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TITLE: BURKINA FASO HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1994 AUTHOR: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DATE: FEBRUARY 1995 BURKINA FASO President Blaise Compaore continued to dominate the Government of the Fourth Republic, assisted by members of his party, the Organization for Popular Democracy/Labor Movement (ODP/MT). In spite of the existence of more than 60 political parties, there is little viable opposition to the President and his Government, which includes representatives from three small self-described opposition parties. The ODP/MT controls the National Assembly with 79 of the 107 seats. Several opposition parties, meanwhile, have modest representation. Although the National Assembly approved in 1993 the Government's proposals for a constitutionally mandated (though purely consultative) second chamber, such a body has still not yet been appointed. Burkina Faso's security apparatus consists of the armed forces, the paramilitary gendarmerie, controlled by the Ministry of Defense, and the police, controlled by the Ministry of Territorial Administration. In 1994 the Government initiated a military reorganization that is ultimately intended to remove the gendarmerie from the military chain of command. Security forces continued to commit human rights abuses. Over 80 percent of the population of 9.5 million engage in subsistence agriculture, which is highly vulnerable to rainfall variation. Frequent drought, limited communication and transportation infrastructures, and a low literacy rate are longstanding problems. Per capita income is about $300 per year. The January devaluation of the CFA franc by 50 percent added to the existing economic hardship, in conjunction with a structural adjustment program directed by the International Monetary Fund under way since 1991. That program seeks to limit government spending, especially on salaries and transfers, and open the economy to market forces, including privatization and reduction in the size of many inefficient state companies. On balance, 1994 reflected some progress in the movement towards greater democratization and decentralization, with preparations for the February 1995 municipal elections, the first since independence in 1960. However, serious human rights abuses persisted, including abuse and extrajudicial killings by police and penal authorities in a climate of impunity fostered by failure to prosecute abusers. The independent press continued to gain strength following amendment of the prejudicial provisions on libel in the Information Code. Violence against women also persisted, although several positive measures were taken in the campaign against female genital mutilation. RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from: a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing Security forces continued extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals and convicts. During December 1993 and January 1994, security forces launched "Operation Punch," a campaign against resurgent urban and rural banditry. They shot and killed scores in the capital and in several other towns. Newspapers carried photos of many of the dead, often lying beside the weapons they were allegedly carrying while resisting arrest. Some popular support was expressed in certain city districts for such ruthless policing action. In August, however, the main Burkinabe human rights organization, the Burkinabe Movement for Human Rights and Peoples (MBDHP), issued a condemnation of these and several other extrajudicial killings. In July guards savagely beat two young arrivals at Maco Prison in Ouagadougou and subjected them to degrading treatment. One of the two died the same day of internal hemorrhaging. A police investigation of the incident has come to a close without calling for the punishment of those responsible. Also in July, the press reported that an influential businessman implicated in a corruption scandal, Youssouf Sawadogo, allegedly shot himself when the police arrived to question him. Several days later, a suspect in the case, Cisse Ousseni, died in police custody, allegedly of a heart attack. An internal investigation cleared the police of any wrongdoing. The Attorney General is reportedly conducting a separate investigation, the results of which had not been released at year's end. Human rights monitors claim the autopsy performed on Ousseni provides evidence he died from abuse. Although international and local human rights groups pressured the official commission investigating the 1991 assassination of Clement Ouedraogo, a prominent opposition leader, to submit a report of preliminary findings to the Prime Minister, the report has not yet been made public. The case remains open, as do the 1989 "disappearance" of Professor Guillaume Sessouma, detained for allegedly participating in a coup plot, and of medical student Dabo Boukary in 1990, detained following student demonstrations. Credible reports indicated that security forces tortured and killed both. The Government continued to make no real effort to investigate the fate of a Ghanaian detainee, reportedly killed in 1993 while in police custody. Another disturbing trend was the increase in reported cases of vigilante killings by the public. There were numerous documented incidents of summary mob justice meted out to thieves caught by the citizenry, mostly in urban centers. To date, the authorities have provided no explanation of the death of Doin Redan, who was found dead the day after being detained by police. b. Disappearance There were no new reports of 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. There are credible reports that officials at Maco Prison continue to employ torture and degrading treatment, including beatings, cold showers, exposure to hot sun, and forcing persons to eat their own feces, as occurred in the case of the two internees cited in Section 