|The State Department web site below is a permanent electronic archive of information released prior to January 20, 2001. Please see www.state.gov for material released since President George W. Bush took office on that date. This site is not updated so external links may no longer function. Contact us with any questions about finding information. |
NOTE: External links to other Internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views contained therein.
Title: Burkina Faso Human Rights Practices, 1995 Author: U.S. Department of State Date: March 1996 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 one representative from a small self-described opposition party. The ODP/MT controls the National Assembly with 79 of the 107 seats. Several opposition parties have modest representation. In December the Government opened the constitutionally mandated, though purely consultative, second chamber of the National Assembly. The 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. The 1995 shooting deaths of two high school demonstrators by the gendarmerie in the town of Garango led to a human rights inquiry. Over 80 percent of the population of 9.5 million engage in subsistence agriculture, which is highly vulnerable to rainfall variation. Frequent drought, limited communications and transportation infrastructure, in addition to a low literacy rate, are longstanding problems. The 1994 50-percent devaluation of the CFA franc added to the existing economic hardship of a structural adjustment program 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. Per capita annual income is about $150 per year, in post- devaluation terms. On balance, 1995 reflected continuing progress in the move towards greater democratization and decentralization. In this regard, the peaceful holding of the first multiparty municipal elections since independence in 1960 was a major step. With minor exceptions, balloting was considered free and fair by the local human rights organizations that monitored the contest. However, serious human rights abuses persisted. The extrajudicial killings of two student demonstrators by the gendarmerie and a general climate of impunity fostered by failure to prosecute previous abusers tarnished the move to greater democratization. Torture and mistreatment of detainees, and vigilante killings remained a problem. A libel suit brought by the President against a political foe for particularly harsh public criticism left some in the press apprehensive about a resurgence of pressure for self- censorship. Discrimination and violence against women continued to be problems. The most egregious instances of gender-based violence involved female genital mutilation, although women continue to campaign against this practice as well as against other forms of discrimination. RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from: a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing In May members of the gendarmerie forces stationed in the town of Garango shot two unarmed high school students to death when demonstrators pelted their building with stones. The main human rights organization, the Burkinabe Movement for Human Rights (MBDHP), issued a condemnation of these extrajudicial killings and called for an inquiry which is currently underway. This incident marred an otherwise improving record regarding security forces. For example, the Government ceased security sweep-type operations carried out against resurgent urban and rural bandits the previous year. At the same time, however, it announced plans to establish new "crime-fighting brigades." The major problem with law enforcement is a general climate of impunity for human rights abusers fostered by the habitual failure of the Government's investigations to lead to guilty findings and/or appropriate sanctions. Inquiries tend to drag on until they are overshadowed by subsequent incidents, and then they are quietly shelved. Appeals by human rights organizations generally go unanswered. This failure to prosecute previous abuses remains a major hindrance to further human rights progress. A police investigation into the July 1994 savage beating of two prisoners, who later died at the Maco Prison in Ouagadougou, ended without calling for the punishment of those responsible. Nor were there further developments regarding the July 1994 corruption scandal which led to the death of two suspects under suspicious circumstances. The case involved Youssouf Sawadogo, an influential businessman who 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. Both an internal police investigation and one by the Attorney General's office cleared the police of any wrongdoing. Human rights monitors from the MBDHP maintain the autopsy performed on Ousseni indicates that 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 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. To date, the authorities have provided no explanation of the 1994 death of Doin Redan, who was found dead 1 day after being detained by police. 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. b. Disappearance There have been no reports of politically motivated 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 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 1994 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 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 judiciary is very gradually becoming more independent in practice, but it remains susceptible to manipulation by the executive branch. In practice, the President has extensive appointment and other influence over the judiciary. The National Assembly passed legislation reforming the military court system, which had been susceptible to considerable executive manipulation. This system was staffed in 1995. 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, however, police rarely observe these provisions. The average time of detention without charge is one week. A few intellectuals, military officers, and former government officials remain in self-imposed exile abroad following the overthrow and assassination of former Burkinabe president Thomas Sankara in October 1987, but most desiring to do so have repatriated themselves. e. Denial of Fair Public Trial In 1995 the Government announced the creation of the Office of Ombudsman, called "Mediateur du Faso." Retired General Marc Garango was appointed to the position which is responsible for mediating disputes between the state and its citizens. 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. 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 continuing shortage of magistrates. The Penal Code, based on the French model instituted in 1877, is still in force. A review of the code, aimed at making it more relevant to modern requirements, is currently under way. At year's end, the only person whom local human rights organizations considered a political prisoner was the leader of a leftist party who was tried for slandering the President. The accused, however, was accorded due process and the verdict is currently under appeal (see Section 2.a.). 