Fatou Jagne Senghore, 19 Article International

Following the military takeover on 24 January, ARTICLE 19 calls on the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to ensure that the protection of human rights is central to their talks with the transitional government of Burkina Faso. The takeover is yet another setback for the democracy in West Africa, following coups in Guinea and Mali. On 24 January, President Kabore was deposed in a military coup. Soon after, both the AU and ECOWAS suspended Burkina Faso’s membership, though no further sanctions were issued against Burkina during the 3 February 2022 meeting of ECOWAS leaders.

However, they did call for the establishment of a prompt timetable for a return to constitutional order. Civic space in Burkina Faso has been severely restricted since the end of November 2021. Authorities adopted a heavy hand response against protests, resulting in protestors and bystanders being injured. At least three journalists, Ibrahima Kaboré from the private television channel La Chaîne au cœur de l’Afrique (LCA), Henry Wilkins, a freelance journalist, and his Associated Press (AP) colleague Mednick and a child were reportedly injured in two separate protests since November. In some cases, authorities refused to allow protests to take place.

Civil society activists, particularly those involved in organising protests, including Mamadou Drabo, the Executive Secretary of the “Sauvons le Burkina Faso movement”, Hervé Ouattara and Marcel Tankoano, members of the coalition of organisations that called for the march were arrested and sentenced in what appear to be politically motivated trials. Within this context, the authorities also shutdown the Internet at least three times – between 20 and 28 November 2021, on 10 January 2022 and most recently on 23 January 2022, the latter of which occurred amid rumours of the coup. Government officials justified the first two Internet shutdowns on national security grounds. “The military government now in power in Burkina Faso’s recently announced that it is reinstating the Constitution that was suspended following the overthrow of President Kabore.

The Constitution provides important guarantees for the protection of human rights, including the rights to protest, access to information and free speech. These rights must be restored in the country and prioritised by the AU and ECOWAS in their talks with the transitional government.

In turn, the transitional government, if it is committed to restoring the Constitution, must respect these and all human rights.” stated Fatou Jagne Senghore, Regional Director of ARTICLE 19 West Africa. ARTICLE 19 reiterates that not authorising a protest does not in itself make it illegal. In fact, the resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council acknowledges that, ‘peaceful protests can occur in all societies, including protests that are spontaneous, simultaneous, unauthorized or restricted.’

In policing such protests, law enforcement officers are required to avoid the use of force and to focus on de-escalating violence. Furthermore, States are required to, ‘pay particular attention to the safety of journalists and media workers covering peaceful protests, taking into account their specific role, exposure and vulnerability.’ In addition, ARTICLE 19 reminds the authorities of the UN Secretary General’s call on States to ‘ensure that counterterrorism measures do not undermine democratic and civic space, that civil society actors can operate effectively without fear of reprisal, and that counterterrorism action is not used as a pretext for silencing dissent or opposition.’

“Civic space provides citizens with the opportunity to organize collectively, to express themselves in order to influence the decisions that affect their lives, and to hold governments accountable. This disturbing trend by the Burkinabe authorities to shrink civic space is a real setback for fundamental freedoms. Efforts must be made to allow citizens and CSOs to exercise their fundamental rights without fear or intimidation.” continued

Fatou Jagne Senghore, Regional Director of ARTICLE 19 West Africa. Internet disruption constitutes a serious violation of freedom of expression and the right to information. The UN Human Rights Council has condemned actions which prevent or impede access to the Internet and its content. It has further called for the protection of freedom of expression.

It has further called for “the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet” affirming that: the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression, which is applicable regardless of frontiers and through any media of one’s choice, in accordance with article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the authorities in Burkina to support policies that keep the Internet accessible to all in respect to its international obligation and refrain from shutting down the internet in the future.

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