The United Nations has called for global ceasefire so the world can focus on fighting the novel coronavirus. However, some terrorist and rebel groups are adamant about the ceasefire. Twelve people suspected of being involved in terror related activities have died in police cells in Burkina Faso.
A total of 25 people were arrested, according to the prosecutor of the town of Fada N’Gourma, and were detained overnight on Monday. Sadly, “12 of them have died during the course of the night in the cells they were being held in”.
Security sources believe the cause of death could be due to asphyxiation although the source of deaths have not been confirmed, a source told AFP news.
A prosecutor in Burkina Faso has launched an investigation into the matter. Coincidentally, this case comes a few weeks after Human Rights Watch (HRW) said it was of the belief that Burkina Faso security forces “summarily executed 31 unarmed detainees during operations against Islamist militants.,” France24 reported. These men were arrested during a counter -terrorism operation in the northern town of Djibo.
Similarly, 11 people accused of drug trafficking in July 2019 were found dead in the cell of the national police’s drug squad. According to HRW, over 300 civilians have lost their lives to militants and the government has also killed hundreds of people who were allegedly supporting these militants.
Majority of the 12 men who died in the police cell in Fada N’Gourma east of the capital Ouagadougou were Fulas, a group usually accused of jihadist ties, AFP reports. According to BBC, Burkina Faso’s security forces have been constantly accused of continuously mistreating them.
Officials in Burkina Faso have resolved to investigate similar allegations in the past but human rights groups say he government have not held their end of the bargain and may not have done enough to hold offenders accountable.
Burkina Faso’s government is struggling to overcome the insurgency of Islamic fundamentalist rebels, who have beset the Sahel region so the government is arming civilians to help in the fight.
The country’s parliament approved a bill in late January that permits the military to employ the services of civilian volunteers.
Requirements before enrolment include what defense minister Cherif Sy calls a “moral investigation” to determine the prejudices and patriotism of the 18-year-olds and above.
The Sahel is one of the most volatile regions whose marauding Islamist groups and separatist groups have given headaches to governments for part of the last decade.
NATO allies – the United States and France – have combined forces of more than 10,000 on the ground complementing some 13,000 UN peacekeepers in Mali.
But what Burkina Faso’s desperate actions reveal, in spite of the numbers and weight of international support, is an overwhelming challenge that might have been previously underestimated.
The rebels have been described as “terrorists” by the governments of the region.
When the violence began in 2015, initial assumptions concluded that the governments had to deal with Islamist militants, including the Al-Qaeda-backed Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin or (JNIM).
What we now know is that other armed groups in countries such as Chad, Niger and Mali have also taken advantage of tensions and security weaknesses.
The Sahel, one of the poorest places in the world, is also suffering the worst of the climate crisis with droughts ever more common even as deforestation worsens.
A full-blown humanitarian crisis is what has ensued.
According to the UN, about 4,000 people were killed in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso in 2019. In January 2020, 36 more were killed in Burkina Faso when an unidentified group stormed a northern village and burnt their central market.
The workability of Burkina Faso’s plan to commit civilian volunteers to fight lawless insurgents has been decried by some in the international community.
Writing for TheNational.ae, Stephen Rakowski summarized the dangers:
“The arming of poorly trained civilians will almost certainly lead to more human rights breaches, such as settling scores between rival ethnic groups. It could also spark friendly-fire incidents, as separating civilian vigilantes and militants during the fog of conflict will be difficult. The consequences will be dire, contributing to further deterioration of the country’s social fabric. Militants seeking to exploit fissures with a view to recruiting disaffected youths to their cause will look upon the situation with glee.”
Littered across the last four decades of geopolitical history are abundant examples of how ad hoc militarization of scared civilian population can go wrong.
But President Marc Christian Kabore faces an election later this year and he knows what will be on the ballot. Arming civilians is an obvious last resort that would face scrutiny, but he and his allies would have to defend.
For now, the problems of the Sahel have set all other relatively stable countries in West, North and Central Africa on edge. They would pray the likes of Burkina Faso can win by any means necessary.