The organisation has previously documented abuses committed by these groups in the country

HRW warns of escalating jihadist violence in Burkina Faso

Fotografía de archive de soldados del Ejército de Burkina Faso en la carretera de Gorgadji, en el área del Sahel - Luc Gnago/REUTERS
Luc Gnago/REUTERS - File photo of Burkina Faso Army soldiers on the road to Gorgadji, in the Sahel area

Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned Thursday of an upsurge in jihadist violence in Burkina Faso, a country where terrorist groups control up to 40% of the territory, which has been regularly attacked by them since 2015.

"Islamist armed groups in Burkina Faso have killed dozens of civilians, looted and burned property, and forced thousands to flee in attacks across the country since late 2022," HRW said in a statement.

"Islamist armed groups have also besieged several towns (...), blocking the delivery of food, other necessities and humanitarian aid to civilians and causing famine and disease among residents and displaced persons," it added.

Between January and May, HRW interviewed 36 people, in person or by telephone, about abuses allegedly committed by jihadist groups in the Centre-West, Centre-North and Sahel regions since November 2022.

Although no armed group claims responsibility for the attacks, witnesses believe the attackers are jihadists "because of their methods of attack, choice of targets and their clothing and turbans".

Families in Djibo, capital of the Sahel region in the north of the country, described how they fed their starving relatives with boiled leaves for days.

"Islamist armed groups are compounding the misery of civilians caught in the fighting by illegally depriving them of food and humanitarian aid," said Carine Kaneza Nantulya, HRW's deputy Africa director.

The organisation has previously documented abuses committed by these groups in Burkina Faso, including summary executions, rape, kidnappings and looting, as well as attacks on students, teachers and schools.

HRW also recalled that the Burkinabe armed forces and the pro-government militias working alongside them (civilians called Volunteers for the Defence of the Homeland) have also committed serious abuses during military operations against terrorists.

Burkina Faso has suffered frequent jihadist attacks since April 2015, perpetrated by groups linked to both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, particularly in the north of the country.

The country suffered two coups d'état in 2022: one on 24 January, led by Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, and the other on 30 September by Captain Ibrahim Traoré, who is currently in charge of the country.

REUTERS/HAMANY DANIEX - Tras varias horas de confusión, algunos medios de comunicación ya hablan de golpe de Estado en Burkina Faso
REUTERS/HAMANY DANIEX - Burkina Faso has suffered frequent jihadist attacks since April 2015

The two military takeovers followed discontent among the population and the army over jihadist attacks, which have forced the displacement of more than two million people, according to the latest government figures.

In April 2023, Burkina Faso's transitional military government, formed in October 2022, announced a 'general mobilisation' as part of a plan to reclaim the country's territory lost to jihadists.

According to ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), jihadist groups control up to 40% of Burkina Faso's territory.