GENEVA - The UN’s top human rights official on Friday voiced serious concern over the dramatic deterioration of the situation in Burkina Faso, where almost 1,800 people are reported to have been unlawfully killed between November last year and April.

Allegations of responsibility point to both armed groups and State actors.

“While armed groups are presumed responsible for the vast majority of incidents and victims and should be held accountable, I am also deeply disturbed that security and defence forces and their auxiliaries, the Volontaires pour la défense de la patrie, allegedly carried out wanton killings, including summary executions,” Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said in statement.

The reported killings were among the alleged violations and abuses affecting at least 2,732 individuals in the West African country between November 2023 and April 2024.

That figure was a sharp spike of 71 per cent compared to the previous six months.

Civilians under attack

According to the UN human rights office, OHCHR, armed groups, such as Jamāʿat nuṣrat al-islām wal-muslimīn, the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara and other similar organizations, have stepped up their attacks against civilians, including internally displaced people.

State forces are also alleged to be behind the violence.

In one particularly abhorrent incident, over 220 civilians, including 56 children, were reportedly killed in attacks allegedly carried out by the military in two villages in the north on a single day in late February.

Burkina Faso has been under military rule since early 2022 amid an insurgency by extremist militants which triggered a series of coups and counter coups. Capt. Ibrahim Traoré was named transitional president in September 2022, and the transitional government has continued to battle insurgents and further reported counter-coup attempts.

Amidst the highly volatile situation, more than six million Burkinabè, out of a total population of 20 million, have been left dependent on humanitarian assistance.

Respect international law

“I fully appreciate the complex security threats that Burkina Faso is facing. A response to these threats will only succeed if international law is fully respected throughout. I therefore reiterate my call to the authorities in Burkina Faso to take all possible measures to ensure the protection of civilians,” High Commissioner Türk said.

He urged the Government to support a thorough, independent and transparent investigation into all allegations of violations and abuses of international law, and to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice through legal due process.

“There must be justice and accountability if the authorities are to reassure the population, restore social cohesion and rebuild trust between civilians and the security forces,” Mr. Türk added.

The High Commissioner had raised his concerns on the situation in Burkina Faso with Government officials, including President Traoré, during a visit to the country in March.