Burkina Faso’s security forces reportedly killed 31 unarmed men in the country’s north earlier this month, according to a report on Monday by Human Rights Watch.
The killings occurred on April 9, hours after the men were detained during a government counterterrorism operation in the town of Djibo in the Sahel region, the report said.
The West African nation continues to be wracked by violence linked to Islamic extremists and local defense militias, which has displaced nearly 840,000 people within Burkina Faso.
The country’s military has been previously accused by rights groups of committing human rights atrocities in an attempt to combat the violence. Since 2017, Human Rights Watch has documented the killing of several hundred men by government security forces for their alleged support of extremist groups.
“This is hardly an isolated incident. The Burkinabe security forces face a real and serious threat as armed Islamists murder civilians and terrorize the population,” Corinne Dufka, West Africa director for Human Rights Watch told the AP.
“But committing atrocities in the name of security is both unlawful and deeply counterproductive, for it only pushes more and more people seeking revenge into the ranks of the armed Islamists.”
In a statement on Monday, the Ministry of Defense said that it doesn’t target its own people and that now more than ever success in ending the crisis depends on “the confidence and collaboration of local populations.”
The ministry said that if these allegations are true it will take action and noted that on April 10 it already requested that the director of military justice open an investigation into similar accusations against the army.
Many Fulani are concerned that the government’s attempts to stem the violence will only make things worse. In January, the parliament approved legislation to arm civilian volunteers in the fight against extremism.
Now people are worried that more guns in people’s hands will mean more targeted attacks. Some Fulani have considered joining the volunteers, not to fight extremists but to protect themselves from other civilians.
As well as the escalating attacks, Burkina Faso is dealing with the rapid spread of the new coronavirus. The country is one of the hardest hit on the continent with 581 cases and 38 deaths as of Sunday. International observers are urging the government to hold people accountable and do more to get the country on track.