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Jihadist abuses on the rise in Burkina Faso, rights group says

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OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso — Atrocities are rife: a 25-year-old woman abducted at night from her home, cornered and raped by a jihadist while another held her baby. Child soldiers loot villages and women killed for having identified their attackers, their bodies abandoned on the road.

These are some of the abuses committed in Burkina Faso by Islamist extremists linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group documented in a report released Monday by Human Rights Watch.

As violence escalates in the war-weakened country, jihadists are raping and killing civilians and increasingly using child soldiers, the international rights group said.

Civilians are also at risk of unlawful killings and enforced disappearances by government security forces and government-allied militias engaged in counter-terrorism operations, according to the report.

“The rate of attacks and the resulting degradation in Burkina Faso is as dramatic as it is worrying. People’s lives are being shattered as violence invades more parts of the country and threatens neighboring states,” Corinne Dufka, West Africa director at Human Rights Watch, told The Associated Press.

Based on interviews with 83 survivors, witnesses and others between September and April, the report records dozens of rapes, hundreds of murders and the destruction of villages, including the looting of health centers and the destruction of infrastructure. water and telecommunications by extremists across the country.

For six years, Burkina Faso has struggled to stem the growing jihadist insurgency that has killed thousands and displaced nearly 2 million people. In January, the democratically elected president was overthrown by mutinous soldiers who promised to make security a top priority. However, extremist attacks are intensifying and spreading.

Much of the recent violence is taking place in the Centre-Nord region where jihadists have driven people from their homes. Dozens of women told Human Rights Watch that they had been brutally raped while collecting firewood, on their way to or from market, or while fleeing attacks on their villages.

A 37-year-old woman said she was beaten 25 times and called a fake Muslim before being raped.

Many women need psychological support but have not received any assistance from international aid groups, according to the leader of a local women’s group who spoke on condition of anonymity for her safety.

Children, many of them between the ages of 13 and 15, are also increasingly being forced into becoming fighters, used by jihadists to burn down villages, hold captives and steal civilians, especially livestock, according to the report.

Last year, AP documented one of the first visible uses of child soldiers in the conflict, during the deadly attack on the village of Solhan in the Sahel province, where at least 160 people were killed.

Government security forces are also accused of committing abuses while trying to stem the violence. Human Rights Watch documented 42 alleged summary executions and 14 enforced disappearances of civilians and suspected jihadist fighters by state security forces. The majority of the victims were ethnic Fulani, who are generally Muslim and are increasingly targeted by the army and local defense militias because they are suspected of being affiliated with Islamist groups, defense organizations say Rights.

Some of the alleged abuses occurred in the context of major counterterrorism operations, according to the report. In January, 22 people were reportedly killed and six abducted in a government ground and air offensive in the village of Yattakou in the Sahel province of Seno, Abdoul Kadry Ousmane, the village chief, told AP. The AP cannot independently verify the claims.

The government did not respond to requests for comment from the AP. However, in a statement in April responding to allegations that more than 100 civilians had been killed by security forces in Oudalan province in the Sahel, the army said it carried out all its missions with a “high conscience respect for human rights” and that she would investigate. The Incident.

Still, the United Nations says allegations of abuses during security operations are concerning, said Seif Magango, Africa spokesperson for the UN Human Rights Office.

As the violence on both sides escalates, residents are caught in the middle. In June, Azera Dogon’s 16-year-old son was killed by jihadists while fetching water in his northern village. She buried him next to the house before fleeing to a makeshift displacement site in the town of Ouahigouya. Now the mother of 10 wants to go home but says the situation is too unpredictable.

“You hear that the jihadists are in the north, in the south or elsewhere and you are told not to go elsewhere,” Dogon said. “It’s getting very difficult… Nobody knows what’s going on.”

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