Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1987

Burkina Faso, one of the world's poorer countries, is a victim
of frequent drought and has been subject to political
instability. From August 1983, Captain Thomas Sankara held
power as President of Burkina Faso until he was replaced on
October 15, 1987 by Captain Blaise Compaore, President of the
Front Populaire, in the country's fourth military coup since
1980. No political party activities have been permitted since
1980, and there are no indications that the country will return
to constitutional rule. Instead, the Government uses a network
of Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR)
organized at national, regional, and local levels to mobilize
the population and promote its revolutionary goals.
The Burkina Faso armed forces number about 7,500 members,
including 5,200 in the army, 100 in the air force, and 2,200
in the paramilitary gendarmerie and the police. It is not
known if the security police (DST) still exist under the new
regime. The CDRs also function as a people's militia and
occasionally detain individuals without public charges or
Burkina Faso is overwhelmingly tied to subsistence agriculture,
with 90 percent of the population living in rural areas. The
economy is highly vulnerable to fluctuations in rainfall.
Frequent drought, lack of communications and other
infrastructure, a low literacy rate, and a stagnant economy
are all longstanding problems.
Human rights abuses continued in 1987. A key event before the
coup was the detention of trade union personnel and related
political figures beginning late in May, several of whom may
have been tortured. Trials of businessmen and civil servants,
who were charged almost exclusively with fraud and corruption,
continued to take place outside the traditional judicial
system in People's Revolutionary Courts in which defendants
may not be represented by legal counsel. Civilian and
military personnel accused of lack of enthusiasm for the
revolution continued to be dismissed for reasons ranging from
misconduct to laziness, although in lesser numbers than in
previous years. The October coup and its aftermath resulted
in the loss of life from fighting and summary executions of
about 30 persons, including former President Sankara. The new
Government, however, released all political prisoners,
reinstated previously suspended or dismissed government
personnel, and allowed teachers who had been fired after a
1984 strike to resume work.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
Freedom from:
     a. Political Killing
This year, apart from the military and civilian personnel
killed during the coup itself, at least eight military and
paramilitary personnel opposed to the new Government were
summarily executed in the period immediately following that
event. Prior to the coup, there were no known political
killings during 1987. President Sankara is believed to have
been killed in a gun fight during the coup.
     b. Disappearanceppearance
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearance.
     c. Torture or Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishmenture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment
In 1987 there were allegations of torture of several trade
union detainees. In its 1987 Report (covering 1986), Amnesty-
International stated that it had received reports about
torture and ill-treatment of detainees held in connection with
bomb explosions in 1985. Some prisoners were reported to have
been tortured with electric shock, burnt with cigarettes,
beaten, and suspended by their wrists for long periods.
Prison conditions are poor.
     d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, Exile or Forced Laborrary Arrest, Detention, Exile, or Forced Labor
Reports of arbitrary arrest, followed at times by incommunicado
detention for days or months without charge, continued in
1987. In some cases, though far fewer than in previous years,
these appear to have been initiated by poorly trained CDR
security personnel. The law permits preventive detention
without charge for a maximum of 72 hours, renewable for a
single 72-hour period in criminal cases. In practice, there
are frequent violations of this restriction in cases involving
both Burkinabe and foreign nationals, especially in political
cases. In addition, in cases of emergency or national
security, the military code overrides the civil code.
Military code procedures provide for continued detention
beyond 72 hours.
Until the October coup, several prominent political
personalities of former regimes, such as the former President,
Colonel Saye Zerbo, remained under a loose form of house
arrest. Others, such as Paul Rouamba, former Ambassador to
the United States and Ghana, remained imprisoned. Under
Sankara, the Government began a series of arrests in 1987 of
leaders of one of the four major labor organizations, the
Burkinabe Trade Union Confederation (CSB) , starting with its
Marxist Secretary General, Soumane Toure, on May 30.
Subsequently, some 30 CSB members and political allies were
detained without charge or trial for varying periods. Many
were still in detention until the new Government freed all
political prisoners. On July 2, the Secretary General of the
essentially defunct School Teachers' Union, SNEAHV, Jean Bila,
was arrested and held without trial until the coup. The
Government forced the CSB and its component unions to elect
new leaders in June. Nineteen members of a magistrates' union
lost their jobs in mid-1987, reportedly due to their political
views, but they were reinstated following the coup. The new
Government detained or placed under house arrest several
former officials from the Sankara regime. At the end of 1987,
some were still being held.
