The Status of Human Rights Organizations in Sub-Saharan Africa
Burkina Faso


Since 1960 Burkina Faso has experienced ten different political regimes--three constitutional and seven military, the latter the results of coups d'etat. In terms of years, the country has had fifteen years of constitutional government and nineteen of military rule. The military regimes have, in general, been autocratic and dictatorial, with accompanying violence and massive violation of human rights.

Country analysts, however, view as a watershed the period from 1983 to 1987, when the Conseil National de la Revolution (National Council of the Revolution) (CNR) came to power under the dynamic and charismatic leadership of Captain Thomas Sankara. That period opened a new chapter in civilian-military relations in Africa in general, and Burkina Faso in particular. The Sankara government deliberately mobilized the peasants, who constitute the bulk of the society, to participate in the democratic process. Civil society was also given a boost by the state in the form of empowerment of women, peasants, students, workers and other organizations. Never before were the basic needs of the ordinary Burkinabe as attended to as they were by the Sankara regime. Certainly it was not a representative democracy, but it was a participatory one.

Saying this should not create any impression that Burkina Faso witnessed a golden age of human rights protection under the Sankara government. Human rights abuses occurred, including cases of torture, arbitrary detention and other violations. Sankara's revolutionary zeal led him to target certain elements of the society as enemies, and they were persecuted.

In October 1987 Sankara was assassinated during a coup d'etat by his friend, Blaise Campore. After the bloodiest coup in the country's history, Campore installed the country's ninth political regime. Monitors recorded the highest ever number of political assassinations, hit squads and "disappearances" under this regime; one study sets the number of assassinations at about twenty. Burkina Faso during this period ratified international human rights conventions, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights in 1984. In addition, the regime adopted a new constitution in 1991. In spite of these formal posturings by the state, the systematic violation of human rights, including assassinations, continued. There was persecution of university professors and students, and some students of the University of Ouagadougou "disappeared." Arrests, detention, and torture became a common feature of the political landscape of Burkina Faso under Blaise Campore. The regime's purge of the society resulted in the destruction of the political, legal, administrative, economic, social and cultural order of the country. The regime abused the judicial system in particular, creating revolutionary tribunals which have, more often than not, been used to persecute perceived political opponents. The Mouvement Burkinabè des Droits de l'Homme et des Peuples (The Burkina Faso Movement for Human and Peoples' Rights) (MBDHP) became a the target of state intimidation and threats, as were trade unionists and opposition parties. The press, out of fear, opted for self-censorship.

In response to the general continental search for democracy, Blaise Campore preempted a popular demand by setting up a transitional government and organizing elections. He won the elections, although the results were disputed. He formed a new government in 1992.

In order to understand developments in Burkina Faso, it is important to remember the feudal character of the country. The Mossi Kingdom and its king wield a lot of influence, and have vested interests in land. This can be problematic for reform efforts and human rights-related issues. In addition, Burkina Faso suffers from a high rate of illiteracy.


Association Burkinabè pour la Promotion d'un Etat de Droit et la Défense des Libertés

(The Burkina Faso Association for the Promotion of a State of Law and Defense of Liberties)



Experience with the arbitrary and repressive character of military regimes in Burkina Faso led to the creation of the Association Burkinabè pour la Promotion d'un Etat de Droit et la Defense des Libertés (APED-LIBERTES) in 1990. The organization is registered as an NGO.


APED-LIBERTES' mandate is to promote the rule of law and protect human rights through human rights sensitization, the creation of a human rights culture, and fighting for the rights of peasants.


APED-LIBERTES has a General Assembly as the supreme decision and policy-making body. There is an Executive Committee which implements the decisions of the General Assembly. The Executive Committee includes the President, Vice President, Secretary-General, Assistants and members of various commissions.


APED-LIBERTES has made visits to the provinces to educate the population about their rights, and to prisons to study prison conditions.

Association pour la Promotion Féminine
(Association for the Promotion of Women)


Before 1992 there was no activity on women's rights in Poni province, so a group of women came together and formed the Association pour la Promotion Féminine as an affiliate of the Mouvement Burkinabè des Droits de l'Homme et et Peuples.


