Unsolved deaths of 12 prisoners in Burkina Faso

Respect for human rights in the anti-terrorist struggle in the Sahara (Press Release)

The Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) demands an independent investigation into the violent deaths of twelve prisoners in Burkina Faso. According to eyewitness reports, the prisoners, who were imprisoned under suspicion of Islamist terror, were executed by the prison's security forces. Relatives reported that they had seen headshot wounds. The human rights organization urgently called for an autopsy and for an independent investigation into the circumstances of their death on May 13, 2020. In the country, their violent deaths kicked off a public debate on questions of human rights and the fight against terrorism.

"Burkina Faso's civilian population suffers from Islamist terror. It is important that the security forces take action against the terrorist groups – but they must respect human rights in doing so," stated Ulrich Delius, the STP's director, in Göttingen on Tuesday, emphasizing that is highly problematic to stigmatize an entire population group like the Fulani by accusing them of supporting terrorism.

The human rights organization recalled that a very similar incident had occurred on April 9, 2020, in the city of Djibo in the north of the country. Security forces had killed 31 people in extrajudicial detention following an anti-terrorist operation. Witnesses had reported their arrest. Most of the victims belonged to the population group of the Fulani, who are often recruited as fighters for Islamist terrorist groups. In spring 2020, civil defense forces (the so-called Koglweogo) under the command of the Burkina Faso army had repeatedly attacked Fulani villages, killing unarmed and uninvolved Fulani, as a means of revenge for Islamist terrorist attacks.

"In order to fight terrorism effectively, it does not help at all to accuse and exclude entire ethnic groups," Delius warned. The fight against terrorism in the Sahel is already enormously complex and a great challenge. "Adding aspects of ethnic discrimination is highly dangerous, and it discredits all efforts to effectively protect the civilian population," the human rights activist emphasized.

Around 850,000 people have fled from their villages due to Islamist violence in northern Burkina Faso since the end of 2016. The violence is directed against both Christians and Muslims – against schools, hospitals, and against public life in general. In the rural regions in the north of the country, the Fulani make up about 70 percent of the population.