Burkina Faso is a constitutional republic led by an elected president. In November 2020 the country held presidential and legislative elections. President Roch Marc Christian Kabore was re-elected to a second five-year term with 57.74 percent of the popular vote, and his party – the People’s Movement for Progress – won 56 seats in the 127-seat National Assembly, remaining the largest party in a legislative majority coalition with smaller parties. National and international observers characterized the elections as peaceful and “satisfactory,” with credible results, while noting logistical problems on election day and a lack of access to the polls for many citizens due to insecurity. The government had previously declared that elections would take place only in areas where security could be guaranteed.
The Ministry of Security and the Ministry of Defense are responsible for internal security. The Ministry of Security oversees the National Police. The army, air force, and National Gendarmerie, which operate within the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for external security but sometimes assist with missions related to domestic security. In January 2020 the government passed legislation formalizing community-based self-defense groups by establishing the Volunteers for the Defense of the Fatherland, a civilian support corps for state counterterrorism efforts with rudimentary oversight from the Ministry of Defense. By year’s end the government registered approximately 2,700 Volunteers. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces, but there were credible reports members of state-sponsored militias committed numerous abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by security forces and state-sponsored militias and extremist groups; forced disappearance by security forces and extremist groups; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by extremist groups; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; serious abuses in an internal conflict, including widespread civilian harm, abductions, torture, and physical abuses or punishment, and unlawful recruitment of child soldiers by extremist groups; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists and censorship; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic or intimate partner violence, sexual violence, child, early and forced marriage, female genital mutilation/cutting, and other harmful practices; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of national, racial, and ethnic minorities; and the worst forms of child labor.
The government investigated and punished some cases of abuse, but impunity for human rights abuses and corruption remained a problem.
The country experienced deadly attacks by violent extremist organizations during the year. Terrorist groups Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims), the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, and other armed groups, such as the homegrown Ansaroul Islam, perpetrated numerous attacks that resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths as well as scores of deaths among government security forces and state-sponsored militias. Security incidents included improvised explosive device attacks; targeted killings; kidnappings; attacks on mining sites (especially gold mines); burning of schools, medical centers, and homes; and theft of cattle, vehicles, and food assistance, contributing to a humanitarian crisis and the internal displacement of more than 1.5 million persons. The government detained several hundred suspected violent extremists, including several children. Some detainees had been awaiting trial for several years. In August the Specialized Antiterrorism Court held the first criminal trials of terrorist suspects.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were reports that the state security forces committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the year (see section 1.g., Killings).
There were reports that state-sponsored militias, known as the Volunteers for the Defense of the Fatherland, committed arbitrary or unlawful killings (see section 1.g., Killings).
There were numerous reports that violent extremist groups committed arbitrary and unlawful killings. Multiple sources reported that extremists killed hundreds of civilians, members of the security forces, and members of state-sponsored militias (see section 1.g., Killings). There were several accounts of criminal groups working in concert with terrorist organizations and drug traffickers killing gendarmes, police, state-sponsored militias, and park rangers, especially in the Est Region.
On June 4, an unidentified group of assailants attacked and destroyed a settlement adjacent to a gold mine on the outskirts of the village of Solhan, approximately 30 miles from the country’s border with Niger, resulting in the killing of 132 civilians, according to the government, although international media sources reported the number of victims was closer to 160 or even 200. The attack was the deadliest in the country’s more than five-year fight against terrorism.
On October 11, the trial of 14 individuals accused of complicity in the 1987 assassination of then president Thomas Sankara began in Ouagadougou. The court announced that former president Blaise Compaore, who fled the country in 2015 following a popular uprising, would be tried separately in absentia for his alleged role in the assassination.
There were reports of disappearances by or on behalf of security forces and state-sponsored militias during the year (see section 1.g., Abductions).
There were numerous reports of disappearances of civilians by violent extremist groups (see section 1.g., Abductions).
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law prohibit such practices. Local rights groups alleged numerous accounts of torture committed by state-sponsored militias and members of the community-based armed groups known as the Koglweogo. Most allegations of torture involved victims suspected of having links to extremists or persons of Fulani/Peuhl ethnicity (see section 1.g., Physical Abuse, Torture, and Punishment).
According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, during the year there were two allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by Burkina Faso peacekeepers deployed to the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, both concerning alleged transactional sex with an adult. In both cases UN payments were suspended pending the results of the investigation, which continued at year’s end. Two previous allegations, both dating to 2015, were found to be unsubstantiated and closed without any action.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions in prisons and detention facilities were harsh and at times life threatening due to overcrowding and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.
