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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]

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