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Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination considers report of Burkina Faso

20 August 2013

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today completed its consideration of the combined twelfth to nineteenth periodic reports of Burkina Faso on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Presenting the report Julie P. Somda-Nigna, Minister for Human Rights and Civic Protection, said Burkina Faso had a population of 14 million people and was a multicultural, multi-ethnic and secular country which had four major religious groups who lived together in peace. New laws, strategies, policies and action plans had been adopted to ensure that Burkina Faso’s legislation was in line with the Convention and to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination. Burkina Faso had also established a Ministry for Human Rights and Civic Promotion in 2012, and an independent and autonomous Human Rights Commission in 2010. Measures had been taken to prohibit the incitement to racial hatred. Legislation protected the right of all persons to equal treatment and prohibited discriminatory behaviour.

During the interactive dialogue, the Committee commended Burkina Faso on actively engaging with the Committee but noted the 14 year delay in the submission of its periodic reports. Experts asked about the function of the Ombudsperson’s Office, the use of national languages in education, the links between the Ministry for Human Rights and the National Commission of Human Rights, and the number of ethnic minorities in the country. Issues such as the lack of disaggregated data by region in the report, the participation of women in political life and public affairs, the country’s massive population growth, and the impact of mining activities on the environment were also raised by Committee Members.

In concluding remarks, Kokou Mawuena Ika Kana Ewomsan, Country Rapporteur for Burkina Faso, said that the Committee had been impressed by the level of professionalism displayed by the delegation. Burkina Faso should pay closer attention to harmful customary and traditional practices, trafficking in children, the situation of the “garibous” children, the situation of migrants and refugees, and access to education.

The Delegation of Burkina Faso included representatives from the Ministry for Human Rights and Civic Protection, Ministry of Communications, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Secondary and Higher Education, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Cooperation, Ministry for Territorial Administration and Security, Ministry of Health, Ministry of National Education and Literacy, and the Permanent Mission of Burkina Faso to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 20 August, when it will begin its consideration of the combined eighteenth to nineteenth combined periodic report of Belarus (CERD/C/BLR/18-19).


The combined twelfth to nineteenth periodic report of Burkina Faso can be read here: CERD/C/BFA/12-19.

Presentation of the Report

JULIE P. SOMDA-NIGNA, Minister for Human Rights and Civic Protection, said Burkina Faso had taken measures to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination since ratifying the Convention in 1974. The latest report had been drafted with the participation of public institutions, ministerial departments and civil society organizations working in the area of human rights. Burkina Faso had approximately 14 million inhabitants, almost 52 per cent women. It was multicultural, multi-ethnic and secular, and had four major religious groups which lived together in peace. To ensure Burkina Faso’s legislation was in line with the Convention and other international instruments, several new laws had been adopted including a 2012 law promoting gender issues. The same year Burkina Faso established the Ministry for Human Rights and Civic Promotion, following the establishment in 2010 of an independent and autonomous Human Rights Commission, in line with the Paris Principles. The Ombudsperson played a key role in the promotion and protection of human rights, liaised between the citizens and the administration and could receive complaints from victims of discrimination. Public policies adopted to improve the human rights situation in Burkina Faso were a national plan for justice, a sustainable development policy, a special programme to create jobs for girls and women, and national strategies for micro-finance, internal security, and accelerated growth. Measures had also been adopted to prohibit the incitement to racial hatred.

Burkina Faso had no data available relating to ethnic groups, because employment and other activities were not based on ethnic or religious affiliation but, rather, on competence and merit. In order to avoid discrimination based on ethnic background, ethnic affiliation was not mentioned in official identity documents. The Constitution protected the right to appeal against rulings concerning cases of acts of discrimination. Until now, there had not been a single case of racial discrimination dealt with in the courts of the country. Burkina Faso was taking measures to guarantee access of all citizens to justice and to reduce waiting times for the hearing of complaints. Legislation provided that all human beings had the right to be treated on an equal basis and in a way which protected their human dignity, regardless of race or ethnic origin. Discriminatory behaviour was expressly prohibited by Burkina Faso’s criminal code. There were currently no cases of racial discrimination in the area of civic and political rights, but steps had been taken to introduce harsher penalties for those found guilty of acts of violence against older women accused of witchcraft.

In response to refugees coming into the country due to the crisis in neighbouring Mali, a special plan had been devised which provided financial support to women for income-generating activities, and awareness-raising activities at refugee host sites. Special measures were taken to ensure that the children of refugee families received adequate schooling. Specifically, 1,336 refugee children enrolled in pre-school programmes, 2,621 children in primary education, and 235 children in post-primary and secondary education, all achieving satisfactory results. Many foreigners living in Burkina Faso had taken Burkinabe nationality, so the Government had adopted an action plan to integrate all communities living in the country. The right to education was fostered by the Constitution, and all citizens in Burkina Faso had the right to take part in cultural activities. While 60 languages were spoken in the country, 90 per cent of the population used one of 14 languages, and of those nine languages were taught in schools.

The Constitution guaranteed the free movement of persons in the country, and the right to information. The law provided that no publication should contain any information which harmed the private life of citizens or ran counter to the enjoyment of their rights. A variety of media activities and a convergence programme broadcast on national television offered all the communities in Burkina Faso a free platform to express their views. The Constitution also protected the right to freedom of assembly and association. In order to promote housing for all, Burkina Faso had set up a specialized centre to facilitate building projects. Burkina Faso had also implemented laws on rural land management to guarantee everyone, including women, access to land. The Constitution prohibited discrimination on the basis of gender, origin, religion or political beliefs in the area of employment, and recognized the right to health, social services and education for all citizens living in Burkina Faso without any discrimination whatsoever. Specific laws existed to protect persons with disabilities and guarantee their universal access to social services and education.

