a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were numerous reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary and unlawful killings. Multiple independent domestic and international human rights groups accused the security forces (FDS) of committing hundreds of extrajudicial killings of civilians as part of its counterterrorism strategy (section 1.g.). On July 14, 11 detainees died under the custody of the antidrug police unit in Ouagadougou.
On May 31, Fahadou Cisse and Hama Balima, two human rights defenders with the Organization for Democratic Youth in Burkina Faso, were abducted in Sebba in Yagha Province while researching a case of alleged government corruption. Prominent local human rights organizations alleged gendarmes were responsible for their deaths. As of August 20, the government had not released the results of their autopsies or opened an investigation into their deaths.
Terrorists carried out approximately 300 attacks, targeting members of government security forces and civilians. For example, on October 11, terrorists killed 16 worshippers in a mosque in the town of Salmossi in the northern Oudalon Province. On August 19, approximately 50 members of terrorist groups ISGS, JNIM, or Ansaroul Islam on motorcycles and trucks with mounted machine guns attacked the Koutougou military outpost, killing 24 soldiers and wounding dozens more (section 1.g.).
There were several accounts of criminal groups working in concert with terrorist organizations and drug traffickers killing gendarme, police, and park rangers, especially in the East Region of the country. For example, on September 6, unidentified armed individuals attacked a forest ranger position located in the Boucle du Mouhoun Region, killing the commander.
On January 2, members of Koglweogo attacked a string of ethnic Fulani herding communities outside the town of Barsalogho, killing 46 civilians, according to the government, or 216 civilians, according to civil society groups, resulting in mass displacement of local communities. The attack occurred in retribution against Fulani herding communities the Koglweogo suspected of having provided shelter to purported terrorists allegedly responsible for the January 1 killings of a local village chief and two of his children.
According to the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Collective Torture and Impunity and Community Stigmatization (CISC), on May 22, members of the Batie Gendarmerie arrested and severely beat Diakite Saliou. Family members recovered his corpse on May 24 at University Hospital Center Souro Sanon.
There were numerous reports of disappearances of civilians who were suspected of committing acts of terrorism, during counterterrorism military operations by security forces. According to CISC, on April 25, Ousseni Diallo and Souleymane Diallo disappeared after being interdicted by security forces. The Directorate of Military Justice continued its investigation of extrajudicial killings and disappearances of civilians in the village of Damba in 2017 and 2018 but, as of September 5, had not made any arrests. During a March military operation to dismantle terrorist networks in the eastern region, the military appointed human rights provosts to some deployed units, who sought to ensure that detainees captured during the operation received their due process rights.
Terrorists and criminal groups kidnapped dozens of civilians, including humanitarian aid workers (see section 1.g.). In December 2018 a Canadian citizen and an Italian citizen disappeared while travelling through the southwestern region of the country toward the border with Togo.
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 gendarmerie, police, and members of the Koglweogo. The majority of allegations of torture involved victims suspected of being linked with terrorists or of being of Fulani/Peuhl ethnicity.
According to local independent human rights groups, on April 4, Koglweogo abducted and tortured 11 persons in Tchambalawal before releasing them to the gendarmerie. Fatoumata Dicko, a 42-year old man, died from his wounds.
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. Some infants and children younger than age five accompanied their inmate mothers. 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 local NGOs and international human rights and protection organizations, at least five deaths of inmates occurred during the year at the Central Prison in Ouagadougou (MACO) and the High Security Prison in Ouagadougou resulting from a combination of poor health, illness, and other undisclosed causes.
There were no appropriate facilities or installations for prisoners or detainees with disabilities, who relied on other inmates for assistance.
A human rights 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 more than 800 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: President Kabore ordered an administrative and a judicial investigation of the 11 detainee deaths at the police antidrug unit that occurred on July 14 and a temporary dismissal of prison guards under the antidrug unit who were on duty when the deaths occurred. The government immediately suspended the members of the unit on shift during the incident pending the conclusion of the investigation. A new policy caps the number of detainees held at the National Police’s Anti-Drug Unit detention facility at 10, with any additional detainees transferred to a different police station in Ouagadougou.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. Due to strikes by prison guards, prison authorities sometimes denied access to representatives of local and international human rights groups, media, foreign embassies, and the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit prisons, even with advance notice of the visit.
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, largely due to protracted strikes by civil servants, deterred detainees from challenging the lawfulness of their arrest in court.
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: Local independent rights groups alleged that security forces regularly arbitrarily arrested individuals 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.
Pretrial Detention: 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. A lack of counsel specialized in criminal law, particularly defense lawyers willing to represent detainees arrested on terrorism charges, greatly contributed to delays in bringing cases to trial. 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.