Physical Conditions: The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights’ most recent report on prison statistics, covering 2020, indicated the country had 7,401 persons incarcerated nationwide, an occupancy rate of 142 percent. Authorities held pretrial detainees in the same locations as convicted prisoners. The High Security Prison in Ouagadougou, which mostly housed suspected extremists, was at more than double its designed capacity. Almost all were in pretrial detention.
Female prisoners had better conditions than those of men, in large part due to less crowding. Some infants and children younger than age five accompanied their inmate mothers. There were no appropriate facilities or installations for prisoners or detainees with disabilities, and they relied on other inmates for assistance.
Food, potable water, sanitation, heating, ventilation, lighting, and medical care were inadequate in most detention facilities across the country. Tuberculosis, HIV, AIDS, and malaria were the most common health problems among prisoners. For example, at the High Security Prison there were three nurses employed to treat more than 900 detainees and prisoners, with no doctor present on site but available on an on-call basis. Detention conditions were better for wealthy or influential citizens or detainees considered nonviolent.
Prisoners received two meals a day, but diets were inadequate, and inmates often relied on supplemental food from relatives. Some prisons lacked adequate ventilation, although some cells had electricity and some inmates had fans. Sanitation was rudimentary.
On March 24, President Kabore granted pardons to 796 prisoners. A similar mass pardon was granted on December 30.
Administration: The government did not provide information on investigations into allegations of mistreatment in prisons.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Burkinabe Movement for Human and People’s Rights (le Mouvement burkinabe des droits de l’homme et des peuples) were able to visit prisoners in some facilities throughout the country. The ICRC visited more than 4,400 inmates in 16 detention facilities during the year.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court. Arbitrary arrests occurred, however, and a lack of access to defense counsel and inadequate staffing of the judiciary prevented many detainees from seeking pretrial release in court. The ICRC received more than 600 new reports of persons reported missing by their families during the year.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
By law police and gendarmes must usually possess a court-issued warrant based on sufficient evidence before apprehending a person suspected of committing a crime, but authorities did not always follow these procedures. Authorities did not consistently inform detainees of charges against them. Detainees have the right to expeditious arraignment, bail, access to legal counsel, and, if indigent, access to a lawyer provided by the government after being charged. In practice, however, attorneys were not appointed until trial began. A judge may order temporary release without bail pending trial. Authorities seldom respected these rights. The law provides detainees access to family members through court-issued authorizations.
The law limits detention without charge for investigative purposes to a maximum of 72 hours, renewable for a single 48-hour period. In terrorism investigations the law allows detention for a 10-day period. In cases not related to terrorism, police did not always comply with the law, and the average time of detention without charge (preventive detention) was one week. Once authorities charge a suspect, the law permits judges to impose an unlimited number of consecutive six-month preventive detention periods while the prosecutor investigates charges. Authorities often detained defendants without access to legal counsel for weeks, months, or even years before the defendant appeared before a magistrate. There were instances in which authorities detained suspects incommunicado.
Arbitrary Arrest: Local independent rights groups alleged that security forces regularly arrested individuals arbitrarily for suspected involvement in terrorism. An official with the Ministry of Justice reported that hundreds of individuals detained at the High Security Prison remained in detention without being charged. Judiciary leaders decried what they saw as a “broad net” cast by security forces in the field, whom they suspected of rounding up large groups of suspects without sufficient cause.
Pretrial Detention: In many cases authorities held detainees without charge or trial for longer periods than the maximum sentence for conviction of the alleged offense; this was especially true in cases involving terrorism and included children detained for alleged association with armed groups. While a pretrial release (release on bail) system existed, the extent of its use was unknown. Authorities estimated 52 percent of prisoners nationwide were in pretrial status, but local independent rights groups estimated it to be as high as 70 percent. Local media regularly reported on cases of persons detained more than one year without trial. Some terrorism suspects were held for years awaiting trial.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law provides persons arrested or detained the right to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention. Prisoners who did so, however, reportedly faced difficulties due to either judicial corruption or inadequate staffing of the judiciary.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary was corrupt, inefficient, and subject to executive influence, according to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). There were no instances in which the trial outcomes appeared predetermined, however, and authorities respected court orders. Legal codes were outdated, there were not enough courts, and legal costs were excessive. Citizens’ poor knowledge of their rights further weakened their ability to obtain justice. The reluctance of private defense lawyers to represent terrorist suspects in criminal cases was a problem, due to both lack of funds to pay appointed counsel and the social stigma associated with representing accused extremists.
