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Burkina Faso

Until the end of the 19th century, the history of Burkina Faso was dominated by the empire-building Mossi. The French arrived and claimed the area in 1896, but Mossi resistance ended only with the capture of their capital Ouagadougou in 1901. The colony of Upper Volta was established in 1919, but it was dismembered and reconstituted several times until the present borders were recognized in 1947.

The French administered the area indirectly through Mossi authorities until independence was achieved on August 5, 1960. The first President, Maurice Yameogo, amended the constitution soon after taking office to ban opposition political parties. His government lasted until 1966, when the first of several military coups placed Lt. Col. Sangoule Lamizana at the head of a government of senior army officers. Lamizana remained in power throughout the 1970s, as President of military and then elected governments.

With the support of unions and civil groups, Col. Saye Zerbo overthrew President Lamizana in 1980. Colonel Zerbo also encountered resistance from trade unions and was overthrown 2 years later by Maj. Dr. Jean-Baptiste Ouedraogo and the Council of Popular Salvation (CSP). Factional infighting developed between moderates in the CSP and radicals led by Capt. Thomas Sankara, who was appointed Prime Minister in January 1983, but was subsequently arrested. Efforts to bring about his release, directed by Capt. Blaise Compaore, resulted in yet another military coup d'etat, led by Sankara and Compaore on August 4, 1983.

Sankara established the National Revolutionary Committee with himself as President and vowed to "mobilize the masses." But the committee's membership remained secret and was dominated by Marxist-Leninist military officers. In 1984, Upper Volta changed its name to Burkina Faso, meaning "the country of honorable people." But many of the strict security and austerity measures taken by Sankara provoked resistance. Despite his initial popularity and personal charisma, Sankara was assassinated in a coup which brought Capt. Blaise Compaore to power in October 1987.

Compaore pledged to pursue the goals of the revolution but to "rectify" Sankara's "deviations" from the original aims. In fact, Compaore reversed most of Sankara's policies and combined the leftist party he headed with more centrist parties after the 1989 arrest and execution of two colonels who had supported Compaore and governed with him up to that point. .


Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world, with a per capita gross national product (GNP) of $300. More than 80% of the population relies on subsistence agriculture, with only a small fraction directly involved in industry and services. Drought, poor soil, lack of adequate communications and other infrastructure, a low literacy rate, and an economy vulnerable to external shocks are all longstanding problems. The export economy also remains subject to fluctuations in world prices.

Burkina remains committed to the structural adjustment program it launched in 1991, and it has been one of the first beneficiaries of the World Bank/International Monetary Fund (IMF) debt-relief and poverty reduction programs for highly indebted poor countries. At least 20% of the government budget is financed from international aid, and the majority of infrastructure investments are externally financed. Growth rates have been more than 5% from the late 1990s through 2003.

Many Burkinabe migrate to neighboring countries for work, and their remittances provide a contribution to the economy's balance of payments that is second only to cotton as a source of foreign exchange earnings. Political and economic problems in Cote d'Ivoire have had a direct impact on this source of revenue for millions of Burkina households. The military crisis in neighboring Cote d'Ivoire negatively affected trade between the two countries, due to the year-long closure of the border between Burkina Faso and Cote d'Ivoire from September 2002 to September 2003. Goods and services, as well as remittances, continue to flow from Burkinabe living in Cote d'Ivoire, but they have been rerouted through other countries in the region, such as Togo, Ghana, and Benin. Commercial and personal traffic across the border is slowly rebuilding steam.

Burkina is attempting to improve the economy by developing its mineral resources, improving its infrastructure, making its agricultural and livestock sectors more productive and competitive, and stabilizing the supplies and prices of food grains. Staple crops are millet, sorghum, maize, and rice. The cash crops are cotton, groundnuts, karite (shea nuts), and sesame. Livestock, once a major export, has declined.

Manufacturing is limited to cotton and food processing (mainly in Bobo-Dioulasso) and import substitution heavily protected by tariffs. Some factories are privately owned, and others are set to be privatized. Burkina's exploitable natural resources are limited, although deposits of manganese, zinc, and gold have attracted the interest of international mining firms.

A railway connects Burkina with the port of Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire, 1,150 kilometers (712 mi.) away. Due to the closure of the border with Cote d'Ivoire, this railway was not operational between September 2002 and September 2003, but cargo and limited passenger service are now offered. Primary roads between main towns in Burkina Faso are paved. Domestic air service and flights within Africa are limited. Phones and Internet service providers are relatively reliable, but the cost of utilities is very high.


The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice.

The Government required that religious groups register with the Ministry of Territorial Administration. There were no penalties for failure to register. All groups were given equal access to licenses, and the Government approved registrations in a routine fashion. All groups were given equal access to licenses, and the Government approved registrations in a routine fashion. Indigenous beliefs 40%, Muslim 50%, Christian (mainly Roman Catholic) 10%<


The crime rate in Burkina Faso is low compared to industrialized countries. An analysis was done using INTERPOL data for Burkina Faso. For purpose of comparison, data were drawn for the seven offenses used to compute the United States FBI's index of crime. Index offenses include murder, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft. The combined total of these offenses constitutes the Index used for trend calculation purposes. Burkina Faso will be compared with Japan (country with a low crime rate) and USA (country with a high crime rate). According to the INTERPOL data, for murder, the rate in 1998 was 0.38 per 100,000 population for Burkina Faso, 1.10 for Japan, and 6.3 for USA. For rape, the rate in 1998 was .24 for Burkina Faso, compared with 1.48 for Japan and 34.4 for USA. For robbery, the rate in 1998 was .04 for Burkina Faso, 2.71 for Japan, and 165.2 for USA. For aggravated assault, the rate in 1998 was 1.77 for Burkina Faso, 15.40 for Japan, and 360.5 for USA. For burglary, the rate in 1998 was .17 for Burkina Faso, 187.93 for Japan, and 862.0 for USA. The rate of larceny for 1998 was 2.44 for Burkina Faso, 1198.13 for Japan, and 2728.1 for USA. The rate for motor vehicle theft in 1998 was .01 for Burkina Faso, compared with 28.37 for Japan and 459.0 for USA. The rate for all index offenses combined was 5.05 for Burkina Faso, compared with 1709.88 for Japan and 4615.5 for USA. (Note: data were not reported to INTERPOL by the USA for 1998, but were derived from the Uniform Crime Report for 1998)


Between 1997 and 1998, according to INTERPOL data, the rate of murder increased from 0.25 to 0.38 per 100,000 population, an increase of 52%. The rate for rape decreased from .29 to .24, a decrease of 17.2%. The rate of robbery decreased from .31 to .04, an decrease of 87.1%. The rate for aggravated assault increased from 1.34 to 1.77, an increase of 32%. The rate for burglary had no change and stated constant at .17 per 100,000 inhabitants. The rate of larceny increased from 1.68 to 2.44, an increase of 45.2%. The rate of motor vehicle theft decreased from .16 to .01, and decrease of 93.8. The rate of total index offenses increased from 4.2 to 5.1, an increase of 20.2%.


It is based on French civil law system and customary law.


(Date references below are to year 2004.) The security apparatus consists of the armed forces and the gendarmerie, which are controlled by the Ministry of Defense; the national police, controlled by the Ministry of Security; and the municipal police, controlled by the Ministry of Territorial Administration. The Presidential Guard is an autonomous security force, although technically it is subject to the jurisdiction of the armed forces and part of the army. The civilian authorities maintained effective control of the security forces. Some members of the security forces committed serious human rights abuses.

There were no politically motivated killings by the Government or its agents; however, security forces were responsible for the deaths of criminal suspects and detainees, although fewer than in the previous year.