The Association's mandate is to protect the rights of women through development assistance in the rural area.


The supreme body of the Association is a General Assembly. There is also an Executive Committee made up of a President, Vice-President, Secretary General, Treasurer and Assistants. There are various commissions which deal with specific issues.


The Association

- gives small credit facilities to women in rural areas;
- carries out sensitization programmes and other self-help projects; and
- sponsors literacy campaigns for illiterate women.

Mouvement Burkinabè des Droits de l'Homme et des Peuples
(Burkina Faso Movement for Human and Peoples' Rights)


The Mouvement Burkinabè des Droits de l'Homme et des Peuples (MBDHP) was formed in 1989 as a non- governmental organization to work towards the promotion of human rights which the Burkina Faso governments, especially the military regimes, have been violating since independence in 1960.


MBDHP's mandate is the promotion, protection and the defence of human rights.


The organization has a national Executive Committee of fourteen members, who are charged with the implementation of the decisions and policies of the General Assembly. It also has approximately six commissions dealing with specific tasks on human rights, and branches in all regions of the country.



- organized conferences and seminars to sensitize both rural and urban populations on their human rights;

- educated the population on international human rights standards and procedures;

- denounced executions and torture by the state;

- participated in the drafting of the country's constitution of 1989;

- published periodicals, bulletins and reports on human rights situations in Burkina Faso and other African countries;

- participated in a number of fact-finding missions; and

- embarked upon a number of human rights litigation cases.

Réseau Sous-Régional Femmes Africaines et Droits Humains

(African Woman and Human Rights Sub-regional Network)



Conscious of the social inequalities and injustices facing women in Africa, in 1993 a group of women from Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Togo came together to form a regional network to defend their rights. They named the network the Réseau Sous-Régional Femmes Africaines et Droits Humains (REFAD), and located its headquarters in Burkina Faso.

Burkina Faso5 BURKINA FASOMandate

REFAD's mandate is to:

- facilitate women's access to human rights information;

- promote research on women's rights;

- encourage the formulation of altemative laws for the protection of women's rights;

- publish legal materials on women's rights in local languages; and

- sensitize the public at both national and international levels on the rights of women.


REFAD has a General Assembly, a Coordinating Committee and an Emergency Committee.


REFAD is involved in the dissemination of information and sensitization on women's rights, and has produced publications on the rights of women in local languages. It has organized diverse conferences and seminars on women's rights. It undertakes training of paralegals, and has conducted legal research on issues of women's rights.

Union Interafricaine des Droits de l'Homme
(Inter-African Human Rights Union)


Human rights violations on the continent and the difficulties which have been encountered in the transition processes motivated some thirty organizations, committed to protecting and defending human rights in Africa, to come together at a congress organized in Burkina Faso in July 1992. The meeting formed the Union Interafricaine des Droits de l'Homme (UIDH) as a pan-African, non-political, human rights body.


UIDH's mandate is:
- the promotion of the rule of law and protection of human rights and liberties;
- to be a common watchdog at the African level of the principles stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. UIDH's mandate is carried out in collaboration with national human rights NGOs; and
- to encourage research studies and the collection of documents dealing with human rights in general, and Africa in particular.


UIDH consists of 18 African leagues and human rights NGO founding members.

The Congress of UIDH is the supreme organ, and it elects a Coordination Bureau with one Chairperson, four Vice-Chairpersons and four additional members.

The Executive Secretariat is the body entrusted with assisting the Bureau in executing the decisions of the Congress. It consists of the following: an Executive Secretary, an Assistant Executive Secretary, a Secretary for External Relations, a Secretary for Information and Press, and a Treasurer-General.


UIDH has: - carried out a number of fact-finding missions and made pronouncements on violations of human rights in a number of African states;
- monitored elections in many states;
- sponsored seminars and workshops on various human rights issues;
- published bulletins, journals and other research papers; and
- been involved in human rights litigation cases in a number of countries.

- Nana K.A. Busia, Jr.

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