Nearly six years after the government’s first arrests of persons implicated in extremist violence and after multiple delays, the country held its first criminal terrorism trials in the week of August 9-13 at the new courthouse in the capital city. The court acquitted one defendant, while five others were convicted and sentenced to between 10 and 21 years in prison. International observers raised concerns with the conduct of the trials, including a lack of legal representation for the accused. Two convicted defendants appealed their convictions.
Military courts try cases involving military personnel charged with violating the military code of conduct. In certain rare cases, military courts may also try cases involving civilian defendants. Rights provided in military courts are equivalent to those in civil criminal courts. Military courts are headed by a civilian judge, hold public trials, and publish verdicts in the local press.
The law presumes defendants are innocent. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free assistance of an interpreter. Trials are public but may be delayed. Judicial authorities use juries only in serious criminal cases. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials and to legal representation, consultation, and adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have the right to provide evidence. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, but a refusal to testify often resulted in harsher decisions. Defendants may challenge and present witnesses, and they have the right of appeal. In civil cases where the defendant is destitute and files an appeal, the state provides a court-appointed lawyer. In criminal cases court-appointed lawyers are mandatory for those who cannot afford one. The government did not always respect these rights, due in part to a shortage of magistrates and court-appointed lawyers.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees during the year.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
There is an independent judiciary in civil matters, but it was often seen as inefficient, corrupt, and subject to executive influence. As a result, citizens sometimes preferred to rely on the Office of the Ombudsman to settle disputes with the government.
The law provides for access to a court to file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation, and both administrative and judicial remedies were available for alleged wrongs. Victims of human rights violations may appeal directly to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice, even before going through national courts. For civil and commercial disputes, authorities may refer cases to the ECOWAS Common Court of Justice and Arbitration in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. The courts issued several such orders during the year.
There were problems enforcing court orders in sensitive cases involving national security, wealthy or influential persons, and government officials.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions. In cases of national security, however, the law permits surveillance, searches, and monitoring of telephones and private correspondence without a warrant. The penal code permits wiretapping in terrorism cases, to be authorized by the president of a tribunal for a limited term. Investigative judges have the authority to authorize audio recording in private places. These investigative techniques were relatively new to the legal framework. The national intelligence service is authorized to use technology for surveillance, national security, and counterterrorism purposes.
The state of emergency, first declared by President Kabore in 2018, remained in effect in 14 provinces within seven of the country’s 13 administrative regions in response to growing insecurity from extremist attacks. The state of emergency granted additional powers to the security forces to carry out searches of homes and restrict freedom of movement and assembly. The state of emergency was extended in June for an additional 12 months. Authorities in the Sahel and Est Regions also ordered a curfew due to extremist attacks.
According to international and local independent rights groups, the military employed informant systems to generate lists of suspected extremists based on anecdotal evidence. Violent extremist groups were widely reported to employ similar systems to identify civilians accused of aiding security forces; some of those identified suffered violence or death at the hands of extremists.
g. Conflict-related Abuses
The country experienced numerous attacks by violent extremist organizations during the year, such as targeted killings; abductions; attacks on schools, health centers, and mining sites; and theft of food assistance, contributing to a humanitarian crisis and creating significant internal displacement. Extremists including Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims), the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, and Ansaroul Islam committed numerous killings and other abuses. Security forces and state-sponsored militias also were implicated in killings and other abuses.
Killings: Both security forces and state-sponsored militias were implicated in or credibly accused of abuses against civilians, including arbitrary or unlawful killings. Human rights defenders reported that in late November security forces were implicated in at least 22 unlawful killings in the Sud-Ouest and Cascades Regions. Media reported that in May state-sponsored militias kidnapped Fulani community leaders from an internally displaced persons (IDP) site outside Koumbri, near the Malian border in the country’s Nord Region. The bodies of two of the kidnapping victims were later found outside the village. According to the Armed Conflict and Location Event Data project, state-sponsored militias killed at least 95 civilians from January 2020 to August.
According to a local think tank that specializes in security, violent extremists committed more than one terrorist incident per day on average during the year, with 91 incidents resulting in 89 civilian deaths in the month of July alone. Between April and June, suspected extremists killed 298 civilians, an increase of almost 250 percent compared with the first trimester of the year. Since January more than 20,000 persons fled to neighboring countries, almost doubling the total number of refugees (38,000) in just six months, according to United Nations High Commission for Refugees’ (UNHCR) Global Focus Update for 2022.
