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Conflict in Burkina Faso Jeopardizing Education

New Report Shows Sharp Increase in Attacks on Education

Primary school girls lie on the floor of their classroom during an emergency attack simulation in Dori, Sahel region, Burkina Faso, February 3, 2020. By early March 2020, over 2,500 schools had closed in Burkina Faso due to the armed conflict. © 2020 Olympia De Maismont/Getty Images

Burkina Faso experienced an upsurge in attacks on students, teachers and schools in 2022 and 2023, according to a report released today by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA), a partner organization of Human Rights Watch.

The report cited over 270 attacks on schools across the country in 2022 and 2023, a sharp increase from previous years, with GCPEA recording 148 attacks in 2021 and 2020. GCPEA identified 99 attacks on schools in 2022, which reportedly destroyed 31 schools and damaged at least 53 more. More than half the attacks involved arson. GCPEA said the majority of attacks were attributed to armed groups.

The report includes findings from Human Rights Watch, which extensively documented education-related attacks by Islamist armed groups in Burkina Faso between 2017 and 2020. These armed groups have killed, beaten, abducted, and threatened education professionals; intimidated students; terrorized parents into keeping children out of school; and damaged, destroyed, and looted schools.

Fighting between the Burkina Faso armed forces and the Al-Qaeda-linked Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (Jama'at Nusrat al-Islam wa al-Muslimeen) and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara has expanded since the Islamist armed groups entered the country from Mali in 2016. Both sides have been responsible for grave abuses.

The conflict has led to the forced displacement of over two million people and the deaths of thousands of civilians. In October 2023, the United Nations reported that one million children in Burkina Faso were out of school. A report by the Norwegian Refugee Council last June found that, with over 6,100 schools shut by spring 2023, Burkina Faso “was home to nearly half of all closed schools in Central and West Africa.”

GCPEA identified at least 11 incidents of schools being used by government forces, militias and armed groups for military purposes across Burkina Faso in 2022 and 2023. The military use of schools, such as converting them into bases, denies students access and puts them at risk of attack.

In 2017, Burkina Faso endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, a political agreement committing countries to prevent and respond to attacks on students, teachers, and schools. All parties to the armed conflict in Burkina Faso should immediately cease attacks on education and implement the Safe Schools Declaration. Students and educators should have the right to learn and teach in safety.

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