Burkina Faso military faces scrutiny for drone strikes on civilian targets – JURIST

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Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report Thursday bringing attention to three military drone strikes conducted by Burkina Faso’s government, reportedly targeting Islamist fighters.

The strikes took place between August and November 2023 and resulted in significant civilian casualties in crowded markets and a funeral, according to a recent report by the international human rights organization. The report indicates that a minimum of 60 civilians lost their lives, with numerous others injured, due to the three separate drone strikes. The incidents occurred in crowded markets in Bouro, a funeral gathering in Bidi and a market near Boulkessi, spanning both Burkina Faso and Mali.

The Burkina Faso military allegedly utilized Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drones, equipped with MAM-L laser-guided bombs, known for their precision. HRW suggested that these actions may violate laws-of-war prohibitions against attacks that fail to distinguish between civilian and military targets, potentially constituting war crimes. Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) defines both “[i]ntentionally directing attacks against the civilian population” and “[i]ntentionally directing attacks against civilian objects” as war crimes. HRW called for an immediate, independent, and transparent investigation by the Burkinabe government into the drone strikes.

Despite HRW’s attempts to engage with the Burkina Faso authorities, a letter sent on December 20, 2023, detailing the findings, and seeking responses to specific questions, received no official response. The report  relies on eyewitness accounts, including 23 individuals who witnessed the strikes, alongside an analysis of photographs, videos and satellite imagery.

Burkina Faso has been under increased scrutiny for alleged human rights violations since the 2022 coup that put current President of the Transition of Burkina Faso Ibrahim Traoré in power, leading to the country’s suspension from the African Union (AU). The Collective Against Impunity and Stigmatization of Communities (CISC) reported in early 2023 that 28 people were found shot dead in the town of Nouna in an alleged ethnic killing at the hands of a volunteer militia group. Then in May of 2023, Amnesty International and HRW called for an investigation into a massacre in the northern village of Karma, alleging that there may have been government and military involvement. HRW then released reports in June of 2023 alleging forced disappearances and purported deaths of 18 men, the execution of at least nine men and the severe beating of children between the ages of 6 and 16 by militia members. Traoré canceled the upcoming 2024 elections after claiming the country was “at war.”

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