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As Conflict Spreads to South Burkina Faso, So Do Human Rights Abuses

As Conflict Spreads in Burkina Faso, So Do Accusations of Human Rights Abuses
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Burkina Faso's six-year conflict with terrorist groups has spread to the southwest of the country and is beginning to spill into neighboring countries. The conflict is also sparking accusations of human rights abuses.

Binta Sangare, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, says armed men entered her house one night in November, shouting and shining flashlights on her.

She says they kidnapped her husband and disappeared into the night.

She says, just after the men left, she heard gunshots and that seven people were killed that night. Local people found the bodies of six and the last one a few days later. Her husband’s body was among them and later buried.

She says the men who took her husband away were Burkinabe security forces. At her husband’s funeral, they came again and detained people from the Fulani ethnic group, she says.

“They came to kidnap and kill without cause or investigation. That makes us scared every day,” she told VOA.

Burkina Faso has been battling armed groups linked to Islamic State and al-Qaida for six years.

In the last year, the conflict has spread south. Reports of extrajudicial killings by Burkinabe forces — known as the FDS — have increased.

Rights groups say there is a common misconception that Fulanis are behind many of the terror attacks and say Fulanis make up the majority of victims of pro-government forces.

VOA spoke with seven witnesses in the southwest municipality of Djigoue, who said relatives were abducted or killed by security forces in November. Some alleged that government-backed civilian militia groups, or VDP’s, have been involved in the deaths and disappearances.

One witness, whose identity has also been protected, said the Dozos, a militia group, shot and killed his nephew. He says terror attacks have increased and security forces are relying on the Dozos to maintain security.

He says the FDS are staying in their bases and letting the Dozos go out into the bush… “At first the FDS were accompanied by the Dozos, and they were interrogating all ethnic groups. But, since things are in [the Dozos’] hands, they are only interested in the Fulani,” he added.

One Burkinabe human rights group — The Collective Against Impunity and the Stigmatization of Communities — says 17 people were murdered in Djigoue in November.

In a VOA interview, the group’s founder called on leaders to act.

He urges them to suspend the operations of the VDPs and the armed civilians, adding that the group strongly hopes leaders take into account the international respect of human rights and the sacredness of human life.

Human Rights Watch says the FDS — which took power from a democratically elected government in January — has carried out many extrajudicial killings since the conflict began.

“To the best of my knowledge, no one, no security force members have been held accountable for these very serious allegations of abuses in counter terrorism operations.”

The FDS did not respond to a request for comment.