Burkina Faso’s army executed more than 200 civilians: Rights group

Human Rights Watch accuses military of conducting campaigns against civilians accused of links to armed groups.

Burkina Faso armed groups
Burkina Faso is battling armed groups with links to al-Qaeda and ISIL that spilled over from neighbouring Mali [File: AP]

Burkina Faso’s military forces “summarily executed” 223 civilians, including at least 56 children, in two villages in February, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said in a new report.

The mass killings took place on February 25 in the northern villages of Nondin and Soro, according to the report published on Thursday.

The international rights group said the massacre appeared to be part of a widespread military campaign against civilians accused of collaborating with armed groups.

Soldiers killed at least 44 people, including 20 children, in Nondin, and 179 people, including 36 children, in nearby Soro.

HRW said it interviewed dozens of witnesses between February and March and analysed videos and photographs shared by survivors. It also reportedly obtained lists of the victims’ names compiled by survivors, and geolocated eight mass graves based on satellite imagery from March 15.

On February 24 and 25, armed groups carried out attacks across the country on military targets, including barracks and bases, and on civilian infrastructure, such as religious sites, killing scores of civilians, soldiers and militia members.

While Defence Minister Mahamoudou Sana denounced what he described as “simultaneous and coordinated” attacks, he did not mention the mass killings of civilians in Nondin and Soro.

Civilians have been caught in the middle of and displaced by the fighting between armed groups linked to al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS), and security forces.

About half of the country is outside government control. The violence has killed almost 20,000 people and displaced more than two million.

The West African country is run by a military government led by captain Ibrahim Traore who seized power in a coup in September 2022, eight months after an earlier military coup had overthrown the democratically elected President Roch Marc Kabore.

Traore has focused on reclaiming areas controlled by armed groups, but the military has drawn criticism from international rights groups for cracking down on freedom of speech and intimidating critics as it struggles to contain a security crisis.

Location of the villages of Soro and Nondin, Burkina Faso [Al Jazeera]
Location of the villages of Soro and Nondin, Burkina Faso [Al Jazeera]

Nondin and Soro are believed to be among the many villages within Burkina Faso’s Thiou district that have been besieged by al-Qaeda affiliate Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), the report said.

“The massacres in Nondin and Soro villages are just the latest mass killings of civilians by the Burkina Faso military in their counterinsurgency operations,” said Tirana Hassan, HRW’s executive director.

“The repeated failure of the Burkinabe authorities to prevent and investigate such atrocities underlines why international assistance is critical to support a credible investigation into possible crimes against humanity,” Hassan said, as HRW called on the United Nations and African Union to support an investigation by Burkinabe authorities.

Frustrated with a lack of progress over years of Western military assistance, the military rulers have cut military ties with former colonial ruler France and turned to Russia for security support.

The United States on Tuesday imposed sanctions on leaders of groups accused of taking hostages, including Americans, in West Africa. Among them are two leaders of JNIM in Mali and Burkina Faso.


Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies