Burkina Faso army executed over 220 villagers in February, HRW says

By Thomson Reuters Apr 25, 2024 | 10:41 AM

DAKAR (Reuters) – Burkina Faso’s military in February summarily executed about 223 villagers, including at least 56 children, as part of a campaign against civilians accused of collaborating with jihadist militants, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Thursday.

The watchdog made the assertions in a report based on its own investigation into the reported execution of around 170 people in attacks on three villages in Burkina Faso’s northern Yatenga province in late February. A regional prosecutor based in the provincial capital Ouahigouya first flagged the killings in a statement on March 1.

The spokesperson for the Burkina Faso government did not respond to phone calls seeking comment on the HRW report. The ministry of defence did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Facebook and via email. A telephone number for the ministry listed on its website did not exist.

The attacks on the villages of Komsilga, Nodin and Soro were attributed to unidentified assailants, the prosecutor said in the statement, adding that an investigation had been launched.

As with previous cases of extrajudicial killings in the country, no official findings have been released.

Rights groups have previously accused the military in junta-ruled Burkina Faso of attacking and killing civilians suspected of collaborating with militants in retaliatory operations.

The executions coincided with a Feb. 25 report on Burkina Faso national television about a major attack on military targets in Yatenga, one of several areas affected by violent Islamist groups active in the north of Burkina and other Sahel nations.

Authorities have previously denied reports of soldiers killing civilians.

Human Rights Watch interviewed 23 people by telephone between Feb. 28 and March 31, including witnesses to the killings, local civil society activists and international organizations. It also verified footage shared by survivors.

Witnesses said more than 100 soldiers went to the village of Nodin and then to the nearby village of Soro on Feb. 25, where they killed residents in retaliation for a jihadist attack on a military camp about 25 km (15 miles) away.

The soldiers went door-to-door, ordering people out of their homes and rounding them up before opening fire, HRW said in its report, citing witnesses.

Survivors and people who helped bury the bodies compiled two lists with a total 223 victims from Nodin and Soro. Most were buried in mass graves.

“The Burkinabe army has repeatedly committed mass atrocities against civilians in the name of fighting terrorism with almost no one held to account,” HRW executive director Tirana Hassan said in the report.

The watchdog has called on authorities to investigate the massacres and to do so with support from the African Union and the United Nations for independence and impartiality.

Burkina Faso is one of several Sahel nations that have been struggling to contain Islamist insurgencies linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State that have spread from neighbouring Mali since 2012, killing thousands and displacing millions.

Frustrations over authorities’ failure to protect civilians have contributed to two coups in Mali, two in Burkina Faso and one in Niger since 2020.

Rights groups have also accused Mali’s army of using retaliatory tactics on civilians, which it denies.

(Reporting by Sofia Christensen; Editing by Bate Felix, William Maclean)