Violent extremist groups perpetrated numerous attacks against government security forces and state-sponsored militias throughout the year (see section 1.a.). Violent extremist groups killed hundreds of members of state-sponsored militias, including more than 120 persons between February and April. Extremist groups frequently targeted state-sponsored militias, often demanding communities disband or expel the militias as a condition of ceasing attacks on the population. Local sources indicated extremist groups also targeted villagers suspected of collaborating with state-sponsored militias.
On August 18, extremists attacked a military convoy escorting civilians in the village of Boukouma, in Soum Province, Sahel Region, killing 80 persons, including 65 civilians and 15 gendarmes.
Improvised explosive device (IED) attacks sharply increased during the year. Armed groups took advantage of poor road maintenance to plant IEDs in potholes and ditches in efforts to ambush security forces and state-sponsored militias, which also led to the deaths of civilians. On March 2, an ambulance from the Djibo medical center hit an IED on the road between Djibo and Namssiguia, Sahel Region, while transporting a patient, killing six civilians. On May 20, security forces ran over an IED while on a mission in Tialbonga, Est Region. The explosion killed one soldier and wounded two others.
Extremists killed civilians to coerce local populations into following their ideology. On July 29, extremists entered the village of Ouroudjama, Sahel Region, with two hostages they had previously kidnapped. After publicly executing one of the hostages, they demanded that the local population submit to their ideology or face repercussions.
An investigation by the government continued into the 2019 attack by members of a community-based armed group (the Koglweogo) against Fulani herding communities in Yirgou outside the town of Barsalogho, an attack that killed 46 civilians.
Abductions: Extremists kidnapped dozens of civilians throughout the year, including international humanitarian aid and medical workers. The extremists sometimes kidnapped health workers for a temporary period to obtain medical assistance. They also kidnapped IDPs and local leaders.
On March 18, extremists abducted six health workers, including two women on the Sebba-Mansila road, in Yagha Province, Sahel Region. The extremists reportedly freed the two women and disappeared with the four men.
On the night of July 29, extremists kidnapped two IDPs from the IDP camp in Barsalogho, located 30 miles from Kaya, in Sanmatenga Province, Centre-Nord Region. One of the two was believed to be the leader of the IDP community. The next day extremists returned to the camp and abducted more than 40 additional individuals. In response, IDPs fled the camp.
On August 29, extremists kidnapped the town councilor of Manzourou village in Tin-Akof commune, Sahel Region. His body was found on August 30 in a field near the town. According to local sources, he was suspected by extremists for collaborating with a state-sponsored militia.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: According to the Collective against Communities’ Impunity and Stigmatization and the Burkinabe Movement for Human and People’s Rights, on several occasions state-sponsored militias tortured and beat civilians they suspected of having ties to terrorist groups, and sometimes destroyed their property (see section 1.c.).
Media reported that in July a young man accused of livestock theft was bound so tightly by the militias that doctors were later forced to amputate his hands.
Extremists also used physical abuse to coerce local populations to adopt their ideology. In December 2020 a dozen extremists armed with Kalashnikov-type rifles and whips raided the village of Doubare, approximately 12 miles from the town of Thiou, on the border with Mali, Nord Region. They whipped women who were not wearing veils at several water distribution points.
Child Soldiers: There were no reports of the government recruiting or using child soldiers. Although it was difficult to obtain precise data on groups, including extremist groups, that recruited and used children, the minister of women, national solidarity, family, and humanitarian action announced on September 13 that 374 child victims of trafficking had been rescued by the government between January and March. The minister also reported that, since the beginning of the country’s security crisis in 2015, 58 children had been arrested during military operations and handed over to social services. The government continued to detain minors for alleged association with violent extremist groups, some of whom may be trafficking victims, in a high-security prison. The number of minors detained during the year was estimated to be between five and 15.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: According to the Ministry of National Education, as of May 28, 2,244 schools were closed, affecting more than 304,500 students in several regions of the country (see section 6, Children). On January 2, extremists reportedly set fire to the primary school of Libouli, a cultural hamlet in the village of Pori, in the commune of Botou, southeast of Kantchari, Est Region.
