UN calls for ‘impartial probe’ after 28 killed in Burkina Faso

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The UN rights chief called Saturday on the transitional authorities in jihadist-hit Burkina Faso to swiftly and transparently probe the killing of 28 people whose bodies were found last weekend.

Volker Turk welcomed that authorities had said they would investigate after the bodies were discovered in the northwest of the country.

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“I call on them to ensure it is prompt, thorough, impartial and transparent and to hold all those responsible to account regardless of position or rank,” he said.

“I have sent a letter to the Minister of Foreign Affairs underlining this exact message,” the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said.

“The victims and their loved ones are owed no less.”

The UN rights office said its local sources had blamed the killings on a volunteer militia, Volontaires pour la Defense de la Patrie (VDP), created to support the army's battle against jihadists.

According to the statement, they said VDP members had descended on the town, killing 28 men, “in apparent retaliation for an earlier attack on the group’s military base the previous night” by suspected members of the Al-Qaeda-linked Jama’at Nasr al Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM).

Burkina Faso, a landlocked West African country, is one of the poorest and most volatile nations in the world.

Since 2015, it has been grappling with an insurgency led by jihadists affiliated with Al-Qaeda and ISIS that has killed tens of thousands and displaced around two million people.

Attacks targeting the security forces and civilians have increased in recent months, especially in northern and eastern regions bordering jihadist-torn Mali and Niger.

The VDP, set up in December 2019, comprises civilian volunteers who are given two weeks' military training and then work alongside the army, typically carrying out surveillance, information-gathering or escort duties.

Commentators have long worried that the poorly-trained volunteers are easy targets for the jihadists -- and may also dangerously inflame ethnic friction without proper controls.

The UN rights chief had previously “raised concerns directly with the authorities regarding the potential human rights risks linked to recruitment, arming and deployment of auxiliaries in Burkina Faso,” Saturday’s statement said.

It stressed the “urgent need to strengthen their vetting procedures, pre-deployment training on international human rights and humanitarian law.”

“Effective supervision by the security and defense forces” was also needed “to ensure inclusion and transparency during their recruitment,” it said.

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