Burkina Faso is a constitutional republic led by an elected president. In 2015 the country held peaceful and orderly presidential and legislative elections, marking a major milestone in the country’s transition to democracy. President Roch Mark Christian Kabore won with 53 percent of the popular vote, and his party–the People’s Movement for Progress–won 55 seats in the 127-seat National Assembly. The Union for Progress and Change won 33 seats, and the former ruling party, the Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP), won 18 seats. National and international observers characterized the elections as free and fair.
Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces.
The most significant human rights issues included arbitrary deprivation of life; torture and degrading treatment by security forces and vigilante groups; arbitrary detention; life-threatening detention conditions; judicial inefficiency and lack of independence; official corruption; limited government action to hold accountable those responsible for violence against women and children, including female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and early marriage; and forced labor and sex trafficking, including of children.
The government lacked effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse, and impunity for human rights abuses remained a problem. The government investigated alleged violations of former officials but in most cases did not prosecute them.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. According to the international nongovernmental organization (NGO) Human Rights Watch (HRW), on June 9, Burkinabe soldiers detained approximately 74 men and severely beat many of them during a cross-border operation near the border with Mali. The soldiers accused the detainees of supporting the Burkinabe Islamist armed group Ansaroul Islam. According to HRW, the soldiers transported 44 of the men into Burkina Faso for questioning, and two of the detainees died from mistreatment shortly after arriving in Djibo.
In June 2016 an investigative commission submitted its report on the 28 persons killed and 625 injured in 2014 during protests against former president Blaise Compaore’s efforts to force a National Assembly vote to change presidential term limits. The report recommended the prosecution of 31 persons, including former president Compaore and former transition prime minister Yacouba Isaac Zida. Most of the others recommended for prosecution were former members of the Presidential Security Regiment (RSP). The report was transmitted to judicial authorities, but none of those listed in the report was prosecuted. Compaore and Yacouba Isaac Zida reportedly remained abroad, and no arrest warrants had been issued against them in this case.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law prohibit such practices, and in 2014 the National Assembly adopted a law to define and prohibit torture and all related practices. Nevertheless, HRW documented severe beatings by security forces during cross-border operations near the border with Mali that resulted in two deaths (see section 1.a.).
In addition, according to videos shared on social media and reports in the local press, on August 1, gendarmes assaulted several protesting truck drivers, injuring at least one of them. According to press reports, the minister of security publicly told the gendarmes that no legal action would be taken against them. As of September authorities had not prosecuted any of the gendarmes involved in the incident.
Local press reported that on May 12, a gendarme assaulted and injured Guezouma Sanogo, a journalist at the Radio Burkina state radio–who was also president of the Association of Burkina Faso Journalists–during the country’s National Peasant’s Day, allegedly because he did not obey established security measures. President Kabore addressed the incident, stating that he “sincerely regrets the incident which should not occur in our time.” As of September 20, Sanogo had not pressed charges, and authorities had not opened an investigation into the case.
Some former RSP members accused of attempting to attack an armory in 2015 claimed during their trial that gendarmes tortured them during their detention in Ouagadougou and Leo. Additionally, one of the witnesses, Ali Ouedraogo, a son of one of the accused RSP members, stated gendarmes physically assaulted him during the search of their house as part of the investigation. As of October 15, no legal action had been taken against the gendarmes, nor had the government undertaken an investigation.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions in prisons and detention facilities were harsh and at times life threatening due to overcrowding and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.
Physical Conditions: Authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. Female prisoners had better conditions than those of men, in large part due to less crowding. Although regulations require the presence of a doctor and five nurses at the Ouagadougou Detention and Correction Center’s (MACO) health unit, only three nurses were on duty to treat detainees, and a doctor was present once a week. Prisoners’ diets were inadequate, and inmates often relied on supplemental food from relatives. Prison infrastructure throughout the country was decrepit. In MACO and other prisons, severe overcrowding exacerbated inadequate ventilation, although some cells had electricity and some inmates had fans. Sanitation was rudimentary.
On August 10, diplomatic representatives visited MACO to verify compliance with standards of detention and human rights. Their report cited overcrowding, malnutrition, sanitation, health problems, and slowness in judicial processes.
According to human rights organizations, deaths occurred in prisons and jails due to harsh conditions and neglect. Human rights activists estimated one or two inmates died monthly because of harsh prison conditions.
There were no appropriate facilities or installations for prisoners or detainees with disabilities, who relied on other inmates for assistance.