Extremist groups also stole livestock, vehicles, and food. They attacked humanitarian convoys, looted and burned villages, and disrupted cellular telephone services to prevent local communities from calling for protection in the event of an attack. On January 18, extremists stole approximately 35 head of cattle in Wiboria, a village located 12 miles from Falagountou, Sahel Region. According to local sources, the extremists moved the cattle east towards the border with Niger. On the night of January 19, extremists allegedly entered Niaptana, a village in the commune of Sebba, Sahel Region, without causing any casualties. They reportedly fired several sporadic shots, looted, burned shops, and stole livestock. On February 10, extremists carjacked two public transport vehicles that were transporting traders on the Markoye-Tin-Akof road, in Oudalan Province, Sahel Region. After removing cell phones and cash from the passengers, assailants left with the two vehicles, including a truck full of merchant goods. A UNHCR team was attacked on May 19 as they attempted to reach Dori from the Malian refugee camp of Goudebo. Six armed assailants fired on the team’s vehicle, which was armored. The group escaped and safely reached its destination. On July 16, extremists intercepted commercial vehicles carrying food on the Dori-Gorgadji road, in Seno Province, Sahel Region. They killed one civilian, set a vehicle on fire, and stole foodstuffs. On August 5, extremists sabotaged mobile network installations in Mansila commune, Sahel Region, reportedly to disrupt telephone calls and prevent the local population from alerting state-sponsored militias in the event of an attack.
Sustained insecurity displaced approximately 1.5 million persons, according to the United Nations. Protracted displacement exacerbated food insecurity, and more than 2.9 million persons were likely to require emergency food assistance during the lean season, with displaced and inaccessible populations at increased risk. Displaced populations also lacked access to basic services, such as health care, water and sanitation, and adequate shelter, and faced protection risks. In an August 6 announcement, the governor of the Sahel Region prohibited the cultivation of certain crops, including millet, sorghum, and maize, in the main towns and near security checkpoints of the region during the rainy season. The governor claimed that these crops provided cover for extremists to hide and ambush state security forces. Media also reported that extremists also banned populations from planting crops.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media
The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government did not always respect this right. In 2019 the National Assembly voted to amend the penal code banning journalists from reporting any security-related news to preserve national security and prevent the demoralization of the military “by any means.” Attempts to “demoralize” members of the military had previously been a crime.
A 2015 law decriminalized press offenses and replaced prison sentences with substantial monetary fines. Some editors complained that few newspapers or media outlets could afford such fines. Despite the reform, journalists occasionally faced criminal prosecution for libel and other forms of harassment and intimidation.
Freedom of Expression: The 2019 revision of the penal code criminalizes communicating the position or movements of defense forces, or sites of national interest or of a strategic nature, and the publication of any terrorist crime scene without authorization. The amendment significantly increases penalties for the crime of publicly insulting another person if electronic communications are used to publish the insult; the law had previously prohibited persons from insulting the head of state or using derogatory language with respect to the office. Local and international associations of journalists called for the rejection of the amendment as an unacceptable attempt to stifle freedom of speech.
On August 9, police detained and questioned activist Zakaria Sana regarding a Facebook post he had written that appeared to encourage a coup d’etat. Sana was released and received a six-month suspended jail sentence.
On the morning of August 13, judicial police arrested Pascal Zaida, a civil society activist, accusing him of “attempting to compromise state security, inciting a rebellion, and making subversive statements.” The arrest followed an August 12 press conference in which Zaida claimed “all the conditions are in place to bring down the government.” Members of the media condemned his arrest as an example of government restrictions on freedom of expression. The police dropped the charges and released Zaida on August 17.
Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, albeit with some restrictions. Foreign radio stations broadcast without government interference.
All media are under the administrative and technical supervision of the Ministry of Communications, which is responsible for developing and implementing government policy on information and communication. The Conseil Superieur de la Communication monitored the content of local radio and television programs, newspapers, and internet websites to enforce compliance with standards of professional ethics and government policy. The council may summon journalists and issue warnings for subsequent violations. Hearings may concern alleged libel, disturbing the peace, inciting violence, or violations of state security.
Violence and Harassment: On March 15, investigative journalist Yacouba Ladji Bama was fined two million CFA francs ($3,500) after he lost a defamation suit brought against him by the ruling party. The defamation case against Bama, former editor in chief of the biweekly newspaper Courrier Confidentiel, originated from a December 2020 incident in which he claimed an attempt had been made on his life by the ruling party, allegedly in retaliation for Bama’s public assertions that the party had violated the electoral code when it distributed branded items at a campaign event in the period preceding the November 2020 presidential elections.