Some intellectuals, military officers, and former government
officials have stayed in self-imposed exile, partly due to
fear for their safety should they return. President Sankara
had invited exiles to return home several times in recent
years, asking them to participate in Burkina Faso ' s economic
development. The new Government, like its predecessor, has
welcomed opponents of the previous regime to return home.
Forced or compulsory labor is prohibited by the labor code and
is not known to be practiced.
     e. Denial of Fair Public Trial of Fair Public Trial
During 1987 the People's Revolutionary Courts continued to hear
cases primarily involving public corruption. The president of
each court is a magistrate appointed by the Government to head
a tribunal composed of magistrates, military personnel, and
members of the CDRs . The Court President asks questions
directly of the defendant. There is no role for a public
prosecutor, and the accused may consult but not be represented
by counsel during the session. Witnesses can be called by the
Court, or they can present themselves to give testimony. The
Sankara Government preferred to use military courts, rather
than the regular courts, to try persons charged with political
and security offenses. The new Government did not try any
political detainees during 1987.
President Sankara said the people's courts should be viewed as
a permanent part of the country's judicial system. The Sankara
Government had already organized a series of similar tribunals
to hear minor cases at the village, department, and province
levels. Most of the judges in these lower level courts are
popularly elected. The Government's oft-stated aim in
establishing these peoples courts was to ensure fair access to
justice for an overwhelmingly illiterate, impoverished
population. One such court was convened to try corruption
cases after the new Government took power.
The regular judiciary, patterned after the French system, has
continued to function for most criminal and civil cases.
Defendants traditionally receive a fair trial and are
represented by counsel. A new development in 1987 was the
establishment of a system whereby civil service attorneys are
appointed to represent those who do not wish to retain or are
unable to afford, a private attorney. While these civil
servants should theoretically make legal aid widely available
and enjoy hypothetical independence of the Government, some
observers believe this is the first step in gradual elimination
of independent lawyers.
     f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home or Correspondencerary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
Government authorities generally do not interfere in the daily
lives of ordinary citizens, and there is no general monitoring
of private correspondence or telephones. In theory, homes may
be searched only under authority of a warrant issued by the
Attorney General. However, in national security cases, a
special law permits surveillance, searches, and monitoring of
telephones and correspondence without a warrant. This law has
been used against persons suspected of opposition to the
The Sankara Government encouraged participation in the CDR
organization. Vigorous participation in CDR activities helped
in obtaining civil service appointments and promotions. The
Government considered opposition to CDR activities to be
political opposition, which could lead in serious cases to
discharge from the civil service. The attitude of the new
Government toward citizen participation in the CDRs remained
unclear at the end of 1987.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
     a. Freedom of Speech and Pressof Speech and Press
While there is no formal government censorship, references by
the regime to enemies of the State at home and abroad inhibit
both government-employed journalists and ordinary citizens
from expressing critical views. This is reinforced by
occasional dismissals from government service and reports of
arbitrary arrest, dampening a lively tradition of debate on
political topics.
Under the control of the Minister of Information, the media,
which consist of a daily and a weekly newspaper, a weekly
magazine, and radio and television stations, are government
owned. There is no serious criticism of the Government as a
whole in the media, but there is selected criticism of
officials and programs, particularly in a new satirical
government weekly newspaper.
Foreign newspapers and magazines were permitted to enter the
country freely during 1987, both before and after the coup.
Foreign journalists could travel and file stories without
censorship or hindrance and enjoyed easy access to government
officials. The new Government allowed extensive and uncensored
coverage of postcoup events by foreign journalists for about 2
weeks. Then several journalists who had been particularly
aggressive in interviewing high school students about their
reactions to the coup were detained briefly and released.
Following the publication of similar stories by the magazine
Jeune Afrique, the government radio station attacked the
magazine's reporting.
In the arts, movies are subject to censorship by a review
board which includes religious authorities as well as
government officials. During 1987 a wide variety of American,
French, and other foreign films were shown. In 1987 there
were no known instances of political censorship of films.
