Burkina Faso's army massacred over 200 civilians in a village raid, Human Rights Watch says

Human Rights Watch says military forces in Burkina Faso killed 223 civilians, including babies and many children, in attacks on two villages accused of cooperating with militants

Jessica Donati
Thursday 25 April 2024 22:29 BST
Burkina Faso Killings
Burkina Faso Killings (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

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Military forces in Burkina Faso killed 223 civilians, including babies and many children, in attacks on two villages accused of cooperating with militants, Human Rights Watch said in a report published Thursday.

The mass killings took place on Feb. 25 in the country's northern villages of Nondin and Soro, and some 56 children were among the dead, according to the report. The human rights organization called on the United Nations and the African Union to provide investigators and to support local efforts to bring those responsible to justice.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the United Nations didn't have any confirmation of the attack, but added: "I can tell you that these reports are extremely, extremely disturbing and we will be looking into them."

“The massacres in Nondin and Soro villages are just the latest mass killings of civilians by the Burkina Faso military in their counterinsurgency operations,” Human Rights Watch Executive Director Tirana Hassan said in a statement. “International assistance is critical to support a credible investigation into possible crimes against humanity.”

The once-peaceful nation has been ravaged by violence that has pitted jihadis linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group against state-backed forces. Both sides have targeted civilians caught in the middle, displacing more than 2 million people, of which over half are children. Most attacks go unpunished and unreported in a nation run by a repressive leadership that silences perceived dissidents.

The HRW report provided a rare firsthand account of the killings by survivors amid a stark increase in civilian casualties by Burkina Faso’s security forces as the junta struggles to beat back a growing jihadi insurgency and attacks residents under the guise of counterterrorism.

Earlier in April, The Associated Press verified accounts of a Nov. 5 army attack on another village that killed at least 70 people. The details were similar — the army blamed the villagers for cooperating with militants and massacred them, even babies.

Witnesses and survivors told HRW that the Feb. 25 killings were believed to have been carried out in retaliation for an attack by Islamist fighters on a military camp near the provincial capital Ouahigouya, about 25 kilometers (15 miles) away.

The toll of civilian deaths was higher than first described by local officials. A public prosecutor previously said that his office was investigating the reported deaths of 170 people in attacks carried out on those villages.

A Burkina Faso government spokesperson didn’t respond to requests for comment about the Feb. 25 attack. Officials previously denied killing civilians and said jihadi fighters often disguise themselves as soldiers.

More than 20,000 people have been killed in Burkina Faso since jihadi violence linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group first hit the West African nation nine years ago, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, a United States-based nonprofit.

Burkina Faso experienced two coups in 2022. Since seizing power in September 2022, the junta led by Capt. Ibrahim Traoré has promised to beat back militants but violence has only worsened, analysts say. Around half of Burkina Faso’s territory remains outside of government control.

Frustrated with a lack of progress over years of Western military assistance, the junta has severed military ties with former colonial ruler France and turned to Russian instead for security support.

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