A leading human rights watchdog has released a report condemning the surge of brutal, religious-motivated attacks in Burkina Faso.
Not long ago, the West African nation was heralded as a bastion of peace in the region, modeling a moderate and fair system of democratic politics. But over the past few years, the landlocked country has found itself besieged by Islamic militia groups who are hell-bent on executing Christians and other religious minorities.
The statistics are stark and disturbing: in 2016, there were just 12 jihadist attacks, in 2017 there were 33 and in 2018 it ramped up to some 158.
On Tuesday, New York-based monitoring group “Human Rights Watch” released figures indicating that some 250 civilians have been killed by armed Islamic extremists since April 2019. It must be noted that this is an extremely conservative figure, with HRW taking witness testimony from 20 confirmed attacks.
The jihadi groups perpetrating the brutal onslaught originated in neighboring Mali but began spreading into Burkina Faso over 2016, perpetuating terror at every turn.
“Armed Islamist groups in Burkina Faso have attacked civilians with unmitigated cruelty and utter disregard for human life,” explained Corinne Dufka, West Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “[They are] deliberately targeting farmers, worshippers, mine workers, displaced people and traders are war crimes.”
The groups identified by Human Rights Watch as being culprits in the attacks include Al-Qaeda, local armed group “Ansaroul Islam,” and the Islamic State in Greater Sahara (ISGS).
Various witnesses speaking to HRW about their experience have described the attacks as taking place during church services, at public marketplace and villages, and even as relief personnel were transporting aid to impoverished areas.
Human Rights Watch has detailed several attacks in which Christians were specifically targeted.
On May 12, 2019, roughly 30 armed Islamists carried out a vicious assault on a church in Dablo, Centre-Nord region, killing six believers in cold blood.
Witnesses described the horror that ensued after they heard the men approaching on motorbikes.
“[We] saw them through the windows. The church was so full that dozens of worshippers had to celebrate outside. One group of jihadists surrounded those outside then another entered the church, creating panic…Those who could scrambled out. But then they blocked the doors,” they said.
Another piece of testimony described the killing of the local priest, Father Yampa.
“Father Yampa fled outside through his dressing chamber. He ran about three meters, but a jihadist pointed his gun at him saying, ‘You will not escape.’ The priest turned around, raised his hands, clutching the Bible, and sunk to his knees. And the jihadist shot him in the chest, saying, ‘Allahu Akbar,'” the witness described.
Another worshipper explained how dozens of congregants were trapped inside the church, before eventually being discovered by the militants and hauled outside. “We were ordered to exit the church one-by-one after giving the jihadists our ID cards and phones,” they said.
“They ordered about 20 men to lie down outside, a few meters from the church, all face down in a row. Then they started killing. I couldn’t look. …I just prayed… Then one of them received a phone call – and the killing stopped.”
Citing Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention, HRW insists that the attackers may have engaged in “serious violations of the laws of war” and are possess clear criminal intent to commit “war crimes.”
“The Islamist armed groups need to immediately end their attacks on civilians,” Dufka said, noting that “the Burkina Faso government should take stronger steps to protect vulnerable communities from harm and impartially investigate and appropriately prosecute those implicated in war crimes.”
Another witness explained how the Islamists ordered them “to abandon Christianity and said if they returned to find us [the women] unveiled, they’d kill us.”
“They burned robes used by the catechists, tam tams [drums], church documents, Bibles, cloth used to cover the altar, and, before leaving, stole motorcycles, looted goods, and burned two cars and part of the market,” read an additional piece of testimony from the same major incident.
The assaults have instilled a deep sense of fear and dread in the Christian community as a whole.
Indeed, this brutal attack itself “signaled the beginning of a severe deterioration of security in our area, which is largely Christian,” according to one local man and witness to the tragedy.
Faithwire has been reporting heavily on Christian persecution plaguing this small African country ever since it ramped up at the start of 2018. Below are just a few examples of the recent attacks perpetrated against the faith community:
- Four Christians Singled Out for Wearing Crosses, Executed in Northern Burkina Faso
- Four Christians Slaughtered in Latest Attack on Burkina Faso’s Faith Community
- Priest Among Victims in Brutal Attack During Church Service in Burkina Faso
- Four Dead After Another Brutal Attack on Burkina Faso’s Christian Community
Do continue to pray for all those following Jesus in this troubled nation.