In March, four media organizations released a declaration expressing concern that six cases of violent attacks or other acts of intimidation against journalists in 2020 remained pending before the courts.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: In addition to prohibitions on publishing security-related information and insulting the head of state, the law prohibits the publication of shocking images or material that demonstrates lack of respect for the deceased. Journalists practiced self-censorship, fearing that publishing blatant criticism of the government could result in arrest or closure of their newspaper. Journalists were denied access to sites housing internally displaced persons during the year.
The law permits a judge, at the request of a “public minister” (prosecutor), to block internet websites or email addresses being used to spread “false information” to the public. The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet; however, the Conseil Superieur de la Communication and the chief prosecutor monitored internet websites and discussion forums to enforce compliance with regulations. Claiming national security interests, the government disabled the mobile data network providing access to the internet via mobile devices on several occasions, including in November for a period of one week.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. Extremist groups threatened civilians with beatings or death for listening to music.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government at times restricted these rights.
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
Political parties and labor unions may hold meetings and rallies without government permission, although advance notification and approval are required for public demonstrations that may affect traffic or threaten public order. If a demonstration or rally results in violence, injury, or significant property damage, penalties for the organizers include six months’ to five years’ imprisonment and substantial fines. These penalties may be doubled for conviction of organizing an unauthorized rally or demonstration. Demonstrators may appeal denials or imposed modifications of a proposed march route or schedule before the courts.
On November 27, protests in Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso organized by civil society activists turned violent. Dozens of persons reportedly were injured as security forces used tear gas to disperse the protesters, and protesters threw rocks at security forces and ransacked public buildings, including the ruling party’s headquarters and Ouagadougou’s city hall. On November 24, Ouagadougou’s mayor released a statement cautioning would-be protesters that they did not have a permit and security forces could be called in to respond to the illegal protest. Protest organizers disputed the mayor’s statement, noting they submitted their application to demonstrate within the 72-hour deadline mandated by law. On November 29, authorities arrested Pascal Zaida, a civil society activist who helped organize protests. Authorities arrested additional participants in the following days. At year’s end all protesters had been released.
c. Freedom of Religion
d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country
The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
In-country Movement: The government required citizens to carry a national identity document, and it authorized officials to request the document at any time. Without a national identity card, citizens could not pass between certain regions of the country and were subject to arrest and fines.
Of the country’s 13 regions, 96 percent of registered IDPs were in six regions: Nord, Boucle du Mouhoun, Centre-Nord, Nord, Est, and Centre-Est. The Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, Family, and Humanitarian Affairs publicly stated that IDPs could not register in Ouagadougou, and humanitarian actors were prevented from providing assistance to IDPs in the capital city.
Armed extremists restricted movement of thousands of rural inhabitants throughout the country by planting IEDs on major highways, hijacking vehicles, and setting up checkpoints. In response to dozens of attacks by unknown armed groups presumed to be extremists, local authorities instituted a ban on motorcycle traffic from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. in the Est, Sahel, and Nord Regions.
e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons
Recurrent armed attacks and interethnic clashes throughout the country resulted in the displacement of more than 1.42 million persons as of August 31, up from approximately 560,000 registered IDPs in December 2019 (see section 1.g.). The country registered more than 56,000 new IDPs in July. As of August 31, 60 percent of the internally displaced persons were children, 23 percent were women, and 16 percent were men. Protracted displacement and vulnerability exacerbated the conditions that caused food insecurity. More than 2.9 million persons were estimated to require emergency food assistance during the June-to-August lean season, when household food supplies are lowest, according to the World Food Program. IDPs were concentrated in urban areas, leading to overcrowding, pressure on basic services, and growing social tensions between IDPs and host communities. There were reports of sexual exploitation of IDPs by host community leaders in exchange for food.
The government promoted the safe, voluntary, and dignified return, resettlement, or local integration of IDPs. The government had policies and protections for IDPs in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.
At times the government denied humanitarian NGOs or international organizations access to IDPs. During a September 13 press conference, the minister of humanitarian affairs criticized international NGOs that had criticized the government’s humanitarian response. The minister’s comments were a response to complaints by NGOs, including the Norwegian Refugee Council, that the government’s “slow and insufficient humanitarian response” was endangering IDPs and other vulnerable individuals. The Norwegian Refugee Council claimed local authorities did not have sufficient capacity to register IDPs in a timely manner, which prevented relief organizations from providing needed assistance. The minister responded that her ministry had “sole responsibility for the registration of IDPs.” In a September 22 letter, the minister suspended the Norwegian Refugee Council’s access to IDP sites for “discrediting the government.” The government lifted the suspension on October 21 following a public apology by the group.
