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LATEST: Status of Human Rights Defenders@Risk

Across the sub-region, we are witnessing violations of human rights and the shrinking of the civic space. In some instances, governments and military juntas have cracked down on activists, political opponents, academics, and citizens who dare to stand up to them and oppose or criticize their policies or interventions. While some have been released following public demands and pressure, many others remain kidnapped, detained, or in grave danger. Updated monthly, this thread provides relevant details about human rights defenders at risk. 

[Last updated: May 16, 2024]

  1. Maître Guy Hervé Kam (Co-founder, Balai Citoyen)

    On the night of January 24, 2024, Maître Guy Hervé Kam, a prominent human rights activist and co-founder of Balai Citoyen and a member of the WADEMOS Network, was kidnapped at the Ouagadougou airport by men in civilian clothes, in stark contravention of Article 6 of Regulation No. 005/2014/CM/UEMOA. The regulation borders on the harmonization of the rules governing the law profession in the West African Economic and Monetary Union, which stipulates that a lawyer cannot be summoned, arrested, or detained without an order from the Prosecutor General or the President of the Chamber of Instruction and the President of the Bar Association having been duly consulted.

    He has been detained in state security buildings. The Bar Association of Burkina Faso observes that his arrest and continued detention are in “deliberate and reckless disregard of the provisions guaranteeing the freedom and independence of the lawyer and the bar.”

    March 21, 2024 [Latest Update]

    On Thursday, March 7, 2024, the Administrative Court decreed the immediate release of Guy-Hervé Kam. 

    The state officially leveled charges of “attempted breach of state security” to justify his arrest during a court hearing on March 5. These justifications were deemed null and void by the administrative court judge on March 7, 2024.

    Despite the ruling of the Administrative Court, Maître Guy Hervé Kam remains in the custody of the state to date, and his family and lawyers are denied access to him.

    2. Rasmane Zinaba

    On Tuesday, February 20, Rasmane Zinaba was kidnapped from his home in Ouagadougou by men “in civilian clothes and armed” and then taken “to a previously unknown location.” Rasmane appeared on a list of people to be forcibly recruited by the junta at the beginning of November 2023. On December 6, 2023, the Administrative Court of Ouagadougou ruled in Rasmane’s favor, saying that the decree on general mobilization made seven months earlier by the transitional president, Ibrahim Traoré, was illegal.

    The judge ordered that their recruitment by force into the ranks of the Volunteers for the Defense of the Fatherland (VDP), auxiliaries supposed to support the army in its fight against the jihadist groups that have plagued the country since 2015, be suspended. No word has been heard of him or his whereabouts since then.

    3. Bassirou Badjo

    On Wednesday, February 21, Bassirou Badjo, an activist with Balai Citoyen and social affairs administrator at the General Directorate of National Solidarity and Humanitarian Assistance, was “abducted from his workplace” by “individuals presenting themselves as state security agents.” Badjo appeared on a list of people to be forcibly recruited by the junta at the beginning of November 2023. On December 6, the Administrative Court of Ouagadougou stated that the decree on general mobilization made seven months earlier by the transitional president, Ibrahim Traoré, was illegal.

    Despite a court ruling in his favor, no word has been heard of him since then, and his whereabouts have been unknown.

    4. SANOU Gérard Ismaël

    On Monday, March 18, Sanou Gérard Ismaël, an activist and the Secretary General of the Save the Kossi Movement (MSK), was detained by the National Security Service in Ouagadougou.

    Sanou Gérard visited Ouagadougou on an invitation from the Director of Human Resources of the Ministry of Administrative Affairs. Subsequently, he received an anonymous call directing him to the National Security Agency, where he is currently detained. He was allowed to call his family to inform them of his arrest following a brief interrogation. All attempts to reach him, following his detention, have proved futile. The reasons for his arrest have yet to be communicated.

    5. Jacbabili Bemba

    Jacbabili Bemba, an admin of the INFOS-TAPOA Facebook page, was kidnapped from his home by two armed individuals in civilian clothes on April 20, 2024, for denouncing the inaction of the army in the eastern region bordering Niger. 

    According to an update provided on the platform (on Facebook), Bemba has remained untraceable despite his relatives’ attempts to engage the authorities to understand the situation, the reasons for his kidnapping, and his place of detention.

    The Facebook post also indicated that the platform has for the past decade “worked to promote the province of Tapoa, promote good governance, promote unity and the commitment of the sons, daughters, and friends of the province around its development and the well-being of the populations in this vast province in the eastern region of Burkina Faso.”

    [First Published: May 16, 2024]

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