HRW says Burkina Faso army strikes killed dozens of civilians

Jan 25, 2024

The drone strikes "violated laws-of-war prohibitions against attacks that do not discriminate between civilians and military targets and were apparent war crimes," it added.

The coffins of 27 soldiers killed as they escorted 207-vehicles in a convoy in Gaskinde, sit on a trailer during their funeral at the General Sangoule Lamizana military camp in Ouagadougou. (AFP)

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Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Thursday accused the Burkina Faso army of killing at least 60 civilians in drone strikes which the government said targeted jihadist fighters.

The deaths occurred in three military drone strikes since August, two at crowded markets and another at a funeral, the rights group said in a report.

Military leader Captain Ibrahim Traore, who came to power after a 2022 coup, has focused on a strong security response to attacks by groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda and Islamic State.

HRW said it had interviewed dozens of witnesses between September and November and analysed photographs, videos, and satellite images.

"The Burkina Faso military used one of the most accurate weapons in its arsenal to attack large groups of people, causing the loss of numerous civilian lives in violation of the laws of war," the New York-based group said in its report.

The drone strikes "violated laws-of-war prohibitions against attacks that do not discriminate between civilians and military targets and were apparent war crimes," it added.

On August 3, Burkina's government-run RTB television channel reported a "successful" air operation against a group of Islamist fighters in the northern town of Bouro.

RTB showed a video of a guided munition striking dozens of people and animals in a glade.

Residents told HRW that 28 men were killed and many wounded in a packed market.

They added that the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Group to Support Islam and Muslims (JNIM) controlled Bouro and surrounding areas.

Three survivors said four motorbikes ridden by "jihadis", or Islamist fighters, entered the market at the moment of the strike when hundreds of civilians were present.

Traders, civilians, not fighters

On November 18, a military drone hit another crowded market, across the border in Mali, near the town of Boulkessi, according to the report.

It said at least seven men were killed and at least five others injured.

An RTB reporter described the target as a "logistics base" for Islamist fighters.

But a 69-year-old man, who lost two sons aged 20 and 40 in the strike, told HRW: "My sons had gone to the market to sell their products. They were traders, civilians, not fighters."

Three days later, in the northern Burkinabe town of Bidi, a drone strike reportedly hit a tent where around a hundred people had gathered for a funeral, killing 24 men and a boy.

"I saw many bodies on the ground, scattered, some torn into pieces… parts of bodies, like organs. It was horrible," a 54-year-old farmer said.

In its report, HRW says that residents are sometimes forced to collaborate with the jihadists who control the areas.

Survivors of the three strikes described horrific scenes.

"The bodies were blackened and charred," a 42-year-old survivor of the Bidi attack said.

Human Rights Watch said in the report that the Burkina government should "urgently and impartially investigate these apparent war crimes, hold those responsible to account, and provide adequate support for the victims and their families".

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