There is no interference with international radio broadcasts.
     b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Associationof Peaceful Assembly and Association
Under both the Sankara and Compaore Governments, political
parties are banned, and administrative permission is generally
required for assemblies of any kind. Monpolitical associations
for business, religious, cultural, sporting, and other purposes
are allowed and experience no difficulty in obtaining
permission to meet.
Organized labor continues to be an important force in
Burkina. There are four labor f ederations--of which the
largest is affiliated with the International Confederation of
Free Trade Unions. There are also a number of autonomous
unions. The federations take turns representing organized
labor at the International Labor Organization meetings and
participate in African regional labor meetings as well.
Unions have the right to bargain for increased wages and other
benefits within a specific bargaining unit such as a company
or factory but cannot bargain industry-wide. They represent
the interests of their members in the private and public
sectors, as well as before the labor inspection service of the
Government and before the courts. All unions jealously guard
their limited independence from the Government. Organized
labor has the formal right to strike, but the Sankara
Government eliminated this right in practice. The attitude of
the new military Government on the right to strike was not
clear at the end of 1987.
The Sankara Government made a major effort in 1987 to bring
some elements of the labor movement in line with government
policies, notably in the case of the CSB confederation (see
Section 1 .d. )
     c. Freedom of Religionof Religion
Burkina Paso is a secular state, and there is no discrimination
on religious grounds. Islam and Christianity exist side by
side, with almost 40 percent of the population Muslim and
about 10 percent Christian. The remainder of the population
practices traditional African religions. Both Muslim and
Christian holidays are recognized as national holidays.
Social mobility and access to modern sector jobs are neither
linked to, nor restricted by, religious affiliations.
     d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreignof Movement Within the Country, Foreign
Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Travelers within Burkina Faso are often stopped at police,
army, and internal customs checkpoints. There appears to be
little restriction on foreign travel for business and
tourism. Exit permits, once used to limit movements of
workers to neighboring countries, particularly to the Cote
d'lvoire where 1 million or more Burkinabe continue to reside
and work, are no longer required.
Refugees are accepted freely in Burkina Faso, and attempts are
made to provide for their care in cooperation with the United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. There were
approximately 250 refugees and displaced persons in Burkina
Faso at the end of 1987, mainly from Chad.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Gonvernment
Neither under the last Chief of State, President Sankara, nor
under the rule of the President of the Front Populaire,
Captain Blaise Compaore, have the citizens had the right to
change their government. Despite four changes in leadership
since 1980, the military has dominated the political process.
Captain Compaore told a journalist late in October that his
ambition is to limit, then to disengage, the army from playing
a role in politics. He pledged to move toward
"democratization" of the country.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The Government has made no attempt to hinder the activities of
international human rights organizations. In March 1986, the
Sankara Government invited Amnesty International to send a
delegate to observe the trial of an official charged with
embezzlement of funds. (The organization declined on the
grounds that the case appeared to be solely a criminal matter,
and thus was outside its mandate.) The new Government's
attitude toward the European Parliament's November resolution
condemning the assassination of Sankara was unknown.
A government-supported organization lobbies against the South
African apartheid system and other racial oppression, but it
makes no effort to look into domestic human rights issues or
foreign practices other than racial discrimination.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion,
Language or Social Status
Minority ethnic groups are as likely to be represented in the
inner circles of the Government as are the dominant Mossi, who
comprise 50 percent of the population. Government decisions
do not favor one ethnic group over another. One ostensible
reason for the 1983 increase in administrative regions from 11
to 30 was to improve access of minority groups to local
administrative authorities.
The role of women in Burkina Faso is still limited by the
cultural orientation of a rural African society. Women are
important in family farming and in the market economy. The
Sankara Government emphasized its strong commitment to
expanding opportunities for women and appointed a number of
women to cabinet positions and other government jobs. The new
Government has not taken formal positions on the status of
women, but 3 women remain in the Cabinet.
The labor code sets the minimum age for employment at 14, the
average age for completion of basic secondary school.
However, the Government lacks the means to enforce this
provision adequately, owing to the large number of small,
family subsistence farms, and the traditional apprenticeship
system. A minimum monthly wage of about $75 and a maximum
workweek of 48 hours are stipulated by the labor code, as are
safety and health provisions. A system of government
inspections and labor courts ensures that these provisions are
applied in the small industrial and commercial sectors, but
they have been impossible to enforce in the dominant
subsistence agriculture sector