On April 4, 2004 the Burkinabe Movement for Human Rights (MBDHP) reported that security forces were responsible for the deaths of two unidentified criminal suspects whose bodies had been found near the road to Tougouri, Sanmatenga Province; the victims apparently had been shot to death. The MBDHP, the country's largest human rights organization and a vocal critic of the Government, demanded an investigation; however, no action had been taken by year's end. On July 25, Pitroipa Yemdaogo died after being detained for approximately 6 months at the House of Arrest and Correction of Ouagadougous; Yemdaogo was arrested in Ghana on February 25 for suspected involvement in the killing of three policemen in Zaogho, Kouritenga Province, and subsequently repatriated. Authorities had given no official reason for Yemdaogo's death by year's end; however, some human rights NGOs suspected his death was the result of abuse. No action was taken during the year against security forces believed to be responsible for the 2003 executions of 6 men in Godin, Boulkiemde Province and 12 men in Fada N'Gourma or in the 2003 killings of 18 criminal suspects or of 4 persons who died under suspicious circumstances following incarceration or contact with security forces.

There were no developments in any of the 2002 cases of killings by security forces. On June 22, a trial was conducted in the 1999 killing by police in Banfora, Camoe Province, of Mamadou Kone, who was shot after striking two policemen during an escape attempt. Dabila Ouattara, one of the policemen accused in the case, was acquitted; however, the court ordered the Government to pay Kone's family approximately $176,000 (100.3 million CFA francs) in compensation.

Societal violence resulted in deaths during the year. On April 30, conflict between the residents of Sigle county seat and Tiemnore village, Boulkiemde Province, resulted in the death of Urbain Sibnoaga Gansore from Sigle. Police subsequently charged and detained Arsene Kabore of Tiemnore with the killing. In revenge for the killing of Gansore, residents of Sigle looted the police station and beat Kabore to death. Police arrested and detained 10 persons, who subsequently were released on bail and awaiting trial at year's end. On June 29 and 30, a land use conflict between Gourmantches farmers and Fulani herders from the village of Balere resulted in the deaths of 10 Fulani cattle herders; approximately 15 farmers from the Gourmantche and Zaosse ethnic groups were arrested, and an investigation was ongoing at year's end. Farmers have traditionally accused herders of destroying scarce farmland. On November 30 and December 1, in Po county seat, another land use conflict between Kassena farmers of the Gourunsi ethnic group and Fulani herders resulted in the death of a Fulani herder, the injuring of another, the displacement of hundreds of Fulanis, and the destruction of Fulani houses and property. Police arrested 15 Kassena farmers, who were awaiting trial at year's end. There were no results in the investigation of the November 2003 killing of Assami Tonde, who reportedly had trespassed on sacred ground prior to a traditional ceremony; Tonde was allegedly beaten to death by the retainers of the Naaba Kiiba of Yatenga, a traditional chieftain. There were no further developments.


The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, the Government did not observe these prohibitions in practice.

The national police, under the Ministry of Security, and the municipal police, under the Ministry of Territorial Administration, are responsible for public security; gendarmes reporting to the Ministry of Defense also are responsible for some aspects of public security. Corruption was widespread, particularly among lower levels of the police. A Committee Against Corruption continued to address corrupt practices within the police.

The Constitution provides for the right to expeditious arraignment and access to legal counsel after a detainee has been charged before a judge; however, authorities did not ensure due process. The law limits detention for investigative purposes without charge to a maximum of 72 hours, renewable for a single 48-hour period; however, police rarely observed these provisions in practice. The average time of detention without charge was 1 week, and the law allows judges to impose an unlimited number of 6-month preventive detention periods. Defendants without access to legal counsel were often detained for weeks or months before appearing before a magistrate. In some cases, prisoners were held without charge or trial for longer periods than the maximum sentence they would have received if convicted of the alleged offense. There was a pretrial release system; however, it was unknown how often it was used.


The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, the judiciary was subject to executive influence in practice. The President has extensive appointment and other judicial powers. The Constitution stipulates that the Head of State also is the President of the Superior Council of the Magistrature, which can nominate and remove high-level magistrates and examine the performance of individual magistrates

Systemic weaknesses in the justice system included the removability of judges, outdated legal codes, an insufficient number of courts, a lack of financial and human resources, and excessive legal costs.

There are four operational higher courts: The Supreme Court of Appeal; the Council of State; the Audit Court and Office; and the Constitutional Council. Beneath these higher courts are 2 courts of appeal and 18 provincial courts. There also is a High Court of Justice with jurisdiction to try the president and senior government officials for treason and other serious crimes. On September 8, the National Assembly passed a bill that established a tribunal to try persons under 18 who are charged with felonies or misdemeanors as children rather than adults. The military court system, which tried only military cases, was subject to executive influence.

