A Burkina Faso rights group on Thursday, March 14 accused the military of carrying out the “summary execution” of at least 60 people during a counter-terror operation last month.
On February 4, the Burkinabe army said it had “neutralised 146 terrorists” following an attack that killed 14 civilians near the country’s northern border with Mali.
But an investigation by the Burkinabé Movement for Human and Peoples’ Rights (MBDHP) found no evidence of any fighting in the area.
“We were able to confirm on the ground that there were cases of summary executions of at least 60 people out of the 146,” MBDHP’s president Chrysogone Zougmore told a press conference.
Most of the fatalities were from the nomadic Fulani herding community, the group said, citing relatives and locals it had interviewed.
No sign of fighting
The military had said land and air operations were conducted in northern areas of Kain and Banh in Loroum Province, north, and Bomboro in Kossi Province, but Zougmore said they found no evidence of any fighting there.
“We were told there was fighting which led to the neutralisation of 146 people. We searched the combat zones, and found no sign of this.”
“On the other hand, we picked up an enormous quantity of shell casings near the homes of the people who were killed,” he said.
“Clearly … these people were, in fact, executed.”
Such “summary and extra-judicial executions” were “extremely serious,” he said.
The NGO also questioned the military’s original motive for the operation – the purported killing of 14 civilians by terrorists in the district of Kain, in Yatenta province.
“We approached the people in those areas, and they said that… nobody in their area had been killed” on the dates cited by the army, said Zougmore.
Military judicial investigators have opened an inquiry into the incident, as has the justice ministry, AFP reported.
But the statement added that “while waiting for the results of the investigations by the military justice system, the version of the facts is the one communicated by the military.”
The latest allegations follow a Human Rights Watch report last year, which said the armed forces had carried out extrajudicial killings during counter-terror operations in 2017 and 2018.
State of emergency
One of the poorest countries in the world, Burkina Faso has been battling an escalating wave of attacks over the last three years, beginning in the North region near the border with Mali.
Attacks have spread to the East region, near the border with Togo, Benin and Niger, and to a lesser extent, the west of the country.
Most attacks are attributed to the jihadist group Ansar ul Islam, which emerged near the Mali border in December 2016, and to the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (JNIM), which has sworn allegiance to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Both civilians and security forces have paid a heavy price for in recent years, with the death toll now standing at more than 300 since 2015.
The capital Ouagadougou has been hit three times in attacks that have killed nearly 60 people. The latest attack in March 2018 targeted the army headquarters in the city centre.
Burkina Faso police are also struggling to combat the increasingly frequent and deadly jihadist attacks. Since 1 January, a state of emergency has been declared in 14 out of 45 provinces, giving additional powers to security forces, including the power to search homes at any time of the day or night.
President Roch Marc Christian Kabore dismissed the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces in January, replacing him with newly promoted Brigadier General Moise Miningou. Kabore later replaced the defense and security ministers during a reshuffle.
With reporting from AFP