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At least 60 civilians were killed in Burkina Faso last year in military drone strikes, watchdog says

Human Rights Watch says Burkina Faso’s security forces killed at least 60 civilians in three different drone strikes last year, attacks that may amount to war crimes

Chinedu Asadu
Thursday 25 January 2024 15:38 GMT
Burkina Faso Drone Strikes
Burkina Faso Drone Strikes (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Human Rights Watch said Thursday that Burkina Faso’s security forces last year killed at least 60 civilians in three different drone strikes, which the group says may have constituted war crimes.

The West African nation’s government claimed the strikes targeted extremists, including jihadi fighters and rebel groups that have been operating in many remote communities.

The accusation by the New York-based watchdog were the latest in a string of similar charges raised by various rights groups.

“The government should urgently and impartially investigate these apparent war crimes, hold those responsible to account, and provide adequate support for the victims and their families,” HRW said in a new report.

The report also said the strikes were “in violation of the laws of war” and showed “little or no concern” for civilians. HRW had said last year that it found Burkina Faso's forces were carrying out extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, and torture in conflict-hit communities.

The drones targeted crowds at a market and a funeral between August and November last year, according to Ilaria Allegrozzi, senior Sahel researcher at HRW.

The government did not respond to inquiries made regarding the findings, the HRW said. The Associated Press could not independently verify the facts surrounding the strikes.

The report was based on interviews with at least 23 witnesses and non-government organizations. The strikes were reported by state-owned media as successful operations that killed Islamic extremists, it said, without mentioning any civilian casualties.

The first drone strike, on Aug. 3, hit a weekly market in the village of Bouro said to be controlled by al-Qaida-linked extremists, HRW said. It quoted three survivors as saying that jihadi fighters were seen entering the market at the time of the strike. One of those interviewed said it was “full of civilians when the drone hit."

The second strike, on Sept. 24, in the village of Bidi in the Nord region near the border with Mali took place as about 100 men were attending a funeral. There was no militant presence there at the time, the report said, adding that 25 people were killed and dozens injured.

The third strike, in November, targeted a market across the border near the Malian town of Boulkessi. According to the witnesses quoted, while there were some militants present at the time, “almost all" at the market were civilians.

The military in Burkina Faso and those in other parts of Africa's Sahel region have struggled to contain jihadis and rebel groups.


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