Physical abuse was a problem in many detention centers across the country. For example, the NGO Burkinabe Movement of Human Rights and People (MBDHP) alleged that in 2016 gendarmes tortured and killed two suspects. In April 2016 Bokoum Salif, a driver in Dedougou, died after being arrested and detained by the local gendarmerie. Bokoum was accused of stealing a computer at the house of the head of the local gendarmerie. Relatives who visited him before his death stated that he presented signs of torture. According to the MBDHP, in May 2016 Sidibe Yero, a herder from Dedougou accused of rape, died under similar circumstances. The gendarmerie reportedly asked his relatives to bury his remains without conducting an autopsy. As of October 15, authorities had not taken legal action in either case.
Food, potable water, sanitation, heating, ventilation, lighting, and medical care were inadequate in the majority of detention facilities across the country, including MACO. Conditions of detention were better for wealthy or influential citizens.
Local media regularly reported on cases of detainees who spend more than one year without trial. For example, one detainee, who had been detained at MACO since 2015, reportedly met the investigative judge for only 15 minutes after more than 13 months in detention. In January when the case was reported in the local press, the same detainee had spent 18 months in prison without seeing the judge again and without a scheduled trial date.
Administration: There were no reports that authorities failed to investigate credible allegations of inhuman prison conditions.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. Prison authorities regularly granted permission to representatives of local and international human rights groups, media, foreign embassies, and the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit prisons without advance notice.
Improvements: To address overcrowding, the government opened a new prison in Koupela, in the Kouritenga Province, and transferred prisoners from overcrowded prisons to those with lower occupancy rates. Other measures also taken during the year to reduce prison overcrowding included enforcing fines and community service rather than prison time, and allowing for the provisional release of certain prisoners. As of October, however, there was no evidence that these measures effectively reduced overcrowding.
To improve detention conditions, improve prisoner health, and facilitate social reintegration of prisoners, the Ministry of Justice launched a three-year prison reform project with EU support. The Ministry of Justice also partnered with the NGO SOS Doctor Burkina Faso to provide free health consultations to approximately 1,500 to 2,000 detainees.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court, but security forces did not always respect these provisions. For example, security forces arrested and detained web activist Naim Toure in December 2016 for posting on his Facebook page information on the health condition of a former RSP member detained at the military prison. On February 27, he was sentenced to pay a fine of 300,000 CFA francs ($550).
HRW reported that during the June 9 cross-border operation near the border with Mali (see section 1.a.), soldiers detained approximately 74 men, ages 20 to 70. The soldiers accused the men of supporting the Burkinabe Islamist armed group Ansaroul Islam, which also had bases in Mali. According to HRW, 44 men were taken to Burkina Faso for questioning, and seven remained in detention. Minister of Justice Rene Bagoro opened an investigation and was working with the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Security to investigate the allegations. Minister Bagoro also announced that the permanent secretary of the interministerial committee on human rights and international humanitarian law began to conduct predeployment training on human rights for soldiers.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The Ministry of Internal Security and the Ministry of Defense are responsible for internal security. The Ministry of Internal Security includes the National Police and the gendarmerie. The army, which operates within the Ministry of Defense, is responsible for external security but sometimes assists with missions related to domestic security. Use of excessive force, corruption, a climate of impunity, and lack of training contributed to police ineffectiveness. The government announced investigations in progress, but as of September 20, none had led to prosecution. Inadequate resources also impeded police effectiveness.
Following an attempt to seize power in September 2015, the government dismantled the RSP and integrated former RSP members into the regular army, except those at large or previously arrested for involvement in the putsch attempt. The unit subsequently responsible for presidential security included police officers, gendarmes, and soldiers.
The Military Justice Administration examines all cases involving killings by military personnel or gendarmes to determine whether they occurred in the line of duty or were otherwise justifiable. The administration refers cases deemed outside the line of duty or unjustifiable to civilian courts. Civilian courts automatically handle killings involving police. The gendarmerie is responsible for investigating abuse by police and gendarmes, but the results of their investigations were not always made public.
NGOs and the Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Civic Promotion conducted training activities on human rights for security forces. The previous united Ministry of Territorial Administration, Decentralization, and Internal Security organized a meeting for defense and security forces, journalists, and human rights organizations on February 3, during which participants from the eastern region discussed human rights protection in the region and overcame their disagreements.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
By law police and gendarmes must possess a court-issued warrant based on sufficient evidence before apprehending a person suspected of committing a crime, but authorities did not always follow these procedures. Authorities did not consistently inform detainees of charges against them. By law detainees have the right to expeditious arraignment, bail, access to legal counsel, and, if indigent, access to a lawyer provided by the government after being charged. A judge may order temporary release pending trial without bail. Authorities seldom respected these rights. The law does not provide detainees access to family members, although authorities generally allowed detainees such access through court-issued authorizations.
