According to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), a respected and credible human rights non-governmental organization, Burkinabe security services have executed summarily more than 115 civilians in operations against jihadi militants between April 2018 and January 2019. HRW also reports that the Islamists have killed forty-two alleged government collaborators during that same period. Burkina Faso has been dealing with Islamist militant attacks for the last three years, but over the past three months in particular, attacks have accelerated; the Burkinabe government declared a state of emergency in January. In response to accusations of human rights violations, the authorities have acknowledged the charges and stated that they are being investigated.
The Burkinabe security services’ murder—for that is what it is—of civilians is tragically reminiscent of the early days of the Boko Haram insurrection in northeast Nigeria. Ever since, abuses by Nigerian security services have been a driver of Boko Haram recruitment. The fear must be that this pattern will reproduce itself in Burkina Faso. To break the cycle, the Burkinabe authorities must conduct a credible investigation—something most observers conclude the Nigerians have failed to do—and bring the perpetrators to justice.
U.S. military assistance is typically contingent on respect for human rights. In February, for example, the U.S. military cut some military aid to Cameroon over human rights abuses associated with operations against the separatist movement in the west. Not only are these abuses counterproductive, it makes it more difficult for France, the United States, and other Western countries to support Burkina Faso in their struggle against jihadist terrorist groups.