The Constitution provides for the right to public trial, access to counsel, a presumption of innocence, and has provisions for bail and appeal. While these rights were generally respected, the ability of citizens to obtain a fair trial remained restricted by their ignorance of the law and by a continuing shortage of magistrates.

On April 6, 13 of the 17 military and civilian persons detained in connection with the October 2003 coup plot went on trial: 4 were convicted and sentenced to between 5 and 10 years' imprisonment; 3 received suspended sentences of between 12 months and 2 years; and the remaining 6 were acquitted. Several of the defendants retracted their confessions during the trial, alleging that they had been beaten and coerced into signing the statements. The MBDHP and other human rights groups that visited the defendants during pretrial detention reported that the defendants had been well treated.

In addition to the formal judiciary, customary or traditional courts presided over by village chiefs handled many neighborhood and village problems, such as divorce and inheritance disputes. Citizens generally respected these decisions, but also could take a case to a formal court.

There were no reports of political prisoners.


Prison conditions were harsh and could be life threatening. The federal prison in Bobo-Dioulasso, built in 1947, housed approximately 900 prisoners, although it was designed to hold less than half that number. The prison diet was poor, and inmates often relied on supplemental food from relatives. There were separate facilities for men, women, children, and high-profile persons; however, these facilities typically were crowded, common rooms rather than individual cells. Pretrial detainees usually were not held separately from convicted prisoners.

Prison visits were granted at the discretion of prison authorities; however, permission generally was granted, and advance permission was not required. Prison observers visited prisons during the year.

Numerous human rights organizations and the International Committee of the Red Cross were permitted to visit the 16 detainees accused of participating in an alleged coup plot in October 2003.


Domestic violence against women, especially wife beating, occurred frequently. No law specifically protects women from domestic violence, and cases of wife beating usually were handled through customary law and practice. There were no statistics on rape, although it was recognized as a crime. Spousal rape was not discussed. There were organizations that counseled rape victims, including Catholic and Protestant missions, the Association of Women Jurists in Burkina, the MBDHP, the Association of Women, and Promofemmes--a regional network that works to combat violence against women. The Government has attempted to change attitudes toward women, using education through the media.

FGM was practiced widely, especially in many rural areas, and usually was performed at an early age. Up to 70 percent of girls and women have undergone this procedure; however, the Government has demonstrated its commitment to eradicate FGM through education, and the National Committee for the Fight Against Excision reported that the incidence of excision has decreased by approximately 40 percent since 1990. FGM is a crime, with strict punishments for those involved in its practice. Perpetrators were subject to imprisonment of 6 months to 3 years and a significant fine.

During the year, the Government arrested and prosecuted several women who performed FGM. On January 21, police arrested Yiere Mamou Berte for practicing FGM on 41 young girls in Sefina village, Kenedougou Province; Berte was in prison awaiting trial at year's end. On February 4, Mariam Kone was given a 12-month suspended sentence for practicing FGM on eight young girls in Banwa Province. On August 16, police arrested a woman in Ouagadougou for circumcising 12 girls ranging in age from 2 to 12; the arrest received widespread media coverage because of the public outcry that the practice still occurred in metropolitan areas.

The law does not specifically prohibit prostitution; however, pimping and soliciting are illegal.

Scarification of the faces of both boys and girls of certain ethnic groups was gradually disappearing.

There were occasional reports of trafficking in women (see Section 5, Trafficking).

The Penal Code explicitly prohibits sexual harassment; however, such harassment was common.

The law prohibits forced marriage, with specific penalties under the Penal Code for violators. Polygyny was permitted, but both parties must agree to it prior to a marriage, and the woman maintained the power to oppose further marriages by her husband if she could provide evidence that he abandoned her and her children. Either spouse could petition for divorce; custody of children was granted to either parent based on the children's best interests.