Humanitarian partners continued to respond to the crisis with life-saving assistance targeting 2.9 million persons, or 14 percent of the country’s population. The government, through its National Council for Emergency Assistance and Rehabilitation, operated with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and its partners to assess, plan, and respond to the crisis.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: President Roch Marc Christian Kabore was re-elected to a second five-year term with 57.74 percent of the popular vote in the November 2020 national elections. His party, the People’s Movement for Progress, won 56 of the 127 seats in the National Assembly, remaining the largest party in a legislative majority coalition with smaller parties. The Congress for Democracy and Progress, the party of longtime former president Blaise Compaore, ousted in a popular uprising in 2014, became the largest opposition party with 20 seats. Some leading opposition candidates alleged irregularities and fraud but acknowledged the results and urged a “spirit of political dialogue.” National and international observers characterized the elections as peaceful and “satisfactory,” while noting logistical problems on election day and a lack of access to the polls for many citizens due to insecurity, including the majority of IDPs of voting age. The government had earlier declared that voting would take place only in areas where security could be guaranteed.
The National Assembly adopted a bill in August 2020 to modify the electoral law. This new electoral law stipulates that in the event of force majeure or exceptional circumstances duly noted by the Constitutional Council, resulting in the impossibility of organizing the elections in a part of the territory, the elections shall be validated on the basis of results from those polling stations open on election day. This modification, which was approved with the support of the ruling coalition as well as key segments of the parliamentary opposition, was nonetheless criticized by part of the political class and civil society organizations, since it allows for the exclusion of many voters living in insecure areas of the country.
Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties generally operated freely. In September 2020 the Minister of Territorial Administration, Decentralization, and Social Cohesion, in application of the electoral code, made public the list of political parties authorized to participate in the November 2020 presidential and legislative elections. According to the communique, 143 political parties and three political formations were legally constituted.
The 2015 electoral code approved by the National Transitional Council stipulated the exclusion of certain members of the former political majority. The code stated that persons who “supported an anti-constitutional change that led to a popular uprising” were ineligible to be candidates in future elections. The electoral law allows all political candidates to run for election and opened the vote to members of the Burkinabe diaspora in possession of a national identity card or passport.
Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Parties and government officials stated women were less engaged in politics due to cultural and traditional factors. Although the gender quota law requires political parties to name women to fill at least 30 percent of the positions on their candidate lists in legislative and municipal elections, no political party met this requirement in the November 2020 elections. In March 2020 a new law establishing “zebra lists” mandated that electoral lists alternate names of men and women to better achieve a 30 percent quota. The law includes positive incentives for political parties respecting the quota but no penalties for those who do not abide by the law. Monique Yeli Kam, of the Burkina Rebirth Movement, was the only female candidate among 14 certified as eligible for the November 2020 presidential election. Following the 2020 legislative elections and the formation of a new government, women held 19 of 127 seats in the National Assembly after the elections (compared with 14 women in the previous National Assembly). Of 18,602 city councilors, 2,359 were women.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year, including cases of misappropriation, fraud, or other offenses. The NGO National Network for Anti-Corruption cited the customs, police, and General Directorate of Land and Maritime Transport as the most corrupt entities in the government.
Corruption: Authorities opened an investigation of Seydou Zagre, the president’s chief of staff, for money laundering. He answered the summons of the investigating judge of the Ouagadougou Court on June 18. The investigation continued at year’s end.
Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
A variety of domestic and international human rights groups operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were cooperative and somewhat responsive to their views. In September the minister of humanitarian affairs suspended the activities of the Norwegian Refugee Council in IDP sites for criticizing the government’s humanitarian response (see section 2.d.).
The United Nations or Other International Bodies: On October 6, the minister of foreign affairs and the UN country representative for human rights signed a Memorandum of Understanding for opening a UN Human Rights Office, which the government had originally approved in May 2020.
Government Human Rights Bodies: During the year the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights organized several training sessions for security forces on the laws of armed conflict, provided assistance to victims of extremist and gender-based violence, and organized antistigmatization and social cohesion campaigns. The government sometimes assigned gendarmes as provost marshals to accompany deployed troops during military operations to verify detainees were afforded proper treatment and promptly taken before a military magistrate.
The Office of the Ombudsman addresses citizen complaints regarding government entities and other bodies entrusted with a public service mission. The ombudsman, whom the president appoints for a nonrenewable five-year term and who may not be removed during the term, was generally viewed as effective and impartial.
