Rights watchdog lashes Burkina over army 'abuses'

Ouagadougou, Burkina FasoUpdated: May 21, 2018, 06:10 PM IST

An official said It was 'the biggest jihadist attack ever perpetrated' against the army. (Representative Image) Photograph:(AFP)

Security forces in Burkina Faso have carried out extra-judicial killings, arbitrary arrests and other abuses in their campaign against terrorism, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Monday.

A 60-page report by the US-based watchdog said Sahel villagers found themselves caught between jihadists, who threatened to kill those who collaborated with the government, and the security forces, who expected local people to give them information about the insurgents.

HRW said it had documented the execution-style killing by Islamists of 19 men from 12 villages who had been accused of providing tips to the security forces.

On the government's side, witnesses implicated the security forces in "at least" 14 alleged summary executions and said four other men died in custody from mistreatment.

"Many witnesses described seeing bodies -– often blindfolded and with their hands bound -– along local roads and footpaths in northern Burkina Faso," the report said.

"The majority of victims were last seen in the custody of government security forces." 

Northern Burkina Faso has been in the grip of a jihadist insurgency since 2016.

Armed groups including Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) have attacked army bases, police and gendarme posts and carried out a campaign of intimidation against officials and teachers.

The violence has killed scores of people and driven over 12,000 from their homes, HRW said.

The fatalities include 47 civilians murdered by jihadists in two attacks in the capital Ouagadougou in 2016 and 2017.

"The growing insecurity in Burkina Faso has led to terrible crimes by both armed Islamists and state security forces,” said Corinne Dufka, HRW's Sahel director. 

"The government should follow through on its important commitment to investigate alleged abuses by state forces, and the armed Islamists should stop attacking and threatening civilians."

Responding to the accusations, Defence Minister Jean-Claude Bouda said that he was already "aware of certain allegations of abuses" against civilians in counter-terrorism operations.

"The government undertakes to carry out inquiries into all the cases of abuse referred to (in the report) which had not already been brought to its attention," Bouda said.