Although the law provides equal property rights for women and some inheritance benefits depending on other family relationships, in practice, customary law prohibits women from the right to own property, particularly real estate. In rural areas, land belonged to the family of the man whom a woman married. Women still did much of the subsistence farming work. Customary law does not recognize inheritance rights for women and regards the woman as property that can be inherited upon her husband's death.

There were no specific constitutional provisions or laws protecting women, who faced extensive discrimination. In general, women continued to occupy a subordinate position and experienced discrimination in such areas as education, jobs, property, and family rights. Overall, women represented 45 percent of the workforce. In the modern sector, women comprised one-fourth of the government workforce, although usually they were found in lower paying positions. The Ministry of Women's Promotion actively promoted women's rights during the year; the Minister was a woman. The Government also established income generating activities for women during the year, including the production of fabric, shea butter, and soap.

Several NGOs were active in promoting women's rights, including Women in Law and Development in Africa, Association of Female Judges, Association of Elected Women of Burkina Faso, Women's Coalition of Burkina Faso, and Kebayina Association of Women of Burkina Faso.


The Constitution nominally protects children's rights. The Government demonstrated its commitment to improve the condition of children by continuing efforts, in cooperation with donors, to revitalize primary health care by focusing on care for nursing mothers and infants; vaccination campaigns for measles, meningitis, and other illnesses; and health education.

The Government allotted approximately 25 percent of the national budget to education, and the law provides for free compulsory education; however, the Government lacked the means to provide universal, free primary education. If a child qualified on the basis of grades and social condition (that is, the family was "poor"), tuition-free education could continue through junior high and high school. Children still were responsible for paying for school supplies, and many parents could not afford to lose a child's labor in the fields or at other remunerative jobs; as a result, overall school enrollment was approximately 52 percent (46 percent for girls). The Government has taken steps to promote primary education for girls through encouragement of donor scholarships, school feeding programs, and information campaigns to change societal attitudes toward educating girls. Girls made up slightly more than one-third of the total student population in the primary school system. Schools in rural areas had even lower percentages of female students than schools in urban areas, and illiteracy for girls in the rural areas ran as high as 95 percent. The rate of male literacy was approximately 32 percent, and female literacy was 15 percent.

The law prohibits the abuse of children under 15 years old and provides for the punishment of abusers. On March 3, the tribunal of Koudougou, Boulkiemde Province, sentenced Pauline Ouoba and her husband Saidou Pandamba to 6 months' imprisonment and 12 months' suspended sentence, respectively, for severely beating their 12-year-old adopted child.


The Constitution specifically prohibits slavery, inhumane treatment, and mistreatment of children and adults, and the Penal Code prohibits kidnapping, violence, and mistreatment of children; however, the country was a source, transit, and destination country for internationally trafficked persons, including children. In May 2003, the National Assembly adopted an anti-trafficking law that punishes child traffickers with 1 to 10 years' imprisonment and fines of $525 (299,250 CFA francs) to $2,600 (1.5 million CFA francs); however, the law had not been implemented by year's end. The sexual exploitation of children was a problem.

During the year, 25 child traffickers were arrested: At year's end, 16 had been sentenced to prison; 3 were being tried; and 6 were in detention awaiting trial.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and the Directorate of Labor Health and Security, Child Labor, and Trafficking Division of the Ministry of Labor implement and enforce child labor laws and regulations; however, the Government had limited resources to combat trafficking in women and children.

The country was an occasional source for women who traveled to Europe to work as domestics, but subsequently were exploited sexually. The country was a transit point for trafficked children, notably from Mali, who often were trafficked to Cote d'Ivoire. Malian children also were trafficked into the country. Destinations for trafficked children of the country included Mali, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, and Nigeria.

Trafficked children were subject to violence, sexual abuse, forced prostitution, and deprivation of food, shelter, schooling, and medical care. Organized child trafficking networks existed throughout the country. One study identified eight networks in Ouagadougou and seven in Bobo-Dioulasso. Child trafficking networks cooperated with regional smuggling rings.