The law limits detention without charge for investigative purposes to a maximum of 72 hours, renewable for a single 48-hour period. Police rarely observed the law, and the average time of detention without charge (preventive detention) was one week. Once authorities charge a suspect, the law permits judges to impose an unlimited number of consecutive six-month preventive detention periods while the prosecutor investigates charges. Authorities often detained defendants without access to legal counsel for weeks, months, or even years before the defendant appeared before a magistrate. There were instances in which authorities detained suspects incommunicado.
Pretrial Detention: Authorities estimated 48 percent of prisoners nationwide were in pretrial status. In some cases authorities held detainees without charge or trial for longer periods than the maximum sentence for conviction of the alleged offense. A pretrial release (release on bail) system exists, although the extent of its use was unknown.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law provides persons arrested or detained the right to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention. Prisoners who did so, however, reportedly faced difficulties due to either judicial corruption or inadequate staffing of the judiciary.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary was corrupt, inefficient, and subject to executive influence, according to NGOs. There were no instances in which the outcomes of trials appeared predetermined, and authorities respected court orders. Legal codes remained outdated, there were not enough courts, and legal costs were excessive. Citizens’ poor knowledge of their rights further weakened their ability to obtain justice.
Military courts try cases involving military personnel charged with violating the military code of conduct. Rights provided in military courts are equivalent to those in civil criminal courts. Military courts are headed by a civilian judge, hold public trials, and publish verdicts in the local press.
The law presumes defendants are innocent. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free assistance of an interpreter. Trials are public but may be delayed. Judicial authorities use juries only in criminal cases. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials and to legal representation, consultation, and adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have the right to provide evidence. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, but a refusal to testify often resulted in harsher decisions. Defendants may challenge and present witnesses, and they have the right of appeal. In civil cases where the defendant is destitute and files an appeal, the state provides a court-appointed lawyer. In criminal cases court-appointed lawyers are mandatory for those who cannot afford one. The law extends these rights to all defendants, but the government did not always respect these rights, due in part to popular ignorance of the law and a continuing shortage of magistrates and court-appointed lawyers.
The Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Civic Promotion claimed courts usually tried cases within three months, although human rights organizations reported major case backlogs. The 2011 “processing of criminal penalties in real time” reform to shorten pretrial detention allows the prosecutor and investigators (police and gendarmerie) to process a case prior to the criminal hearing. This countrywide approach allows authorities to inform defendants of the charges and trial date before authorities release them pending trial.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees during the year, although some arrests and detentions may have been politically motivated.
In 2015 gendarmes arrested Leonce Kone, interim CDP president, and Hermann Yameogo, president of the National Union for Democracy and Development, for refusing to condemn the RSP attempt to seize power. Authorities granted provisional release to Kone in July 2016 and released Yameogo in October 2016. As of September 20, the government had not provided any update on this pending case.
In January 2016 authorities arrested CDP president Eddie Komboigo and charged him with involvement in the preparation of the 2015 attempted putsch. Komboigo was granted provisional release in June 2016 for “medical reasons.” On July 24, the presiding judge reportedly informed Komboigo that the investigation concluded he was not guilty of the charges against him.
Authorities of the transition government arrested former minister of foreign affairs and founder of opposition party New Alliance of the Faso, Djibril Bassole, in 2015 for allegedly providing support to the failed 2015 military coup. In July a UN working group released its investigative report calling for his immediate release and demanding that he stand trial by a civilian court instead of a military court. In response to the working group’s request, the government announced on July 8 that it would request a review of the case through the revision procedure of the UN Human Rights Council’s work. On October 10, Bassole was granted provisional release for medical reasons and placed under house arrest.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
There is an independent judiciary in civil matters, but it was often inefficient, corrupt, and subject to executive influence. As a result, citizens sometimes preferred to rely on the Office of the Ombudsman (see section 5, Government Human Rights Bodies) to settle disputes with the government.
The law provides for access to a court to file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation, and both administrative and judicial remedies were available for alleged wrongs. Victims of human rights violations may appeal directly to the Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice, even before going through national courts. For civil and commercial disputes, authorities may refer cases to the Abidjan Common Court of Justice and Arbitration. The courts issued several such orders during the year.
