Burkina Faso: military junta targets dissidents, repression is more widespread

ROME – Burkina Faso’s military junta is using martial law against suspected dissidents to expand its crackdown. He documents it Human Rights Watch. Between November 4 and 5, security forces sent notices to at least a dozen journalists, civil society activists and opposition figures to recruit them in security operations launched across the country.

Law against terrorists. Transitional military authorities say the recruitment orders were approved under a general mobilization plan announced by the junta on April 13, which aims to recapture 40 percent of the country’s territory still controlled by terrorists linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. The plan aims to create a legal framework to legitimize all actions against the rebels responsible for a series of terrorist attacks during 2023 and gives President Ibrahim Traoré, the protagonist of the coup on September 30, 2022, broad powers to fight them, including the requisition of people and goods and the restriction civil liberties. According to humanitarian groups monitoring Burkina Faso, the violence has killed more than 10,000 people and forced nearly two million civilians to flee their homes in the past seven years.

Illegitimacy of military service. Human Rights Watch condemns that the actions taken by the junta in the fight against terrorism are not only ineffective, but produce further violations of rights and violence in the country and because they undermine fundamental freedoms such as freedom of expression and speech. In essence, in the general mobilization plan, recruitment becomes a means of recruiting dissenters in order to silence them.

Condemnation of civil society. Civil society groups, media organizations and trade unions strongly condemned what they called the “selective and punitive” application of the general mobilization decree against terrorists. In a November 6 statement, the Burkinabe Movement for Human and People’s Rights said the general mobilization was “specifically designed and adopted not to contribute to the fight against terrorism, but to suppress critical opinions.” Some activists admitted Human Rights Watch that they decided not to publicly criticize the recruitment in order to continue working. “A human rights defender is useful to others only if he is alive and free,” said an activist who lives and works in the north of the country.

Retribution of the junta. On September 6, local media documented that the military had hired an anesthesiologist, Arouna Louré, following a Facebook post in which the doctor criticized the military’s response to the Islamist insurgency. He was sent to Koumbra, in Yateng province, one of the most dangerous areas in the northern region of the country, to support the local military medical service. On September 5, the day before Louré was recruited, Islamic fighters killed at least 17 soldiers and 36 volunteers helping the army in Koumbri.

Military obligation and rights. Although governments have the authority to conscript members of the civilian population over the age of 18 for national defense, there are limits that the junta has largely overstepped. For example, a military conscript should be adequately informed about the length of service imposed on him and he is guaranteed the possibility of contesting his acceptance into service. According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, some rights can be limited in a state of emergency, while others cannot be suspended under any circumstances. The United Nations Human Rights Committee, a body of independent experts that monitors states’ compliance with the aforementioned Covenant, has repeatedly reiterated that restrictions on freedom of expression can never threaten the right itself. According to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, no derogation from the rights enshrined in the Charter, including the right to expression, is permitted, even during periods of emergency.

Repression. Since taking power in a coup in 2022, the military junta has increasingly cracked down on the media and peaceful dissent, shrinking civil space in Burkina Faso. Domestic and international journalists face harassment, threats and arbitrary arrests just for doing their job. In April, military authorities expelled two journalists from the French newspapers Libération and Le Monde after their reporting on human rights abuses by the military. In August, military authorities suspended the independent radio station Radio Omega for a month after it broadcast an interview with supporters of ousted Niger president Mohamed Bazoum. In September, the junta suspended the Paris newspaper Jeune Afrique, accusing it of publishing false articles that sought to discredit the national armed forces.

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