Michelle Bachelet: “In the Sahel, the lack of transparency feeds speculations, fears and tensions”

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet toured Burkina Faso and Niger from November 28 to December 4.

You return from Burkina Faso and Niger, two countries in serious security crisis. Does this not threaten their democratization process?

These two countries had democratic elections, it is important to note. At the same time, they have a multitude of threats to deal with: insecurity, but also development problems such as access to education or health, and climate change which affects them hard.

When we were in Burkina Faso, but also in Niger, there were demonstrations to demand strong decisions from the authorities in the face of the crisis. This kind of context runs the risk of draconian measures being adopted. But the leaders I have met insist on respect for democracy. Their problem is that they do not want to appear weak and this sometimes leads them to take inadequate measures like cutting the Internet in Burkina Faso or banning demonstrations in Niger.

Have Burkina Faso and Niger kept their commitments in the fight against impunity?

I have had meetings with the human rights commissions of these two countries. Investigations are underway on all cases where there has been a significant number of civilian casualties recorded. So far, I have not been informed of any convictions but investigations are continuing. Regarding Niger, the National Human Rights Commission is investigating the disappearance of 102 people in Inates [fin 2019]. Perpetrators must be brought to justice, regardless of the group to which they belong.

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In Burkina, there are allegations of extrajudicial killings allegedly carried out by the security forces, such as the alleged massacre of 15 men near Djibo in early November. This is a subject we have talked about and, here again, I insisted: the truth must be known, justice must be done and the victims or their families must obtain redress.

What can you say to countries which, like Burkina Faso, have encouraged the formation of self-defense militias to fight against jihadists?

First of all, I don’t think the solution will be military. There is a need for operations of this type but it will not be sufficient to solve all the challenges of the region. We need a comprehensive response. I know that in Burkina Faso, the Volunteers for the Defense of the Fatherland (VDP) were created to support the defense and security forces in the face of increasing threats. If, in theory, laws exist to regulate these groups, in practice, it is very different. We have reports saying that the Volunteers commit human rights violations but also that they are not sufficiently trained.

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What message are you sending to the Malian authorities who would be tempted by a partnership with the private military company Wagner?

I had a meeting with the Malian Prime Minister in Geneva in November. He told us he needed new partners. I replied that whatever actor or State intervenes, it must do so in accordance with international human rights standards. Regarding the Wagner group, we have concerns with regard to its liabilities in the Central African Republic.

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I must also say that the Malian government cannot be considered democratic. It was the result of a coup d’état. It is important that this country holds elections quickly because, as was repeated to me in Burkina Faso and Niger, there will be no stability in the Sahel if Mali is not stabilized.

Is France showing itself transparent enough when its soldiers are accused of blunder, as in Bounti, in Mali, or more recently in Téra, in Niger?

I spoke with various French authorities who assured me that investigations had been carried out. The more transparent the conduct of investigations, the better the results will be for France, the countries involved and for justice towards victims. The lack of transparency feeds speculation, fears and tensions.

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In Ethiopia, the conflict rages between the army and the Tigrayan rebels. The UN High Council for Human Rights adopted a resolution on Friday, December 17, to set up a team of experts to investigate the abuses committed by the two parties. What is the latest information from the field?

In September, I had already alerted to the serious human rights violations committed by all parties to the conflict. Since then, and while the state of emergency has been maintained by the government, we continue to receive reports of arrests carried out by Ethiopian forces, primarily targeting Tigrayans suspected of being linked to the TPLF. . We also have information on killings perpetrated by Tigray forces against the Amharas and the Afars.

We are concerned about the number of civilian casualties – 48 dead and 89 injured in the town of Alamata in Tigray – seen after drone strikes allegedly carried out by the Ethiopian army between December 15 and 16. These strikes continue to target Tigrayan towns, causing numerous casualties and significant material damage. We urged both sides to protect civilians, end the violence and enter into negotiations.

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Michelle Bachelet: “In the Sahel, the lack of transparency feeds speculations, fears and tensions”