Burkina Faso: HRW Suspects Extrajudicial Killings of 180 Men

At least 180 bodies have been discovered in common graves in northern Burkina Faso, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report. Responding to the allegations, the government said it would open an inquiry.

In a report released on Wednesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said government forces in Burkina Faso were likely behind the deaths of scores of men. The international rights group called for the authorities to hold those responsible to account.

"Available evidence suggests government forces were involved in mass extrajudicial executions," HRW said.

The dead were men mostly from the Fulani and Peul ethnic groups - communities often targeted by militants - and were buried between April and May, according to HRW.

"So many of the dead were blindfolded, had their hands tied up ... and were shot in the head," the report quoted one of the town's community leaders as saying.

Burkina Faso authorities have previously been accused of carrying out extrajudicial killings in their battle against militants with links to al-Qaeda and "Islamic State" (IS) groups.

Since 2015, the country has been waging a war against a violent jihadist insurgency, which has killed hundreds of civilians and displaced almost a million people. The conflict has also affected neighboring Niger and Mali.

Calls for impartial investigations

HRW's Sahel director Corinne Dufka called for an urgent probe into the deaths.

"Existing information points toward government security forces, so it's critical to have impartial investigations, evidence properly gathered, and families informed about what happened to their loved ones," Dufka said in the report.

The government said it would open an inquiry, although the official account of the killings - as mentioned in the report - is that the executions may have been committed by militias that stole army uniforms and logistical equipment.

"It is difficult for the population to distinguish between armed terrorist groups and the defense and security forces," Burkina Faso's Minister of Defense Moumina Cheriff Sy said.

But rights groups say the government has done little to investigate and prosecute previous reports of rights abuses.

In a security summit on June 30, European Union and Sahel leaders warned Burkina Faso authorities that any of their troops found guilty of human rights abuses would be punished severely.

shs/rs (AFP, Reuters)

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