Exploring Humanitarian Atrocities in Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso is currently under military rule following the successful implementation of a coup d’état by Captain Ibrahim Traoré on September 30, 2022. Since the military seizure, security has been a paramount concern for the junta. Nevertheless, the containment of Islamist groups, whose attacks have resulted in the loss of many civilian lives this year, has proven to be a formidable challenge. As a result, the country has been the source of violence that has spread across the vast Sahel region; the violence is attributed to Islamist factions that are affiliated with al Qaeda & the Islamic State. As a result, Burkina Faso is currently grappling with a significant humanitarian crisis that necessitates immediate attention owing to the substantial loss of life, forced displacement, and violation of fundamental rights.

As opposed to the initial figure of seventy, the European Union diplomatic service reported on November 13, 2023 that an assault on a village in the West African nation of Burkina Faso claimed the lives of around one hundred civilians, the majority of whom were children and elderly. Both the European Union and the United States government issued strong condemnations for the attack and demanded that the transitional authorities furnish details pertaining to the circumstances surrounding the heinous act, with the intention of identifying the assailant. According to Amnesty International, significant areas of the impoverished nation are under the control of armed factions that are responsible for the commission of war crimes and human rights violations. Burkina Faso is at risk of deteriorating if this group continues to wield power. Local law enforcement was unable to notify others of the attack for two days, and it took an additional four days for an investigatory team to arrive at the location, where they discovered dozens of burned residences. At one point, the investigators’ convoy was also subjected to an assault that required repulsion. Two coups have occurred in Burkina Faso as a result of jihadi violence; the present junta assumed power in September 2022. In the name of national security, rights organizations have accused the junta led by Capt. Ibrahim Traoré of committing atrocities against civilians & suppressing civil liberties. Human Rights Watch reports that the junta expanded its crackdown against alleged dissidents by enacting an emergency law earlier this month. The report states that at least a dozen journalists, civil society activists, and opposition members were informed by the junta that they would be conscripted to assist in government security operations throughout the nation. The government has enlisted tens of thousands of volunteer fighters in an effort to stem the jihadi threat; however, civilians claim that the volunteers murder indiscriminately anyone suspected of collaborating with the jihadis. Numerous communities assert that they fear the volunteers more than the extremists.

Burkina Faso was the target of one of the deadliest attacks on June 5, 2021, in which armed groups murdered a minimum of 138 civilians. Gunmen stormed the village of Solhan in the northeast Sahel region of Burkina Faso, close to the border with Niger; however, the conflict had been simmering since March 2021. A group of assailants assaulted the village at night and put to death 138 individuals, including men, women, and children. Both homes and markets were engulfed in flames. Nearly forty individuals sustained severe injuries and were transported to institutions in the region and the capital, Ouagadougou. More than 3,300 people escaped in fear for their lives to the nearby villages of Sebba and Sampelga; more than 500 women and over 2,000 children were among them. They arrived with minimal to no personal possessions. The majority of individuals were cordially received by local families who were donating their meager possessions. The newly arrived individuals are in critical need of shelter, water and sanitation, essential aid supplies, and medical attention. Thousands of relief items and nearly 400 tons of food have been delivered by the authorities, while UNHCR partners provide psychosocial support and medical care. A few weeks prior to this act of severe violence, UNHCR and partner vehicles were targeted by gunmen along the road connecting the city of Dori and the Goudoubo camp, which is home to an estimated 12,200 Malian refugees and asylum-seekers. Increasing insecurity and the presence of armed groups in several regions of Burkina Faso impede the delivery of aid and protection to those in need, although no one was injured. Violence in the country has displaced over 1.2 million Burkinabes from their residences since 2019. As of this year, an estimated 150,000 individuals have experienced internal displacement; of these, 84% are children or women, who are particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence. Reportedly, half of these children have been subjected to physical maltreatment and violence. Burkina Faso continues to graciously receive over 22,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, the majority of whom are from Mali, in addition to the IDPs.

