Burkina Faso is a constitutional republic led by an elected president. In 2015 the country held peaceful and orderly presidential and legislative elections, marking a major milestone in a transition to democracy. President Roch Mark Christian Kabore won with 53 percent of the popular vote, and his party–the People’s Movement for Progress–won 55 seats in the 127-seat National Assembly. National and international observers characterized the elections as free and fair.
Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces.
Human rights issues included arbitrary deprivation of life by violent extremist organizations; torture and degrading treatment by security forces and vigilante groups; arbitrary detention by security personnel; life-threatening detention conditions; official corruption; violence against women; and forced labor and sex trafficking, including of children.
The government investigated and punished some cases of abuse, but impunity for human rights abuses remained a problem. The government investigated alleged violations by vigilante groups and security forces but in most cases did not prosecute them.
More than 50 terrorist attacks throughout the country resulted in dozens of deaths, particularly of security personnel and local government officials, kidnappings, and the displacement of civilians, especially in the Sahel Region, located in the northernmost part of the country. As of May forced closures of more than 473 schools affected more than 64,659 students.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
Unknown assailants, but assumed to belong in some capacity to violent extremist organizations, waged attacks on security forces throughout the year. These included attacks on law enforcement, military, customs, and park ranger outposts, patrols, and the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) detonated under security vehicles. On March 2, in downtown Ouagadougou, terrorist organization Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) attacked National Army Headquarters and the French embassy, killing eight security personnel. Between August and October, dozens of Burkinabe, including three civilians, died in attacks conducted in the Est Region.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law prohibit such practices; in 2014 the National Assembly adopted a law to define and prohibit torture and all related practices.
On February 19, a provincial director of the national police, Alexandres Kawasse, assaulted an 11-year-old girl at his residence. His subordinates reported him, resulting in his arrest on February 23. Authorities relieved him of his duties and charged him with assault on a minor; a judicial police investigation was ongoing at year’s end.
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: Authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. Female prisoners had better conditions than those of men, in large part due to less crowding. Prisoners received two meals a day, but diets were inadequate, and inmates often relied on supplemental food from relatives. In some prisons overcrowding or severe overcrowding exacerbated inadequate ventilation, although some cells had electricity and some inmates had fans. Sanitation was rudimentary.
According to prison administration officials and medical staff, no prisoner deaths occurred during the year at the Central Prison in Ouagadougou (MACO) or the High Security Prison in Ouagadougou.
There were no appropriate facilities or installations for prisoners or detainees with disabilities, who relied on other inmates for assistance.
A human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) reported that prison guards at the MACO occasionally used excessive physical force, inflicting injuries on prisoners.
Food, potable water, sanitation, heating, ventilation, lighting, and medical care were inadequate in the majority of 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 673 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.
Local media regularly reported on cases of detainees who had spent more than one year without trial.
Administration: There were no reports that authorities failed to investigate credible allegations of inhuman prison conditions.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. Prison authorities regularly granted permission to representatives of local and international human rights groups, media, foreign embassies, and the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit prisons without advance notice.
Improvements: In November 2017 the Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Civic Promotion sent a team to assess prison conditions and interview detainees, convicted prisoners, and prison guards in 95 percent of the country’s prisons and detention centers. Throughout the year the government funded an awareness and training campaign for prison administration staff. To address overcrowding, the government funded a building expansion at the prison in Bobo-Dioulasso. As of October, however, there was no evidence that these measures effectively reduced overcrowding. During the year the ministry also appointed a special advisor for gender and vulnerable populations in prisons.
To improve detention conditions, improve prisoner health, and facilitate social reintegration of prisoners, the Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Civic Promotion launched a three-year prison reform project with EU support. Prison administration officials allowed NGOs and religious organizations regular access to prisoners to provide supplementary psychological and medical care.
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, and judicial corruption and inadequate staffing of the judiciary deterred detainees from challenging the lawfulness of their arrest in court.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The Ministry of Internal Security and the Ministry of Defense are responsible for internal security. The Ministry of Internal Security includes the National Police and the gendarmerie. The army, which operates within the Ministry of Defense, is responsible for external security but sometimes assists with missions related to domestic security. Use of excessive force, corruption, widespread impunity, and lack of training contributed to police ineffectiveness. The government announced some investigations were in progress, and others had resulted in prosecutions. Inadequate resources also impeded police effectiveness.
The Military Justice Administration examines all cases involving killings by military personnel or gendarmes to determine whether they occurred in the line of duty or were otherwise justifiable. The administration refers cases deemed outside the line of duty or unjustifiable to civilian courts. Civilian courts automatically handle killings involving police. The gendarmerie is responsible for investigating abuse by police and gendarmes, but it rarely made public the results of its investigations.
NGOs and the Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Civic Promotion conducted numerous training activities on human rights for security forces throughout the year.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
By law police and gendarmes must 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. By law 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. A judge may order temporary release without bail pending trial. Authorities seldom respected these rights. The law does not provide detainees access to family members, although authorities generally allowed detainees such access 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 rarely observed 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: On August 29, elite security forces arrested political and web activist Safiatou Lopez, an outspoken critic of the government, without a warrant, encircling her house at nightfall and flying an intelligence drone overhead. Without presenting any evidence, authorities charged her with an attempt to “destabilize the state.” At year’s end she remained in detention.
Pretrial Detention: Authorities estimated 46 percent of prisoners nationwide were in pretrial status. In some cases authorities held detainees without charge or trial for longer periods than the maximum sentence for conviction of the alleged offense. A pretrial release (release on bail) system exists, although the extent of its use was unknown.
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.