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 NGOs. There were no instances in which the trial outcomes appeared predetermined, and authorities respected court orders. Legal codes remained outdated, there were not enough courts, and legal costs were excessive. Citizens’ poor knowledge of their rights further weakened their ability to obtain justice.
Military courts try cases involving military personnel charged with violating the military code of conduct. 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 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 popular ignorance of the law and a continuing shortage of magistrates and court-appointed lawyers.
The Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Civic Promotion claimed courts usually tried cases within three months, although human rights organizations reported major case backlogs. The 2011 “processing of criminal penalties in real time” reform to shorten pretrial detention allows the prosecutor and investigators (police and gendarmerie) to process a case prior to the criminal hearing. This countrywide approach allows authorities to inform defendants of the charges and trial date before authorities release them pending trial.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees during the year, although some arrests and detentions may have been politically motivated.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
There is an independent judiciary in civil matters, but it was often 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. In June the National Assembly passed revisions to the penal code that permit 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 investigations techniques are new in the legal framework. The national intelligence service is authorized to use technology for surveillance, national security, and counterterrorism purposes.
In December 2018 President Kabore declared a state of emergency in 14 provinces within seven of the country’s 13 administrative regions that 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 on July 11 for an additional six months.
According to international and local independent rights groups, the military employed informant systems to generate lists of suspected terrorists based on anecdotal evidence.
g. Abuses in Internal Conflict
Killings: There were at least 500 security force members and civilians that died as a result of actions by armed groups and terrorist groups, including ISGS, JNIM, and Ansaroul Islam, as well as more than 200 deaths of civilians allegedly resulting from the security forces’ counterinsurgency efforts.
According to Human Rights Watch, from August 2018 through March, security forces executed at least 116 civilians within a 30-mile radius of the town of Arbinda, whom they suspected of supporting or harboring terrorists. The Burkinabe Movement for Human Rights (MBDHP), a credible local human rights organization, documented 60 civilian deaths in Kahn and Bahn after a February 4 counterterrorist military operation executed by the security forces.
On March 18, during a counterterrorism military operation in the east, five civilians, four of whom were minors, were unintentionally killed by security force gunfire near the Boungou and Lopadi villages.
An investigation opened by the government in 2017 regarding allegations by Human Rights Watch of extrajudicial killings by soldiers in Damba remained open, with no arrests or charges made.
On June 9, dozens of armed unidentified gunmen, presumed to be terrorists by the government, killed at least 19 and injured 13 others in Arbinda in the north. On April 26, terrorists attacked a school in the village of Maitaougou, killing six civilians, including five teachers.
On May 12, terrorists attacked a Catholic church in the town of Dablo, killing six and wounding dozens more. On August 19, terrorist groups attacked the Koutougou military base located in the northwest, killing 24 soldiers and wounding dozens more.
On November 3, terrorists killed the mayor of Djibo and member of the National Parliament, Oumarou Dicko, along with three other passengers travelling by vehicle southward from Djibo towards Ouagadougou.
On November 6, terrorists killed 39 employees of the SEMAFO mining company in the East Region in a roadside ambush using an improvised explosive device and gunfire, injuring 60 others.
During the year terrorists killed seven municipal councilors.
On January 1, members of Koglweogo attacked a herding encampment outside the town of Yirgou, killing 49 ethnic Fulani civilians, according to the government, or more than 200 Fulani civilians, according to international aid organizations and local NGOs. The attack resulted in mass internal displacement of an estimated 25,000 civilians in the Center-North Region.
Abductions: Terrorists kidnapped dozens of civilians throughout the year, including international humanitarian aid and medical workers. For example, on February 2, terrorists kidnapped four Red Cross workers deployed on a humanitarian mission from their marked vehicle. In April terrorists belonging to ISIS kidnapped four international travelers, including a U.S. citizen, holding them hostage between one to four weeks before they were liberated by French special forces on May 9. In addition, terrorists kidnapped one mayor and two other municipal counselors.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: According to Human Rights Watch and MBDHP, on several occasions, security force members tortured and beat civilians they suspected of having ties to terrorist groups, sometimes destroying their property. According to witnesses, in early August terrorists raped four women in the village of Naafo.
Other Conflict–related Abuse: Throughout the year armed groups and terrorists attacked medical facilities and hijacked ambulances and official vehicles of humanitarian and medical aid workers. Local authorities in the Sahel, North, and East Regions reported terrorists displaced thousands of civilians and limited movement in rural areas. On February 14, a bomb hidden in a corpse dressed in military uniform killed an army doctor and wounded two police officers. In July armed assailants, most likely belonging to violent extremist organizations Ansaroul Islam or JNIM, attempted to blow up a bridge connecting Djibo, the capital of Soum Province, to the rest of the country. On September 8, terrorists attacked a United Nations World Food Program convoy transporting food and materials for internally displaced persons (IDPs), killed two contracted civilian drivers, and seized and destroyed all materials.