Dozens of towns in Burkina Faso besieged by jihadists: report

By Melissa Chemam with RFI
NOV 4, 2023 LISTEN

Armed groups are committing war crimes and human rights abuses as they besiege towns across Burkina Faso, the rights group Amnesty International has warned in a report.

Amnesty researchers say the jihadists have prevented residents in besieged areas from farming their land and grazing cattle, while also limiting their access to health and education, forcing tens of thousands of people to leave their homes. 

Militants took control of at least 46 locations across Burkina Faso in July, preventing access to food and drinking water and abducting women, the report, published on Thursday, said.

Crimes includes killings of civilians, abductions of women and girls, attacks on civilian infrastructure and attacks on supply convoys.

Amnesty said the tactic of beseiging towns had increasingly been used since last year by armed groups affiliated to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

"Ansaroul Islam and other armed groups have committed heinous human rights abuses across Burkina Faso," wrote Samira Daoud, Amnesty International's regional director for west and central Africa, in the report. 

"They have not only enforced sieges across the country, but they have also killed thousands of civilians and destroyed civilian infrastructure, including bridges and water points."

Under siege 

The leader of a civil society organisation told Amnesty International: “These days, a town or village falls under siege every day. Arbinda has been under siege since 2019. The situation is similar in Gorgadji, Sollé, Mansila and Titao and there are real risks for the inhabitants.” 

Checkpoints are also set up on main exit routes, improvised explosive devices laid to limit traffic and occasional attacks carried out against civilians, soldiers and supply convoys, it added.

"Amnesty International collected information on cases of abductions of women by armed groups in the context of besieged localities," the report said.

It mentioned the cities, towns and villages spread across the West African country, saying that the northern Sahel and western Boucle du Mouhoun regions were particularly affected.

A 52-year-old internally displaced person told Amnesty International: “The terrorists call us miscreants and prohibit us from farming our land. I couldn't farm this year [2022] nor access pasturelands for my livestock. Besides, they come and take our livestock in the pasturelands without any consequence. Whoever defies their orders runs the risk of being killed by them.” 

Ongoing regional insecurity

Burkina Faso saw Islamists sweep in from Mali in 2015.

More than 17,000 people have died in attacks since then, more than 6,000 just since the start of this year, according to a count by monitoring group the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.

More than two million people have been forced to flee their homes.

The country underwent two coups last year, both triggered in part by discontent at failures to stem the raging jihadist insurgency.

Amnesty also warned of the severe humanitarian consequences from the brutal sieges.

Some 373 health centres had been closed as of June due to the conflict, affecting medical access for 3.5 million people, it said.