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TITLE: BURKINA FASO HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1993 DATE: JANUARY 31, 1994 AUTHOR: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE BURKINA FASO President Blaise Compaore continued to dominate the Burkina Faso Government, assisted by members of his party, the Organization for Popular Democracy/Labor Movement (ODP/MT), and to guide the process of establishing new institutions in accordance with the 1991 Constitution. After the highly controversial presidential (1991) and legislative (1992) elections, the President and the ODP/MT benefited by a period of relative political calm, highlighted by much of the political opposition's accepting, albeit reluctantly, the legitimacy of the new Government, known as the Fourth Republic. The ODP/MT Government includes representatives from the country's three major opposition parties, and it controls the National Assembly (78 out of 107 seats) in which other opposition parties are represented. The National Assembly approved the Government's proposals for defining the constitutionally mandated Second Chamber of the National Assembly (which will play a purely consultative role), and setting in motion a decentralization program involving the election of local governing councils by the end of 1995. Burkina Faso's security apparatus consists of the armed forces and the paramilitary gendarmerie (controlled by the Ministry of Defense) and the police (controlled by the Ministry of Territorial Administration). There were recurrent instances in which police and security forces used excessive force. Over 85 percent of the 9.5-million population is engaged in subsistence agriculture which is highly vulnerable to rainfall variations. Frequent drought, a limited communications and transportation infrastructure, and a low literacy rate are longstanding problems. Per capita income is only about $300 per year. In 1993 the Government obtained approval from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for an enhanced structural adjustment facility (ESAF) to reinforce reforms implemented over the past 3 years. The ESAF program seeks to limit government spending, especially on salaries and transfers, open the economy to free market forces, promote the private sector, and encourage foreign investment. Despite the constitutional changes since 1991, human rights violations continued to occur. The Government did not hesitate to employ its powers to control the political evolution, notably in 1993 by using the 1990 Information Code and the court system to intimidate the increasingly vocal independent press. There were also new instances of the security forces' committing extrajudicial killings, abusing detainees, and resorting to excessive force in controlling demonstrations (generally committed with impunity). At the same time, the Government held no political detainees or prisoners at the end of 1993 and abolished during the year the unfair Popular Revolutionary Tribunals system. On December 30, the National Assembly also amended the Information Code in favor of greater press freedom. Despite governmental efforts to counter the practice, violence against women continued to be a problem. RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from: a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing There continued to be reports of extrajudicial killings by security forces of suspected criminals. During disturbances at the University of Ouagadougou in February, police arrested a passer-by, who subsequently died in police custody. Credible reports indicated that he had been tortured by the security services. The Government made no apparent effort to investigate the incident or the violence at the University or the violence that occurred at a local high school in the capital the next day, despite calls by the Burkinabe human rights movement to do so (see Section 2.b.). There were also reports that at least one detainee, who was seeking refugee status, died as a result of mistreatment while in the custody of the gendarmerie. Despite pressures from international and local human rights groups, the Government again failed to complete the official investigation into the 1991 assassination of Clement Ouedraogo, a prominent opposition leader, or to account for the 1989 and 1990 "disappearances" of Professor Guillaume Sessouma, detained for allegedly participating in a coup plot, and medical student Dabo Boukary, detained following student demonstrations in May 1990. Credible reports indicated that elements of the security forces tortured and killed both men. b. Disappearance There were no reported new disappearances. c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment While legally prohibited, torture and mistreatment of detainees, often to extract confessions, have been documented for a number of years in Burkina Faso. No known disciplinary action has been taken against those responsible. In 1993, for example, police detained a Burkinabe youth, Doin Yedan, on a civil matter, near Bobo-Dioulasso. The next day he was found by the roadside in a coma and later died without regaining consciousness. Prison conditions are harsh and characterized by overcrowding. For instance, the institution in Bobo-Dioulasso, built in 1947, housed in 1993 about 1,000 prisoners, although it was designed to hold less than half that number. Given the poor prison diet and the prevalence of malaria and other diseases, prison conditions can be life threatening. Inmates must often rely on supplemental food from relatives. d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile Since the June 1991 adoption of the Constitution, which provides for the right to expeditious arraignment and access to legal counsel, there have been no known cases of prolonged arbitrary arrest or detention. The law permits detention for investigative purposes without charge for a maximum of 72 hours, renewable for a single 72-hour period. In practice, these provisions are rarely observed, particularly in