In January, the Directorate for the Protection of Infants and Adolescents published a report based on interviews with the 1,710 trafficked children whom security forces had intercepted from 2000-03: 45 percent were between the ages of 12 and 15, and 80 percent had never gone to school. The report estimated that 175,000 children between the ages of 6 and 17 worked and lived apart from their families, including 95,000 who worked abroad.

In the past, some children voluntarily traveled to Cote d'Ivoire to work as agricultural laborers to escape poverty at home. In other cases, children were lured to plantation work in Cote d'Ivoire by false promises of generous remuneration, only to be forced to work under very harsh conditions for little or no payment. Some children were forced to work long hours without pay, allegedly to repay the cost of their transport to Cote d'Ivoire and of the food and housing on the plantation.

However, according to Lutrena, a local NGO that collaborated with both the International Program for Elimination of Child Labor (IPEC) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) to fight against child trafficking, the flow children going to Cote d'Ivoire for work purposes declined significantly following the September 2002 military rebellion there. Many of these working children reportedly headed for Mali either to work in rice plantations or study in Islamic schools or for coastal countries like Benin. According to the Ministry of Social Action and National Solidarity, security forces and regional trafficking surveillance committees intercepted 644 trafficked children in 2003.

The Government worked with international donors and the ILO to address child trafficking, in part by organizing seminars against child trafficking for customs officers. During the year, security services and civil society groups organized similar workshops and seminars. The Government also established watch committees in certain provinces in which child trafficking and labor were problems. The watch committees included representatives of industries usually implicated in child labor (cotton growers, for example), the police, NGOs, and social welfare agencies. An IPEC program to prevent child trafficking for work purposes on cotton plantations continued during the year.


Though Burkina Faso is not a major source, destination, or transit country for drugs, there is growing concern about and awareness of drug abuse generally. Policy and enforcement authorities take their responsibilities in this domain seriously, but must work with limited means to address issues as they arise. Usage, transit and production are mostly limited to cannabis. Most trafficked drug products come from neighboring Ghana and also from Nigeria. Burkina Faso is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention.

There is growing concern over the abuse of cannabis and synthetic drugs in Burkina Faso. According to the police, an estimated 20 percent of young people have tried marijuana or other illicit drugs. Customs officials seized over 800 kilograms of cannabis in 2002. Investigations stemming from the seizures resulted in the conviction of approximately 280 people who received punishments ranging from a three-month to a five-year prison term. The 2003 statistics for drug seizure, drug-related convictions and punishments were not available by year's end. Most of the marijuana cultivated in Burkina Faso is intended for domestic consumption.

With the encouragement and monetary support of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), an inter-ministerial National Committee to Fight Against Drugs has been in place since 1993. This committee has a permanent secretariat and gathers together representatives of the various ministries involved in counternarcotics efforts. The committee is currently chaired by the Minister of Security. Lacking a reliable assessment of the status of drug trafficking, use, and production in Burkina Faso, the drug control committee established in 2002 a panel of experts to conduct a preliminary study and to produce a proposal for further research. The committee did not start the study by year's end because the GOBF was yet to approve of $100,000 budget for the study. The committee had been hoping to have its first regional office established in southern Burkina Faso by the end of 2003, but funding problems prevented this from happening. This office would help coordinate at a regional level the efforts of the agencies that work on drug interdiction efforts.

Burkina Faso is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention, the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances, and the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, as amended by the 1972 Protocol. Although limited by a lack of resources, the GOBF has endeavored to meet the goals of the 1988 UN Drug Convention wherever possible. The creation and continued activity of the National Committee to Fight Against Drugs is indicative of the GOBF's efforts in this regard. Burkina Faso has signed and ratified the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its two Protocols.

Corruption is endemic throughout the poorer countries of Africa, including Burkina. The government in Burkina punishes corruption when encountered. The USG is not aware of any narcotics-related corruption at senior levels in the government of Burkina Faso.

The U.S. has no current narcotics-related initiatives planned for Burkina.

Burkina is not an important transit country for drugs. Should there be any sign of increased use of Burkina for trafficking in hard drugs, the U.S. has regional programs that could respond. However, for the moment, there are no plans for narcotics assistance programs in Burkina.


Internet research assisted by Michael Lapena, John Turner, and Susie Watkins

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