Since 2016, the Group for Support of Muslims (JNIM), the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) and Ansarul Islam have terrorized civilians in Burkina Faso for no clear reason. The clashing militias and complex relationships between different actors is responsible for further destabilizing and the escalation of violence and insurgency in the region. In the last five years, civilian deaths rose more than 650%. 920,000 people have been internally displaced, and in dire need humanitarian assistance.
In an attempt to recruit supporters for their movement, Islamist rebels seized power from the government after exploiting its systemic negligence of citizens and high levels of poverty in the country. Since the beginning of the insurgency, attacks have become more frequent and deliberate, massacring innocent civilians in churches, schools and other communal settings. However, in response, security forces, foreign and government troops are executing those they perceive to be affiliated with Islamist groups in an attempt to hinder jihadist presence in the country. This is potentially ineffective, as it aggravates tension between actors and could further threaten the stability of other West African countries in the region.
For instance, the crisis in Burkina Faso has been affected by extremist violence in Mali, where armed groups have committed numerous crimes against humanity, war crimes and sexual violence. The tri-border between Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso aids in the expansion of groups like al-Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The lax border security will only harm more civilians as the violence continues. For instance, while militias and self-defense groups are targeting people’s identity, Islamist armed groups have targeted people’s livelihoods. As a result, the failure of the state and border security has failed to protect their civilians from the violence.
Genocide Watch recommends the UN to take part in counterinsurgency efforts. Both the Burkina Faso government and civilians must also work together to prioritize citizen needs. Individuals are more tempted to join rebel groups if a government cannot adequately provide for their needs; thus, the government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) must work together to adequately fund and assist citizens with their needs.
Currently, the international community has:
- launched an investigation through the International Criminal Court for war and human rights crimes
- subjected individuals to sanctions through the UN Security Council for violating human rights
- launched Operation Barkhane, a French-led counterterrorism operation
- launched the Civilian Casualties Identification, Tracking and Analysis Cell to mitigate civilian harm
However, this is not enough. Not only should all three governments work together to protect their citizens, greater international response from people around the world will pressure governments to participate in funding humanitarian aid and work to disarming militias. Humanitarian law is being grossly violated and neglected in all three countries, and individuals must be held responsible for their crimes.