DAKAR – Burkina Faso's government has opened investigations into allegations of human rights abuses by its security forces after a video surfaced that appeared to show the extrajudicial killing of seven children in the country’s north.
“The conclusions of the said investigations will lead, if the facts are established, to legal proceedings against the persons responsible for these acts," government spokesperson Jean-Emmanuel Ouedraogo said in a statement issued Thursday. "There will be no impunity for the proven perpetrators of human rights violations in Burkina Faso.”
The announcement was in response to calls from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to investigate the video, which circulated on chat groups starting in mid-February.
The Associated Press this month published its own findings about the video. AP's investigation determined that Burkina Faso’s security forces killed the children in a military base outside the town of Ouahigouya. Relatives of one of the boys, 16-year-old Adama, said he had come from feeding cows when security forces detained and later killed him.
Jihadi fighters linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group have waged a violent insurgency in Burkina Faso for seven years. The violence has killed thousands of people, displaced some 2 million, and destabilized and divided the once peaceful country, leading to two coups last year.
Since Capt. Ibrahim Traore seized power in September during the second coup, extrajudicial killings of civilians have increased and civic freedoms have shrunk, according to rights groups and residents.
The government's pledge to bring perpetrators to justice marked a stark shift from its initial response to the killings captured in the video.
At the time of the AP investigation's publication, authorities said Burkina Faso's security forces were not involved and that jihadis often disguise themselves as military personnel and film killings in order to blame the government.
The government also cracked down on journalists days after French newspaper Liberation published its own story about the killings. Liberation correspondent Agnes Faivre and Sophie Douce, a French correspondent for French newspaper Le Monde, were expelled and given 24 hours to leave the country with no explanation.
Rights groups say the government's announcement was a step in the right direction but only if the promised investigations yield results and enhances the protection of human rights.
“The problem is that these types of communiques are very rarely acted upon. There is no guarantee that this one will be the exception," Chrysogone Zougmore, president of the Burkina Faso Movement for Human Rights, said.
"The very few sanctions that do occur are so insignificant that they do not act as a deterrent. In short, and in terms of importance, this umpteenth government communique of its kind offers no guarantee of respect for human rights and civil liberties,” he said.