1.a. The Government is not known to have taken any disciplinary action against those responsible. Prison conditions are harsh, overcrowded, and can be life-threatening. The federal government prison in Bobo-Dioulasso, built in 1947, housed about 1,000 prisoners, although designed to hold less than half that number. The prison diet is poor, and inmates must often rely on supplemental food from relatives. In July Police Trainee Commissioner Roger Zango, in an address at the Police Academy, strongly criticized abuse of detainees. However, the climate of impunity created by government failure to prosecute abusers remains the largest obstacle to ending torture and other abuses. d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile Although the Constitution provides for the right to expeditious arraignment and access to legal counsel, and the law limits detention for investigative purposes without charge to a maximum of 72 hours, renewable for a single 48-hour period, in practice, police rarely observe these provisions. The normal average time of detention without charge is 1 week. There were no known political detainees or prisoners at year's end. Although some intellectuals, military officers, and former government officials remain in self-imposed exile abroad, increasing numbers repatriated themselves. e. Denial of Fair Public Trial The Constitution provides for the right to public trial, access to counsel, and has provisions for bail and appeal. While these rights are generally respected, the ability of citizens to obtain a fair trial remains circumscribed by ignorance of the law (70 percent of the population is illiterate) and by a serious shortage of magistrates. The Constitution provides that the Supreme Court is the highest court in the country. Beneath it are two courts of appeal and ten provincial courts ("de grande instance"). The Constitution also provides for a High Court of Justice, with jurisdiction to try the President and senior government officials for treason and other serious crimes, but it has not yet been established. According to the Constitution, the judiciary is independent of the executive. The President has extensive appointment and other judicial powers. The National Assembly passed legislation reforming the military court system, which had been susceptible to considerable executive manipulation. At year's end, this court system had not yet been staffed. 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 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 The Constitution provides for these rights, and, in practice, the authorities generally do not interfere in the daily lives of ordinary citizens. In national security cases, however, a special law permits surveillance, searches and monitoring of telephones and private correspondence without a warrant. By law and under normal circumstances, homes may be searched only with the authority of a warrant issued by the Minister of Justice. Except in certain cases, such as houses of prostitution and gambling dens, such warrants must be executed during "legal hours," defined as between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: a. Freedom of Speech and Press The 1990 Information Code provides for freedom of speech and press. In practice, these freedoms still remain circumscribed by a certain degree of self-censorship. The President and his Government remain sensitive to criticism. However, provisions in the Code granting the Government strong legal powers to intimidate the press through a broad interpretation of defamation were removed in December 1993. Journalists now charged with libel may defend themselves in court by presenting evidence in support of their allegations. Perhaps as a result, the independent press exercised greater freedom of expression. The independent press now includes four dailies, a dozen weekly newspapers, and a weekly newsmagazine. Although the official media, including the daily newspaper Sidwaya and the national radio, display progovernment bias, the presence of independent competition led it 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. Permits must, however, be obtained from municipal authorities for political marches. Applicants must indicate date, time, duration, and itinerary of the march or rally, and authorities may alter or deny requests on grounds of public safety. However, denials or modifications may be appealed before the courts. Labor unions and others held several large and peaceful marches. Since early 1990, political parties have been permitted to organize and hold meetings and rallies without seeking government permission. The authorities sent security forces to control disorders at Ouagadougou University on February 8 during a demonstration by some students protesting nonreceipt of their stipends. They arrested several students for pelting passing city buses on the highway near campus. Police later released them and did not press charges. 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 Gendarmes routinely stopped travelers within the country for identity and customs checks and the levying of road taxes at police and military checkpoints. There is no restriction on foreign travel for business or tourism. Refugees are accepted freely in Burkina Faso. Due to civil unrest in neighboring countries, there are nearly 50,000 refugees and displaced persons, mostly Tuaregs from Mali and Niger. Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government Burkinabe citizens have the constitutional right to change their government through multiparty elections. In practice, however, they have been unable to exercise that right. Power remained in the hands of President Compaore and 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 includes a strong Presidency, a Prime Minister, a Council of Ministers presided over by the President, a two-chamber National Assembly, and the judiciary. The Compaore Government faces new legislative elections in 1997 and presidential elections in 1998. The first round of municipal elections is scheduled for February 1995. The Supreme Court ruled in 1994 that an elected deputy in the National Assembly is not bound to the political party under which that person was elected and may change party affiliations as a representative in the legislature. This practice has been labelled "political nomadism" and is responsible for much of the factionalism in opposition parties. There are no restrictions in law or practice on the participation of women or minority group members in politics. However, there are few women in positions of responsibility; 3 of the 25 ministers and 6 of the 107 National Assembly deputies are women. Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights The Government's attitude toward local human rights groups has been mixed. It continued to tolerate the activities of the MBDHP, an independent group with representation in all 30 provinces. The Government is 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 The Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religion, or ethnic origin. Minority ethnic groups, like the Majority Mossi, are represented in the inner circles of the Government, and government decisions do not favor one group over another. Women There are no constitutional or other legal protections for women, who face extensive discrimination. In general, women continue to occupy a subordinate position and experience 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. Violence against women, especially wife beating, occurs fairly often. Cases of wife beating are usually handled through customary law and practice. A "popular conciliation tribunal" composed of community representatives usually mediates such cases. The Government is attempting, using education through the media, to change attitudes toward women. Children The Constitution nominally protects children's rights. 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. Females constitute approximately one-third of the total student population in the primary, secondary, and higher educational systems--although the percentage decreases dramatically beyond the primary level. Schools in rural areas have disproportionately fewer female students than schools in urban areas. Female genital mutilation (FGM), which has been condemned by health experts as damaging to physical and psychological health, is still widely practiced, 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. The Government has made a strong commitment to eradicate FGM through educational efforts, and a newly formed national committee launched a campaign against the practice with United States Government assistance. Nevertheless, FGM is still widely practiced. At year's end, it was evident that the Government had taken an important first step via its sensitization campaign regarding the deleterious effects of this practice. 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, there is no government mandate or legislation concerning accessibility for the disabled. Section 6 Worker Rights a. The Right of Association A new labor code is currently before the National Assembly for review. Notwithstanding this pending legislation, workers, including civil servants, traditionally have enjoyed a legal right to association which is recognized under the Constitution. There are 6 major labor confederations and 12 autonomous trade unions linked together by a National Confederal Committee. They represent a wide ideological spectrum, of which the largest and most vocal member espouses a Socialist doctrine. Essential workers--police, fire, and health workers--may not join unions. The Constitution provides for the right to strike, and workers use strike actions to achieve labor goals. The union movement made a call for a national strike on April 6-8 to protest further austerity measures in the wake of devaluation of the CFA franc. Strikers demanded a 50 percent increase in wages and price freezes. About half the union movement responded. 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 but encompasses only a small percentage of workers. The Labor Code prohibits antiunion discrimination. The Labor Ministry handles complaints about such discrimination, which the plaintiff may appeal to a labor tribunal. If the tribunal sustains the appeal, the employer must reinstate the worker. Union officials believe that this system functions adequately. There are no export processing zones. c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor The law prohibits forced labor and it is not practiced. d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children The Labor Code now in effect 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, in the traditional apprenticeship system, and in the 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 monthly wage in the formal sector, about $48 (25,000 CFA), does not apply to subsistence agriculture, employing about 85 percent of the population. The Government last set the minimum wage in April. It 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 the Labor Tribunals is responsible for overseeing health and safety standards in the small industrial and commercial sectors, but these standards do not apply in the subsistence agricultural sector. In December 1993, the Center for Worker Education in Ouagadougou reported that since 1991 there were 2,399 recorded workplace accidents (1,476 in the manufacturing sector, 215 in construction, and 192 in transport and communications sectors). Every company is required to have a work safety committee. If a workplace has been declared unsafe by the government labor inspection office for any reason, workers have the right to remove themselves from dangerous work without jeopardy to continued employment. In practice there are indications that this right is respected, but such declarations are relatively rare. (###)
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