sensitive cases. The Military Code takes precedence over the Civil Code in national security cases. Prior to adoption of the Constitution, the earlier Popular Front government held a large number of its opponents in custody, but there were no known political detainees or prisoners in Burkina Faso at the end of 1993. Although some intellectuals, military officers, and former government officials remained in self-imposed exile abroad, a number repatriated themselves since 1991. Among those returning in 1993 was Antoine Dakoure, a former minister and prominent leader of an overseas Burkinabe opposition group. e. Denial of Fair Public Trial The Constitution provides the right to public trial, access to counsel, and appeal. While these rights are generally respected, the ability of citizens to obtain a fair trial remains conditioned by weaknesses in the judicial system, including a serious shortage of trained magistrates to process a growing caseload. The 1991 Constitution reestablished the Supreme Court at the apex of the formal judicial system. Under the Constitution, the judiciary is independent of the executive, but the President has extensive appointment and other powers over judicial officials, and the executive branch has strong influence on the judiciary. The military court system is even more susceptible to executive manipulation. Military courts exercise jurisdiction in security cases and are convened on an ad hoc basis. They have no set form, rarely have appeal procedures, and instead use flexible procedures rendering them susceptible to executive influence. However, such courts were apparently not active in 1993. The Government finally abolished in 1993 the parallel court system of Popular Revolutionary Tribunals (TPRS), which lacked many constitutional safeguards. The politicized tribunals had been created by the ruling National Revolutionary Council in 1983 to try former government officials on corruption and other charges. In mid-1993, Burkina's courts began hearing appeals of verdicts handed down by the tribunals and set aside most convictions on procedural grounds. In addition to the formal judiciary, customary or traditional courts, presided over by village chiefs, handle many neighborhood and village-level problems, such as divorce and inheritance disputes. These court decisions are generally respected by the population, but citizens may also take the case to a formal court. f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence Government authorities generally do not interfere in the daily lives of ordinary citizens, but monitoring of private correspondence or telephones does occur in suspected national security cases. By law, homes may be searched only under the authority of a warrant issued by the Minister of Justice. In national security cases, however, a special law permits surveillance, searches, and monitoring of telephones and correspondence without a warrant. Some observers expressed concern that local committees, proposed by President Compaore's ODP/MT, would ultimately replicate the functions of the old Popular Front's revolutionary committees in intimidating villagers. While authorized by the party's April Congress, the ODP/MT committees did not form in 1993 due to interparty differences regarding their viability. Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: a. Freedom of Speech and Press Freedom of speech and press are provided for in the 1990 Information Code but are still limited in practice. The President and his Government are highly sensitive to criticism. The Code established the right of private publication, but it also gave the Government strong legal powers to intimidate the press through a broad interpretation of defamation: "...any allegation, or imputation of a fact, which injures the reputation or the consideration of the person or body to which the fact is imputed." The Government used this power in 1993. Most notably it targeted a regional paper in Bobo-Dioulasso that alleged corruption in the Ministry of Justice and the prosecutor's office in Bobo-Dioulasso. The Government immediately prosecuted the newspaper's publisher and editor on defamation charges in June, and the court sentenced both to 6 months' imprisonment. These sentences were suspended by an August 4 (Revolution Day) amnesty, and both journalists have since resumed their positions at the newspaper. However, the verdicts, the first time journalists had been sentenced for Code offenses (under the previous government, treason was the usual charge) served as a warning and all newspapers practiced some degree of self-censorship. The Burkinabe Movement for Human Rights and Peoples (MBDHP) led public criticism of the Information Code during the year, especially a section which prevented journalists from providing evidence in court. In response, the the ODP/MT-led National Assembly on December 30 finally passed amendments to the Code, allowing journalists to introduce evidence to defend themselves in a court of law when charged with slander by a government official and also stipulating that "offenses in words (threats) or action against journalists in the exercise of their profession are punishable under the law." Notwithstanding the controversy over the Code, the independent press continued to expand rapidly in 1993. In addition to two dailies, Burkina boasted nearly a dozen weekly newspapers, and a weekly newsmagazine by year's end. Although official media outlets, including the daily newspaper Sidwaya and National Radio, displayed a lingering progovernment bias, the presence of independent competition led the official media to give more coverage to the political opposition. Academic freedom is recognized. b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association. The Government lifted a 2-year-old ban on political marches, imposed following violent demonstrations in 1991. Since early 1990, political parties have been permitted to organize and hold meetings and rallies without seeking government permission. While some parties organized press