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Burkina Faso Democracy and Rights

Democracy and rights

The democratic elections held in 2015 have given hope for a more democratic development in the country. At the same time, the increased threat from jihadist movements poses a risk that the social climate will increase again and threaten the strong tolerance that exists between different religious groups. At the same time, there is a strong civil society and comparatively outspoken media. According to the constitution, the judiciary should be independent, but the judges are ultimately responsible to the president.

Former President Blaise Compaoré was forced to leave power in 2014 after popular protests that he tried to push through a constitutional amendment so that he could once again run for re-election (see Modern History). In the election held the following year, former Prime Minister Roch Marc Christian Kaboré won by a clear majority. At the same time, his party The People's Progress Movement (MPP) 55 became the largest party in the National Assembly. The elections were conducted in relatively orderly forms.

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Subsequently, the electoral law has been rewritten in a way that has received criticism from the opposition as it makes it more difficult for Burkinians living abroad to vote. Long-term plans are in place to adopt a new constitution (see Political system).

Citizens are free to form political parties. 79 parties took part in the 2015 elections, of which 14 won representation in the National Assembly. However, some representatives of the former ruling party Democratic and Progress Congress (CDP) were not allowed to participate. CDP and MPP had greater opportunities than other parties to appear in media.

Democracy and Human Rights of Burkina FasoPower is largely concentrated on a well-educated elite, the military and representatives of the traditionally strong trade union movement.

Women often have a subordinate position in Burkinian society. Few are active in politics. After the 2015 election, 17 out of 127 members were women, which corresponds to just over 13 percent, and in 2016, seven out of 30 government ministers were women (see Social conditions).

Since 2015, violence from jihadist groups has intensified, revealing how weak Kaboré's government is. It also makes it difficult to push through democratic reforms. Around 450 people have been killed, and since the beginning of 2019, there have been emergency permits in 14 violent provinces in the northern, western and eastern parts of the country. The security forces were given greater powers to search through people's homes and to restrict the residents' freedom of movement.

Corruption is widespread, especially within the police force, and the control bodies that exist have major shortcomings. According to the organization Transparency International's index list of perceived corruption in the countries of the world, in 2019 Burkina Faso ranked 85 out of 180 countries, seven rankings worse than the year before.

Freedom of expression and media

Freedom of the press and freedom of expression are guaranteed in the constitution and the freedom of speech in the press is still great compared to many other West African countries. Media conditions have also improved after the change of power, self-censorship has decreased and it is no longer as common for politicians to interfere in the media's work.

Violation is no longer a crime, but the media can still be sentenced to pay just fine for slander and many media are fighting against bad finances. A judgment in 2018 also shows how sensitive it is to criticize the military, especially its counter-terrorism operations. According to a new law passed by the National Assembly in June 2019, anyone who spreads fake news and who reports on terrorism or the work of security forces in a way that "threatens public order or can affect ongoing operations" can be sentenced to just over a fine and imprisonment for up to ten year. However, it has not yet been approved by the President.

On Reporters Without Borders index of freedom of the press in the world, Burkina Faso ranked 2019 out of 180 countries, which was 16 positions better than 2014.

The situation for the media deteriorated during the troubled period following President Compaore's resignation in October 2014, when a military-backed transitional government took over the regime. In connection with the takeover, journalists were harassed by the military and editors were forced to close temporarily. Initially, they took control of the country's etheric media.

One case that has attracted considerable attention for a long time is the 1998 murder of Norbert Zongo, editor of the government-critical journal l'Indépendant. The murder triggered a political crisis (see Modern History) and has affected the Burkese media climate. A brother of former President Compaoré, François Compaoré. has been singled out for involvement in the murder, but he has never been tried. A charge brought against a member of the president's life guard was dropped in 2006. The following year, two journalists in the journal L'Evénement were sentenced to conditional imprisonment and fines for defamation of Compaoré after submitting a critical report from the Reporters Without Borders organization. The previously accused man died in 2009 and other suspects are also reported to be dead. In March 2015, the investigation into the Zongo murder was resumed and in December the same year three members of Compaore's old life guard were indicted. François Compaoré was arrested in France in 2017 and French courts have approved his extradition to Burkina Faso (see Calendar).

Widespread illiteracy contributes to the fact that there are only a handful of newspapers. Newspapers are largely read only by the middle class in the cities.

The most important source of information for the majority of the population is the state radio RTB, which reaches across the country and broadcasts in several different languages. In the cities it has competition from a large number of privately owned radio stations. Foreign radio stations also broadcast freely in the country.

Television broadcasts have since 2006 reached all over Burkina Faso. In addition to the state television company, there are a number of privately owned TV channels.

About 18 percent of the population has access to the internet (2019). Most people who use the internet connect via mobile.

Legal security and the judiciary

According to the constitution, the judiciary should be independent, but the judges are ultimately responsible to the president. The legal system is based on French law and traditional domestic customary law. The judiciary is considered to be corrupt and ineffective. The judiciary also suffers from a great lack of resources.

The Compaoré government was repeatedly accused of not investigating suspicions of abuses committed by state powers. A series of murders and disappearances remained unresolved. Torture occurred in overcrowded prisons, where only half of the prisoners received any trial.

The transitional government that took office in 2014 promised to investigate the allegations of human crimes committed during Compaoré. The transitional government also resumed closed investigations of unresolved known crimes, such as the murder of journalist Norbert Zongo and President Thomas Sankara (Modern History).

In the spring of 2018, the legal proceedings against 84 persons accused of involvement in a failed coup attempt in 2015 were resumed (see Calendar). However, it was questioned whether the defendants would receive a fair trial of their cases, as all members of the military court had been appointed by the Minister of Defense and the President. In September 2019, two generals were sentenced to long prison terms for their involvement in the coup (see Calendar).

As security in the country deteriorated, reports that the military was guilty of extra-judicial executions (see Calendar). In 2019, Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused the government of killing 115 civilians in connection with operations against militant jihadist groups. At the same time, Islamist groups had killed 42 civilians whom they accused of conspiring with the military. Read HRW's report here.

The death penalty was abolished in 2018. However, as far as is known, no executions have been carried out since the 1980s.


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