At least 180 bodies have been found in mass graves in Djibo, a town in northern Burkina Faso, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report released Wednesday, saying the killings were most likely carried out by government forces.
“The available evidence suggests that government forces have been implicated in massive extrajudicial killings,” said HRW. He called on the government to hold those responsible to account.
The government of Burkina Faso told HRW that it would investigate these allegations.
Defense Minister Moumina Cherif Sy said the killings could have been carried out by armed groups using stolen army uniforms and logistical equipment.
“It is difficult for the population to distinguish between armed terrorist groups and the defense and security forces,” he said.
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Burkina Faso has been fighting against armed groups linked to al-Qaeda and ISIS (ISIS) since 2017.
Hundreds of civilians have been killed and nearly a million displaced by the conflict, which also affects the neighbors of Niger and Mali.
Despite promises to investigate and continue previous reports of rights abuses, rights groups say the government has done little.
Concerns over rising reports of soldiers breaching prompted EU and Sahel leaders to warn at security summit on June 30 that one of their troops was found guilty human rights violations would be severely punished.
The HRW report indicates that the killings in Djibo likely took place between November 2019 and June 2020. Residents who saw the bodies told HRW that the dead were all men.
HRW said the bodies were left in groups along the main roads, under bridges, and in vacant fields and land around Djibo.
“The authorities in Burkina Faso must urgently find out who made Djibo a ‘battlefield’,” said Corinne Dufka, West Africa director at HRW.
A community leader in Djibo told HRW, “Many of the dead were blindfolded, hands tied … and shot in the head. ”
Many of those who spoke to HRW said they were afraid of being killed by government forces as well as by armed fighters.
“At night, so many times I heard the noise of vehicles and then, bam! Bam! Bam! … And the next morning, we saw or heard bodies found in this place or that, ”a farmer Djibo told Reuters news agency.