There were problems enforcing court orders in sensitive cases involving national security, wealthy or influential persons, and government officials.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions. In cases of national security, however, the law permits surveillance, searches, and monitoring of telephones and private correspondence without a warrant.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: In May 2016 the country held elections to replace municipal and regional councils dissolved by the transitional government in 2014. Voter turnout was lower than usual. Voting did not occur in three of the 368 communes. In several areas of the country, the postelection selection process of mayors by municipal councils was marred by clashes among political party activists, resulting in at least three deaths and dozens of injuries in Karangasso and Kantchari. The government condemned the violence and promised swift judicial action. As of September 20, no legal action was taken against anyone involved in the violence. In the districts that were unable to hold contests in 2016 due to pre-election violence and those that did not complete the installation process for their municipal councils and mayors, makeup elections were organized and concluded quietly on May 28. The ruling party, the People’s Movement for Progress, won most districts.
The 2015 electoral code approved by the National Transitional Council (CNT) stipulates the exclusion of certain members of the former political majority. The code states that persons who “supported a constitutional change that led to a popular uprising” are ineligible to be candidates in future elections. In addition to exclusion from the 2015 legislative and presidential elections, a number of candidates were also excluded from the municipal elections in May. In 2015 administrative courts rejected appeals filed by political opponents of the former ruling party against a number of its candidates. Unlike in previous municipal elections during which some candidates were excluded, all parties were allowed to take part to the complementary municipal elections.
Participation of Women and Minorities: There are no laws limiting the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Although the gender quota law requires political parties to name women to fill at least 30 percent of the positions on their candidate lists in legislative and municipal elections, no political party met this requirement during the May 2016 and the May 28, 2017, make-up municipal elections. Parties and government officials said women were less engaged in politics. Women held seven of 34 ministerial seats and 13 of 127 seats in the parliament.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Local NGOs criticized what they called the overwhelming corruption of senior civil servants. They reported pervasive corruption in the customs service, gendarmerie, tax agencies, national police, municipal police, public health service, municipal governments, education sector, government procurement, and the Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Civic Promotion. The local NGO Anticorruption National Network (REN-LAC) categorized the municipal police as the most corrupt government sector. They reported a lack of political will to fight corruption, stating the government rarely imposed sanctions against prominent government figures.
Corruption: On September 6, the Ministry of Justice issued a warrant against the head of the CSC, Nathalie Some, for embezzling 650 million CFA francs ($1.2 million). Some, who was in detention at the MACO since September awaiting trial, held numerous prominent positions in the previous three administrations.
Additionally, in July, two staff members from the Ouagadougou International Craft Fair, accountant Siriki Coulibaly and cashier Claude Guebre, were accused of misappropriating at least 251 million CFA francs ($461,000) from public funds. Coulibaly confessed to misappropriating 131 million CFA francs ($240,000), while Guebre denied any involvement. They were sentenced each to 60 months in detention and a fine of 20 million CFA francs ($367,000). The verdict did not require them to reimburse the misappropriated amount.
Financial Disclosure: In 2015 the CNT adopted an anticorruption law that requires government officials–including the president, lawmakers, ministers, ambassadors, members of the military leadership, judges, and anyone charged with managing state funds–to declare their assets and any gifts or donations received while in office. The Constitutional Council is mandated to monitor and verify compliance with such laws and may order investigations if noncompliance is suspected. Disclosures are not made public, however, and there were no reports of criminal or administrative sanctions for noncompliance. As of September national assembly members who were elected in the 2015 legislative elections had not complied with this law, yet they did not face any sanctions.
In June 2016 the Higher Authority for State Control and the Fight against Corruption extended the requirement to declare assets to include government officials’ spouses and minor children. Infractions are punishable by a maximum jail term of 20 years and fines of up to 25 million CFA francs ($45,955). The law also punishes persons who do not reasonably explain an increase in lifestyle expenditures beyond the 5 percent threshold set by regulation in connection to lawful income. Convicted offenders risk imprisonment for two to five years and a fine of five million to 25 million CFA francs ($9,191 to $45,955). In April 2016 a law was passed limiting the value of a gift a government official could receive to 35,000 CFA francs ($64). In direct violation of the law, members of the National Assembly accepted computer tablets from Huawei International, a company that had been awarded a national optical fiber construction contract in November 2016. Following public outcry led by civil society and the local press, the members of the national assembly were forced to return the gifts.