The United Nations’ human rights chief has called for increased efforts to protect the vulnerable in Burkina Faso’s growing conflict with Islamist militants. Rights groups say Burkina Faso has struggled to uphold human rights during its long-running conflict with armed groups linked to Islamic State and al-Qaida.
Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, held a press conference in Ouagadougou Wednesday at the end of a three-day visit to Burkina Faso. It was the first time a U.N. human rights chief had visited the country. Her office said in October it was setting up a presence in the country to support the government.
Bachelet noted the “challenging context,” of a six-year conflict with armed groups linked to al-Qaida, the Islamic State group and local banditry. She cited allegations of summary executions, abductions, forced disappearances and sexual violence by violent extremist groups, local defense groups, national security and defense forces, among others.
A woman who escaped the unrest told Muhabarishaji earlier this year about how her husband was abducted one night from an internally displaced persons camp close to the town of Ouahigouya.
Asked who took her husband, she said, “I don’t know if they were volunteers or security, but I know they weren’t terrorists.” She added, “The only thing I want right now is to be sure that nothing will happen to me and my family. The message I have for the government is to make sure that we stay alive, where we are now.”
Burkinabe authorities did not respond to a request for an interview on this abduction.
Rights groups have said that extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances by security forces are widespread in Burkina Faso, with hundreds of families having lost relatives
Asked what the new U.N. human rights office could do to prevent attacks on the civilian population, Bachelet said this.
“We believe that these attacks must stop immediately. Those attacks against the population and the population must be protected … And today with the civil society groups they said justice is important. That is why we have said to the government that all perpetrators be brought to justice,” she said.
So far, no one in Burkina Faso has been convicted of extrajudicial killings against civilians.
Daouda Diallo runs the Collective Against Impunity and the Stigmatization of Communities, a Burkinabe human rights group.
He told Muhabarishaji it is important to respect the commitments of Burkina Faso at the regional and international levels because it has signed up to the universal declaration of human rights.
Most human rights abuses, however, are being carried out by armed groups, not security forces. Ousmane Diallo a researcher on Burkina Faso for Amnesty International says “the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara has willfully targeted civilians and committed mass atrocities against them. I think one of the most symbolic cases was the attack on Solhan in June 2021.”
At the beginning of June, Burkina Faso saw its worst terrorist attack on civilians since the conflict with armed groups linked to al-Qaida and Islamic State started. At least 138 people were killed in the village of Solhan.