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, the law permits surveillance, searches, and monitoring of telephones and private correspondence without a warrant. Under normal circumstances, by law, 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 the ability to intimidate the press through a broad interpretation of defamation were removed in December 1993. As a result, journalists now charged with libel may defend themselves in court by presenting evidence in support of their allegations. Perhaps as a consequence, the independent press continued to exercise greater freedom of expression. On August 4, the Bloc Socialiste Burkinabe (BSB) published a party statement marking the anniversary of the Sankarist Revolution. It was reported by only one newspaper, the independent Observateur. Authorities charged BSB leader Nongma Ernest Ouedraogo with libel for alleging, among other things, that the President is corrupt and suggesting that he feeds human flesh to lions he has on his property. Ouedraogo was expeditiously tried under the law, in a civil suit, at which he provided no evidence for his allegations. He was fined a symbolic 1 franc and sentenced to 6 months in jail. His appeal was denied and he served 5 months. Meanwhile, the President's lawyer is appealing the conviction. The incident did, however, underscore a lingering tendency toward self-censorship. The independent press now includes four dailies, a dozen weekly newspapers, and a weekly news magazine. 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 news attention to the political opposition. There are a half- dozen thriving radio stations, one with eight branches, and one private television station. 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. Since early 1990, political parties have been permitted to organize and hold meetings and rallies without seeking government permission. The Government did not attempt to break up strike action by railway workers in July (see Section 6). c. Freedom of Religion The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and this is respected in practice. 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 Freedom of movement is guaranteed by the Constitution and respected in practice. 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. Due to civil unrest in neighboring countries, there are nearly 42,000 refugees and displaced persons, mostly Tuaregs from Mali and Niger. The Government cooperates with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. There were no reports of forced expulsion of those having a valid claim to refugee status. Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government Citizens have the constitutional right to change their government through multiparty elections. In practice, however, they have been unable to exercise that right fully. Power remained in the hands of President Compaore and the ODP/MT Party, most of whose members also played prominent roles in the ruling National Revolutionary Council (1983-87) and Popular Front (1989-91). 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 legislature is independent, but it remains susceptible to external influence. The first municipal elections took place in 1995. The President's ODP/MT party secured over 1,100 of some 1,700 councillor seats being contested. On the whole, the balloting, which was monitored by representatives of several local human rights groups, proceeded freely and fairly. The next presidential and national legislative elections are slated for late 1997 or early 1998. In 1994 the Supreme Court ruled 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 23 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, but criticized it for an erroneous communique issued during the Garango incident (see Section l.a.) when it alleged that a third student had been killed by security forces in a separate demonstration. The MBDHP later retracted the statement. Its president, Halidou Ouedraogo, publicly alleged that he had received death threats from a legislator in the Assembly. The latter denied the charges. The year also witnessed the creation of a fourth locally based human rights organization, the Association in Defense of Democracy in Africa for Grassroots Development and the Emergence of a Civil Society (ADABA). The Government is responsive to investigations by international nongovernmental organizations (NGO's). Amnesty International was apprised of the Garango killings. It is currently in touch with the MBDHP and awaiting the results of the government inquiry into that accident. 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 Violence against women, especially wife beating, continues to be a problem. Cases of wife beating are usually handled through customary law and practice. The Government is attempting, using education through the media, to change attitudes toward women. Women face extensive discrimination, and have no constitutional or other legal protections. 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. According to the law, there is no discrimination in inheritance or divorce, but practices vary according to the customs of smaller villages. Government efforts to improve the situation of women include the launching of a fund supported by the U.N. Development Program to make loans to women in villages. Many NGO's are actively working to change attitudes toward woman with full government cooperation and participation by women's groups. Children The Constitution nominally protects children's rights. The Government's efforts to revitalize education have raised the literacy rate from 16 percent to 23 percent in 4 years. Primary health care has been revitalized through the privatization of hospitals, which have greater autonomy in their management. 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 is widely condemned by international health experts as damaging to both physical and psychological health, is still widely practiced especially in many rural areas, and it is usually performed at an early age. According to an independent expert in the field, the percentage of 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 with United States Government assistance launched a campaign against the practice. 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 the 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 railway workers union went on a major strike in July to protest the announced reduction in force of some 500 employees following privatization of the company. Actions taken to block rail traffic shut down the railroad and landlocked Burkina's main export vehicle to the coast. The Government did not attempt to break up the strike action. The strike ended with resumption of rail service on August 26. 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 may also 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 this 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 years, 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 (cfa 25,000), 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. (###)
[end of document]
to 1995 Human Rights Practices report home page.
Return to DOSFAN home page.
This is an official U.S. Government source for information on the WWW. Inclusion of non-U.S. Government links does not imply endorsement of contents.