There was an abrupt surge in terrorist attacks targeting civilians at the beginning of 2020. During the initial month of the year, deliberate assaults in the northern provinces claimed the lives of over one hundred civilians. None of the groups assigned blame for any of the incidents. Presumably terrorists carried out three attacks in July 2020 across three distinct regions of the country, with the intention of causing damage to over a dozen schools and targeting civilians. Approximately twenty-two terrorist assassinations of political and traditional leaders persisted during the initial half of the year. Constraints regarding volunteer defense forces, civilians, humanitarian assistance programs, and violent extremists emerged as a departure from previous assaults that predominantly targeted military and police personnel as well as other affiliated facilities. Assailants who designated themselves as JNIM members on social media attacked a convoy escorted by gendarmes and contracted by the World Food Program (WFP) to deliver food aid to internally displaced persons on 30 May 2020. Some civilians and a few officers were reportedly killed. This was among three assaults that occurred within a span of two months against WFP convoys. Since 2019, no significant legislative developments have occurred. While the specialized CT court referred several concluded investigative cases for trial and the antiterrorist judicial police (Brigade Spéciale des Investigations Antiterroristes, or BSIAT) continued to prepare cases for prosecution, no cases pertaining to terrorism have been adjudicated and over 900 terror suspects remain in pretrial detention at the High-Security Prison.

The assaults on Burkina Faso have brought to light violations of human rights, pro-government militias and state security forces, as well as assaults on education. Potential relief for Burkina Faso from this military junta could be achieved through a comprehensive multilateral agreement, which refers to the collaboration of several countries through international organizations in order to address and resolve issues collectively. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the United Nations have all stepped up to offer assistance to the cause in response to the assaults, as previously stated. Moreover, numerous nations have extended assistance to Burkina Faso. Prominent benefactors, including France, the Netherlands, and the United States, provided financial backing for initiatives aimed at enhancing the justice sector, mitigating prison congestion and prolonged pretrial detention of terrorism suspects, and educating security forces on human rights. In order to strengthen the capacity of law enforcement to investigate intricate terrorism cases, the United States allocated $5 million in counterterrorism financing and $2 million for training programs aimed at preventing the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Assisting newly displaced civilians and others impacted by the attack, the United Nations team and partners are constructing 200 shelters in close collaboration with authorities. Additional resources are required to expand the response. Having extended its condolences to the families of the victims, the Burkina Faso people, and the government, the UNHCR emphasizes the need for collective efforts to strengthen safeguards for civilians and reminds all stakeholders that humanitarian organizations independently and impartially conduct life-saving interventions.

Notwithstanding the provision of aid to Burkina Faso and the efforts the people of Burkina Faso have made, the heinous acts persist. It is of the utmost importance that the people of Burkina Faso work together to find the best possible solution to the security and political challenges that have weakened their country. If no action is taken, the entire population of Burkina Faso will be at risk of extinction.


Baloch, B. (2021, June 8). UNHCR condemns deadliest attack in Burkina Faso in years. UNHCR US. https://www.unhcr.org/us/news/briefing-notes/unhcr-condemns-deadliest-attack-burkina-faso-years

Human Rights Watch. (2022, May 25). World Report 2022: Rights trends in Burkina Fasohttps://www.hrw.org/world-report/2022/country-chapters/burkina-faso

Kabore, A. (2023, November 13). EU calls for an investigation into massacre of nearly 100 civilians in Burkina Faso. ABC News. https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/european-union-calls-investigation-massacre-100-civilians-burkina-104841816

Princewill, N. (2023, November 13). EU says roughly 100 civilians reportedly killed during massacre on village in Burkina Faso. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2023/11/13/africa/eu-says-around-100-civilians-reportedly-killed-in-burkina-faso-village-massacre/index.html

U.S. Department of State. (2021, December 16). Burkina Faso – United States Department of State. U.S. Department of State. https://www.state.gov/reports/country-reports-on-terrorism-2020/burkina-faso/


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