The appalling attacks in Burkina Faso northern Yatenga province on March 08 were perpetrated by a ‘self-defence’ armed group that has often operated alongside the country’s military, witnesses told Amnesty International. At least 43 people, including a 90-year old blind man, were killed during these attacks.
Seven key local witnesses and survivors in the villages that were attacked told the rights group it was the ‘Koglweogo’ who carried out the onslaught; firing and indiscriminately killing people, and burning homes and possessions.
The attacks occurred in the context of the government’s promulgation of the ‘Volunteers for the Defence of the Homeland Act’ (Loisur les volontaires pour la défense de la patrie) in an effort to ramp up the fight against growing violence and attacks by armed groups across Burkina Faso. The law provides for the mobilization of volunteers at the local level to assist the government’s military operations.
“We spoke to survivors in the three villages who told us about the terrible events they witnessed on March 08. They saw assailants on motorcycles armed with hunting rifles, raiding their villages and firing indiscriminately before burning their homes. Many of these villagers have now fled to Ouahigouya the regional capital, in the wake of these attacks against their lives and their properties,” said Ousmane Diallo, Amnesty International’s West Africa researcher.
Early in the morning of March 08, the village of Dinguila-Peulh was attacked by a column of armed men on motorcycles and carrying rifles. The assailants then continued towards the villages of Barga and Ramdolla-Peulh.
At least 43 people were killed during the attacks in the three villages according to a government statement which claimed the assailants were “unidentified armed men”.
However, survivors Amnesty International have spoken to, clearly identified the ‘Koglweogo’ as responsible for the attacks.
Other survivors told Amnesty International that the ‘Koglweogo’ burned homes, granaries, carts and motorcycles, forcing most of the villagers to flee to Ouahigouya.
The ‘Volunteers for the Defence of the Homeland Act’ is a new law which was promulgated in January 2020, in a context of ethnic polarization in the Sahel, North and Center-North regions of Burkina Faso, as well as the proliferation of non-state armed groups like Ansaroul Islam, the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (GSIM), and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS).
Per the law, volunteers are recruited at village-level or at their residence area on a voluntary basis, and with the approval of the village development committee or the municipal council. After selection, they are supposed to be trained for two weeks and deployed under military authority for one-year and are renewable.
The volunteers are supposed to operate only within their residence area and to be under military authority. In practice, members of the ‘Koglweogo’ armed groups recruited by authorities have operated beyond their residence area, even though some are being suspected of having committed human rights abuses.
In Burkina Faso, the violence by non-state armed groups has caused the death of 1,295 individuals in 2019 according to the Armed Conflict Location Event Database (ACLED), an increase of 650% compared to the 173 deaths recorded in 2018.
“Civilians have paid the high price of the violence in Burkina Faso. Authorities must break the cycle of impunity by investigating thoroughly these incidents and prosecuting those responsible before national courts,” said Diallo.
“It is crucial that legal proceedings go ahead unhindered in relation to the 8 March attacks, but also the preceding ones such as the Yirgou massacre.” (Source: Amnesty Intl.)