conferences and congresses, most of Burkina Faso's 60 political parties were inactive. The authorities used excessive force at Ouagadougou University in mid-February when police attempted to break up a student sit-in demonstration protesting cuts in student scholarships. In the ensuing melee, the police wounded several students. While the Government initially insisted that gendarmes and police had only fired in the air to break up the demonstration, it ultimately admitted that several students had in fact been fired upon. The Government promised a commission of inquiry, but none was formed. There are nonpolitical associations for business, religious, cultural, and other purposes. They experience no difficulty in obtaining permission to meet or associate with international associations in their fields. c. Freedom of Religion Burkina Faso is a secular State. Islam, Christianity, and traditional religions operate freely without government interference. Neither social mobility nor access to modern sector jobs are linked to, or restricted by, religious affiliation. d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation Travelers within Burkina Faso are routinely stopped for identity and customs checks at police and military checkpoints. There is no restriction on foreign travel for business or tourism. Exit permits are no longer required. Refugees are accepted freely in Burkina Faso, and the Government attempts to provide for their care in cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. There are over 6,000 refugees and displaced persons, mostly Tuareg refugees from Mali, in Burkina Faso. Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government Despite the greater political freedoms allowed by the Fourth Republic, the first multiparty elections in 1992 left in doubt whether Burkinabe citizens have the right and ability to transfer power peacefully to a democratically elected opposition, if they so desired. Power remained in the hands of President Compaore and his political party, the ODP/MT, most of whose members also played prominent roles in the ruling National Revolutionary Council (1983-87) and Popular Front (1987-91). The Government's framework was new, however, and included a strong Presidency, a Prime Minister, a Council of Ministers presided over by the President, a two-chamber National Assembly, and an independent judiciary. The Compaore Government does not face new elections until 1997 (for the legislature) and 1998 (for the Presidency). The President has the support of the military. He continues to give priority to the the military budget, despite structural adjustment requirements to emphasize health and education requirements. The transition period from military regime to civilian government was marked by controversy in both the presidential elections in 1991 and the legislative elections in 1992. The opposition chose to boycott the presidential balloting, following President Compaore's refusal to convene a sovereign national conference, but later 27 parties, including all of the country's major opposition parties, elected to participate in the legislative balloting after receiving assurances that the elections would be free and fair. In the legislative vote, President Compaore's ODP/MT held an advantage because of its financial resources, opposition disunity, and control of the Burkinabe administration. It took 78 of 107 seats in the National Assembly. Opposition parties protested numerous election irregularities but ultimately decided to participate in the National Assembly and in the first government of the Fourth Republic, preferring to work for change within the system rather than outside it. Independent observers agreed that numerous violations occurred in the 1992 elections but that they did not seriously affect the outcome. There are no restrictions in law or practice on the participation of women or minorities in the political process. However, there are few women in positions of responsibility; 3 of the 25 ministers and 6 of the 107 National Assembly deputies are women. Women are also represented in subcabinet level positions of responsibility. Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights The Government's reaction to local human rights groups has been mixed. It continued to tolerate the activities of the Burkinabe Movement for the Rights of Man and Peoples (MBDHP), an independent group composed mostly of professionals and led by a ranking Burkinabe magistrate. The MBDHP advocated the release of opposition supporters detained following election-related violence in 1991. The Government released those persons, but it ignored continuing MBDHP demands that it account for the disappearances of Boukary Dabo and Guillaume Sessouma. The Government is rarely responsive to investigations by international nongovernmental organizations. At year's end, there were no known outstanding investigations by outside organizations. Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status Discrimination on the basis of race, religion, or ethnic origin is illegal under the 1991 Constitution. Minority ethnic groups are as likely to be represented in the inner circles of the Government as are the majority Mossi, and government decisions do not favor one group over another. Women In the absence of constitutional and other legal protections, women face extensive discrimination. In general, women continue to occupy a subordinate position and face discrimination in such areas as education, jobs, property, and family rights. In the modern sector, however, women make up one-fourth of the government work force, although usually in lower paying positions. Women still do much of the subsistence farming work in rural areas. Violence against women, especially wife beating, occurs frequently. Cases of wife beating are usually handled through customary law and practice. Such cases are sometimes mediated by a "popular conciliation tribunal" composed of community representatives. The Government is attempting to educate people on the subject through