Over 180 Bodies Found Dumped in Burkina Faso Town, Report Says
For months, terrified residents of Djibo, a town in the West African nation, kept discovering corpses of men who had been shot, blindfolded and bound. They blame the military.
AKAR, Senegal — The bodies of at least 180 men thought to have been killed by security forces have been found dumped in fields, by roadsides and under bridges in a town in the West African country of Burkina Faso over the past eight months, witnesses told human rights researchers.
Residents of the town, Djibo, in the north of the country, said many of the bodies were found shot and blindfolded, their hands bound. Many said they recognized relatives among the dead.
The testimony is contained in a new report by the New York-based group Human Rights Watch and matches the accounts of several witnesses interviewed for a recent investigation by The New York Times into extrajudicial killings by Burkina Faso’s security forces.
Terrorists, government security forces and bandits have killed thousands of people in the country in the past four years, plunging what was a peaceful nation into conflict and chaos. Nearly a million people have fled.
At least 180 civilians have been killed in recent months in a single town in Burkina Faso, with evidence pointing towards the country’s often-accused security forces, according to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Between November 2019 and June this year, groups of dozens of dead bodies were found often tied and blindfolded, strewn along major highways, beneath bridges and across fields in the rural region, the report published on Thursday said. Most of the bodies were buried by residents while the remains of others were left unclaimed.
Djibo, a northern town at the heart of jihadist conflict across north, central and eastern parts of the country, had become a killing field, the report said, amid widespread executions by security forces.
As violence from jihadist groups aligned with al-Qaida and Islamic State has raged in the landlocked west African country, government forces long accused of rights abuses have increased their operations, often with deadly consequences.
Residents interviewed by the rights organisation said most of those killed were identified as ethnic Fulani, or Peuhl, who are often judged to be complicit with jihadist groups at large within the country and the surrounding Sahel region.
“Existing information points toward government security forces,” said Corinne Dufka, the Sahel director at HRW. “It’s critical to have impartial investigations, evidence properly gathered, and families informed about what happened to their loved ones.”
The report centres on interviews with 23 witnesses in the Fulani-majority town, who described seeing dead bodies and conducting burials. They did not witness the killings but believed security forces were responsible. […]
Hundreds of Burkinabe civilians have been killed and almost a million displaced by the conflict, leading to one of the most rapidly escalating humanitarian crises in the world. According to the UN more than 3 million people, including 831,000 refugees, are displaced across the Sahel.
The violence in Burkina Faso has gradually spread from the north and centre to the east of the country, where in recent months a wave of attacks against remote villages has fuelled further mass displacement of thousands of families to the nearby towns of Gayéri and Fada.
KONGOUSSI, Burkina Faso — Market day was in full swing when soldiers sped into the northern town of Taouremba, firing in the air, as their drone buzzed overhead. They herded the men into the central marketplace, residents said, letting the women run home.
A soldier began reading names from a tablet computer, and those who were called forward were told to strip, then tied up with their own clothes and thrown into a pickup truck. When some men tried to hide in the crowd, two informants in hoods and veils pointed them out. One man was shot on the spot.
Later, according to accounts from witnesses and human rights advocates, the bodies of the 13 abducted villagers were dumped just outside of town.
Over the past four years, Burkina Faso has fallen into chaos, with gunmen robbing, killing and threatening some of the poorest citizens in this landlocked West African nation, and causing 850,000 to flee their homes. […]
Across the Sahel — a vast stretch of land just south of the Sahara — military violence against civilians has surged in recent months, according to new reports by international security and human rights groups. Soldiers in Mali and Niger, countries to Burkina Faso’s north, are also carrying out targeted killings, a recent United Nations report shows. […]
When, in March, the government blamed “unidentified gunmen” for killing 43 people, including a 90-year-old blind man, in three Fulani villages, Fulani rights activists had enough.
The government knew who was responsible, said Daouda Diallo, secretary-general of the Collective Against Impunity and Community Stigma, a local human rights organization.
“As well as being a lie, this statement makes the government complicit in ethnic cleansing,” said Mr. Diallo.
That attack, he said, was carried out by volunteer vigilantes. These groups sprang up to fight crime, but many vigilantes now serve as military informants and accompany soldiers on operations, armed with handmade hunting guns and long knives. In January the government passed a law giving some vigilantes official status, two weeks of training and a firearm.
One mostly Mossi vigilante network called the Koglweogo is notorious for a massacre of Fulanis in Yirgou in January 2019, in which the Collective Against Impunity said more than 200 people were killed. There are vigilante units and spies all over the country.
‘Guardians of the bush’: brutal vigilantes police Burkina Faso
Critics say plans to use Koglweogo in fight against Islamist militants risks pushing country towards all-out ethnic conflict
Depending on who you ask, the Koglweogo – “guardians of the bush” in Mooré, a local language – are either a solution to the insecurity or a growing source of it.
Armed with one or two guns, and sometimes makeshift uniforms, men who work day jobs as farmers, masons or drivers moonlight as village detectives, judges and juries.
Their ranks have swelled since the organisation was formed in 2015. “The sheer number of volunteers is huge,” said Philippe M Frowd, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa who researches the phenomenon. “You can extrapolate and say there are 20,000 to 40,000 groups.”
Koglweogo leaders say their men operate according to a code, and deliver justice more swiftly than the police, whose investigations can drag – if they show up at all.
But nobody disputes their brand of justice is often brutal. “We no longer excessively beat people,” said Tiendrebeogo. “If you are arrested and say what you’ve done truthfully, you won’t be beaten. If you resist, we can try to convince you by beating you.”
When that fails, they have other methods. One of the men pulls out a handful of small animal bones, and demonstrates how they are placed in the gaps between a suspect’s fingers. Plastic tape is wrapped around the hand, then pulled. “And then you will speak,” Tiendrebeogo said. “Loudly.” […]
In January last year, armed men attacked a northern village whose members mostly belonged to the majority Mossi ethnic group, killing seven people. The next day, the Koglweogo in the village, named Yirgou, launched revenge attacks against nearby communities from the minority Fulani ethnic group. The official death toll was 39, but rights group say more than 200 may have been killed.
Some security analysts argue that sparking this kind of inter-ethnic violence is precisely the plan of terrorists groups in the region, to isolate Fulani communities and drive them into the arms of militants.
“Before this event, we never had violence in this town,” said Mahamadou Sawadogo, a conflict researcher. “But after Yirgou, the areas all around this village descended into violence.”
In a sign of the desperate state of its war against militants, the Burkina Faso government in January passed legislation to begin training and equipping volunteers, including Koglweogo members, to join the fight against the militants.
Die Toten in Burkina Faso