emerge," said Corinne Dufka, the Africa Sahel region director at Human Rights Watch. "Government security forces and armed Islamist groups should be on notice that we are closely tracking alleged atrocities by both sides."
Islamist groups and government security forces should refrain from any extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, and other human rights abuses. The government should ensure that ongoing security force operations do not fall into the same patterns of serious human rights violations that have characterized some previous counter-insurgency operations, Human Rights Watch said.
As the government carries out Operation Doofu, it should ensure that the Burkinabè security forces have the necessary capacity to apply human rights law in their operational planning, and to ensure accountability for any violations.
The government should ensure also that military police - or those exercising the provost marshal function - are included in any operations involving military personnel. These officials should be mandated to monitor operations, and to respond to any abuse and coordinate with the relevant judicial authorities.
Since mid-2018, Burkina Faso has experienced a dramatic increase in violence by armed Islamists, who began attacks in the country in 2016, and allegations of abuse by security forces engaging in operations against them. The violence has created widespread panic and has displaced more than 130,000 civilians, largely in the north. In December, the government declared a state of emergency in several northern provinces.
Human Rights Watch has documented over 60 killings by armed Islamists and 130 killings of suspects by the Burkinabè security forces in the Sahel region between late-2017 and February 2019. Only a few of these cases have been investigated, and none of those responsible have been brought to justice. Most of the 60 people the armed Islamists killed were members of the Foulse and Bella communities, while most of those government security forces killed were Fulani, or Peuhl. Armed Islamist groups have worked to recruit members of Fulani communities into their ranks.
"Operation Doofu provides an opportunity for the government to demonstrate its commitment to a rights-respecting counterinsurgency strategy," Dufka said. "As Burkina Faso responds to ongoing violence, it is vital for the security forces to prove that they can act professionally to protect all civilians, and to hold to account those who commit atrocities."