the media. Children Children's rights are enshrined in the Constitution. The Government announced its commitment to improving the condition of children by adopting a national policy to revitalize primary health care and improve access to primary education. In March it issued a report on the Convention of the Rights of the Child. Females constitute approximately one-third of the total student population in the primary, secondary, and higher educational systems. Schools in rural areas have disproportionately fewer female students than schools in urban areas. Female genital mutilation (FGM, circumcision) has been condemned by health experts as damaging to physical and psychological health. While the Government has made a strong commitment to eradicating FGM through educational efforts, FGM is still widely practiced in Burkina Faso, especially in many rural areas, and is usually performed at an early age. According to an independent expert in the field, the percentage of Burkinabe females who have undergone this procedure may be as high as 70 percent. Another form of mutilation, scarification of the faces of both boys and girls of certain ethnic groups, is gradually disappearing. People with Disabilities While there is a modest program of government subsidies for workshops for the disabled and for bicycles and wheelchairs, there is no government mandate or legislation concerning accessibility for the disabled. Section 6 Worker Rights a. The Right of Association Workers, including civil servants, traditionally have enjoyed a legal right to association which is recognized in the Fourth Republic's Constitution. There are a large number of trade unions and five trade union federations. Although unions are independent of the Government, in the past the Government has limited their freedom of action to ensure compliance with government labor policy. Essential workers--police, fire, and health workers--are prohibited from joining unions. Once the most powerful political force in the country, organized labor--approximately 60,000 nonagricultural workers--lost much of its influence under the earlier Sankara and Compaore military regimes. The labor movement participated in the drafting of the 1991 Constitution, and the return to constitutional government led to full restoration of labor union rights that had been severely curtailed during the Sankara period. An accurate percentage figure of the unionized work force of Burkina Faso is not known since few unions have fully paid up membership records. The right to strike is provided for in the Constitution, and workers have used strike actions to achieve labor goals. Labor unrest increased after the Government embarked on an economic structural adjustment program with the World Bank and IMF in 1991. The program resulted in a number of significant austerity measures, leading several unions to stage warning and other strikes in 1993, including ones by customs agents and secondary school and university teachers. Labor unions freely affiliate with international trade union bodies. b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively Unions have the right to bargain for wages and other benefits, both directly with employers and with industry associations. These negotiations are governed by minimums on wages and other benefits contained in the Interprofessional Collective Convention and the Commercial Sector Collective Convention, which are established with government participation. If no agreement is reached, employees may exercise their right to strike. Either labor or management also may refer an impasse in negotiations to labor tribunals. Appeals may be pursued through the Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court, whose decision is binding on both parties. Collective bargaining is extensive in the modern wage sector, which encompasses only a small percentage of the population. The Labor Code prohibits antiunion discrimination. Complaints about such discrimination are handled by Labor Ministry Inspectors and may be appealed to a labor tribunal in the Ministry. If the worker's complaint is upheld, he or she must be reinstated. Union officials believe that this system functions adequately. There are no export processing zones. c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor Forced labor is prohibited by law and is not practiced. d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children The Labor Code, which was approved by the National Assembly in March, sets the minimum age for employment at 14, the average age for completion of basic secondary school. However, the Ministry of Employment, Labor, and Social Security, which oversees labor standards, lacks the means to enforce this provision adequately, even in the small wage sector. Most children actually begin work at an earlier age on small, family subsistence farms and in the traditional apprenticeship system and informal sector. e. Acceptable Conditions of Work The Labor Code mandates a minimum monthly wage, a standard workweek of 40 hours with at least one 24-hour rest period, and establishes safety and health provisions. The current minimum wage in the formal sector is $85 (25,000 CFA); it does not apply to the large subsistence agriculture sector, which employs more than 85 percent of the population. The minimum wage was last set by the Government in 1983 and is not adequate for an urban worker to support a family. Wage earners usually supplement their income through reliance on the extended family and subsistence agriculture. A system of government inspections under the Ministry of Labor and labor tribunals ensures that health and safety standards are applied in the small industrial and commercial sectors, but they are not applicable in the subsistence agricultural sector. If a workplace has been declared unsafe, for any given reason, by the government labor inspection office, workers have the right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to continued employment. (###)
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