SEATTLE — Aside from the extreme poverty ravaging the nation, human rights in Burkina Faso and reported abuses are a huge concern for international NGOs. Burkina Faso, a constitutional republic since 2015, is a small country of 18 million people, nearly half of whom live on less than $1.25 a day.
Burkina Faso has had reports of killings by vigilante groups, inconsistencies in the justice system, violence against women and children, and discrimination against those with disabilities, gender and sexual minorities and those afflicted by AIDS and HIV.
Vigilante groups in Burkina Faso have been known to operate their own detention centers, abduct, torture and sometimes kill prisoners without a trial. These groups are largely active in the north near the Mali border.
In October 2016, the Minister of Justice pledged to put a stop to vigilante activities, and a decree was passed to regulate their activities. Few have been arrested since adoption and those who have are handed suspended sentences.
Most Burkinabe are not properly educated about legal procedures and their rights. This, according to some NGOs, has decayed judicial and human rights in Burkina Faso.
The justice system has turned into a trap for many. Prisoners sit awaiting trial, usually longer than they would stay if they were convicted of the crime. Prisoners sitting in this limbo are technically in pretrial status. Authorities estimate that nearly half of Burkina Faso’s prisoners are awaiting trial.
Prison itself is a major blight on human rights in Burkina Faso. Nearly two prisoners die every month in Burkina Faso due to neglect and harsh conditions. Gendarmes, or armed guards, have also been known to beat prisoners. In 2016, two such beatings resulted in the death of an inmate.
Domestic violence and rape are massive concerns, especially in rural areas. According to a report published by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, 34 percent of women experienced some type of physical violence. Of those reported cases, two-thirds of the abuse came from the husband.
Burkina Faso doesn’t fund shelters for the victims of domestic violence, though with the help of NGOs, the government has organized workshops to inform women of their rights.
Cultural and religious beliefs tend to get in the way of human rights in Burkina Faso. There are several laws stating that sexual harassment, especially against “vulnerable” persons, is illegal. The government has struggled to enforce said laws, as sexual harassment is culturally acceptable.
While there is a law prohibiting female genital mutilation, nearly 76 percent of girls and women between 15 and 49 have been subjected to the practice. According to authorities and UNICEF, only a handful of cases are reported every year, pointing to a cultural acceptance of the practice.
In 2016, the U.N. recommended that Burkina Faso should make the legal repercussions for committing violence against women much harsher while also providing women in need with more ways to alert authorities.
Burkina Faso has major issues protecting and recognizing vulnerable groups. While there are laws, although largely ineffective, in place to protect certain individuals, some groups are not even recognized by the government. Without enforced protection, some groups have faced violence and the nullification of their human rights in Burkina Faso.
Discriminating against the disabled is prohibited. According to some NGOs, authorities do not enforce these protections as it is the wide-held belief that the disabled should be kept in the care of family and not be independent.
This belief also extends to those afflicted by AIDS and HIV. Services and goods are commonly withheld from the afflicted, and reports of legal disownment of women and expulsion from the household have been reported. The government does, however, distribute free antiretroviral medications to those who qualify according to national guidelines.
Burkina Faso has a long way to go before everyone can enjoy full citizenship. As a newly-formed constitutional republic, the nation must make strides toward equal protection and enforcement of said protections for all.
– Thomas James Anania