The government-funded National Commission on Human Rights provides a permanent framework for dialogue on human rights concerns. Its members include 15 representatives of human rights NGOs, unions, professional associations, and the government. In March the National Assembly adopted a bill that gives the commission the authority to act in matters regarding torture, strengthens the independence of commissioners, and, for the first time, sets aside funds to guarantee commissioners’ salaries. The bill also authorizes funds to reimburse commissioners for the previous three years’ salaries, which had not been paid.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
Long-standing conflicts between Fulani (Peuhl) herders and sedentary farmers of other ethnic groups sometimes resulted in violence. Incidents were commonly triggered by herders allowing their cattle to graze on farmlands or by farmers attempting to cultivate land set aside by local authorities for grazing. Government efforts at dialogue and mediation contributed to a decrease in such incidents.
Allegations continued of extrajudicial killings, torture, and violations of due process and basic human rights by state-sponsored militias, particularly against the Fulani community (see section 1.g.). While senior officials, including President Kabore, appeared politically committed to reinforcing respect for human rights and holding abusers accountable, the government lacked capacity to address the growing case load of such allegations.
Many observers, including the Collective against Impunity and Stigmatization of Communities, noted an ethnic dynamic underscoring the violence in the country. Armed groups often recruited from the Fulani community, while most men allegedly killed by state-sponsored militias were Fulani because of their perceived support of extremist groups.
There were reports the state-sponsored militias did not incorporate Fulani into their ranks, nor did Fulani seek to be included among the militias. This dynamic underscored the precarious situation for the Fulani, who lacked security in their community but were excluded from the state’s security effort, thereby fueling a perception of or actual experience of marginalization among the Fulani. The government conducted media campaigns to change attitudes toward the Fulani community. It sponsored several media outreach efforts and awareness campaigns against the stigmatization of ethnic groups. In what observers understood to be a reference to the Fulani, President Kabore spoke against the “stigmatization of entire communities” on several occasions.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law allows workers to form and join independent unions, except for public employees and essential workers, such as magistrates, police, military, and other security personnel. The law provides unions the right to conduct their activities without interference.
The law provides for the right to strike, although it significantly limits that right. For strikes that call on workers to stay home and that do not entail participation in a rally, the union is required to provide eight to 15 days’ advance notice to the employer. If unions call for a march, they must provide three days’ advance notice to the city mayor. Authorities hold march organizers accountable for any property damage or destruction that occurs during a demonstration. The law strictly prohibits all strikes that include occupying the workplace, including nonviolent strikes. The law also gives the government extensive requisitioning powers, authorizing it to requisition private- and public-sector workers to secure minimum service in essential services. The government defined essential services more broadly than international standards, including services such as mining and quarrying, university centers, and slaughterhouses.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and allows a labor inspector to reinstate immediately workers fired because of their union activities. Relevant legal protections cover all workers, including migrants, workers in the informal sector, and domestic workers. International organizations reported that contract workers and agency workers faced antiunion discrimination from employers. The law provides for freedom of association and collective bargaining. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The law lists sanctions for violations, including warnings, penalties, suspension, or dissolution. Penalties consist of imprisonment and fines and vary depending on the gravity of the violation. Penalties were not commensurate with those for comparable offenses. Amendments to the law award a legal existence to labor unions of NGOs, create a commission of mediation, and require that associations abide by the law concerning funding terrorism and money laundering. The law also states that no one may serve as the head of a political party and the head of an association at the same time.
The government generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. The government generally respected the right of unions to conduct activities without interference. Unions have the right to bargain directly with employers and industry associations for wages and other benefits. Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties. There were no reports of strikebreaking during the year. Government resources to enforce labor laws were not sufficient to protect workers’ rights.
Employers did not always respect freedom of association and sometimes discouraged union membership. For example, workers in the mining industry were often intimidated, transferred, or fired when they chose to join a union. According to union officials, workers in the domestic service, contract worker, or informal sector who attempted to join unions lost their jobs if their employers learned of their action.
There were no reports of government restrictions on collective bargaining during the year. There was extensive collective bargaining in the formal wage sector, where workers utilized complaint processes to report worker rights violations. National unions reported that domestic workers, workers hired through employment agencies and subcontractors, and other contract workers were fired for joining unions and were unable to utilize complaint mechanisms because they were employed in the informal wage sector. No official records counted violations in the informal sector.