Two areas to which Burkina Faso paid special attention were the criminalization of the phenomenon of women accused of witchcraft and the fight against illiteracy. More remained to be done to further strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights, and Burkina Faso relied on the support of its bilateral and multilateral partners to build on the momentum already gained. The delegation expressed its gratitude to the Committee for its ongoing support in Burkina Faso’s aim to create a society based on egalitarianism and justice.

Questions by Experts

KOKOU MAWUENA IKA KANA EWOMSAN, Country Rapporteur for Burkina Faso, said that the Committee was grateful to Burkina Faso for engaging in a constructive dialogue. The core document of the report provided a great deal of information on the participation of Burkina Faso in numerous human rights instruments and contained a large number of statistics. The Country Rapporteur noted, however, that the State party had submitted its 30-page report with 14 years of delay, following Burkina Faso’s last review by the Committee in 1997. He drew the delegation’s attention to the need to submit its reports with greater regularity. Which civil society organizations had been consulted in the drafting of the report?

Concerning the country’s political life and institutions, the Country Rapporteur said that Burkina Faso was a democracy and a secular country, and noted that its current Head of State had mediated in regional conflicts, including the recent crisis in Mali.
The country, which fully respected the separation of the three powers, the judiciary, the executive and the legislative, had a constitutional provision which incorporated international human rights commitments and had ratified most of the international human rights instruments.

Among the mechanisms which Burkina Faso had set up to promote and protect human rights was the Office of the Mediator/Ombudsperson, to whom citizen complaints could be referred. Could the Ombudsperson also hear cases of racial discrimination? If so, how many such cases had been referred to the Mediator’s Office? Had any cases been referred at the request of the President or of Members of the Cabinet of Ministers?

Burkina Faso had recently established a Ministry for Human Rights and Civic Promotion with a mandate to protect the rights of its citizens, a commendable initiative. What were the links between that Ministry and the National Human Rights Commission? The Committee commended Burkina Faso on establishing guidance centres to inform and guide citizens on human rights issues. Were there plans to establish more centres across the country?

The Country Rapporteur also wanted to know what measures had been taken by Burkina Faso to address cases of racial discrimination in the country, particularly by the Ministry for Human Rights and Civic Protection. Did the Ministry have sufficient resources to carry out its duties?

A large number of ethnicities lived in the country. Did Burkina Faso recognize the existence of ethnic minorities? What was the relationship between the different ethnic groups and the Touareg? Were any of those ethnic groups more vulnerable than others?

Figures showed that poverty affected approximately 46 per cent of the population of Burkina Faso, while almost 28 per cent of the population lived in extreme poverty. What had been the impact of the country’s accelerated growth strategy on citizens affected by poverty? Did mining activity have a negative impact on the environment and on the populations living in mining areas? Had Burkina Faso taken measures to reforest those areas and relocate their populations?

Further to the adoption of various human rights instruments which had been ratified by Burkina Faso, the Committee would welcome information on the provisions made for the implementation of those instruments. Burkina Faso should also amend its criminal code to include a definition of racial discrimination, as required by the Convention. In domestic law, acts of racial discrimination should be penalized, and a law was needed to prohibit the practice of segregation in areas such as education.

Concerning the incitement to racial hatred, Burkina Faso was to be commended on adopting criminal provisions to fight hate speech practices. Could the delegation provide more information on cases involving violent confrontations among communities?

The fact that no cases of racial discrimination had been instituted in the courts was not a positive element. It could indicate ignorance on the part of the victims about effective remedies available to them, or it could be the result of a lack of confidence on the part of victims in the effectiveness of existing mechanisms to combat discrimination.

The practice of accusing women of witchcraft was alarming, as was the persistence of discriminatory practices against women, such as forced and early marriages, female genital mutilation, and various other patriarchal practices which were common in rural areas. What measures was the State taking to combat such unacceptable practices against girls and women?

A Committee Expert said that sometimes teachers with a low level of education were reportedly recruited in Burkina Faso schools, which, if it were the case, would have a negative impact on the education of young persons. What was the level of education of teachers in Burkina Faso and how were teachers recruited?

Another Expert said that despite the absence of a general definition of racial discrimination, a definition of discrimination could be found in the criminal and labour codes. Would Burkina Faso consider establishing a general definition of racial discrimination? Burkina Faso should amend its legislation to ensure that Article 4 was fully incorporated into its legal framework. What sort of discrimination between individuals or between groups resulted from the caste-system which existed in the country? Had the Ombudsman received any complaints from individuals about discrimination cases stemming from the caste-system?

The teaching of languages was extremely important for State-building and the consolidation of national identity. If almost half of the population spoke a national language other than French at home, teaching should be offered in that language too. What provisions were there in the education system to promote language learning and which languages were currently taught at which level? The Expert also wondered whether any children in Burkina Faso did not have a birth certificate.

Concerning the omission of certain data in order to ensure protection of certain groups, another Expert asked how Burkina Faso could guarantee the effective protection of vulnerable groups in the absence of such data. More information was needed on the caste system. What were those distinct groups or “castes” and did that system have discriminatory repercussions? How was Burkina Faso’s nationhood represented in its education system, bearing in mind that the country appeared to favour both national unity and cultural/ethnic diversity?

An Expert requested examples of employment disputes and how those were resolved. The Expert commended Burkina Faso on measures boosting the participation of women in the political life of the country, and asked for specific figures on the employment of women in the public sector. Which Government body and in what way measured and monitored equal treatment in the area of employment?

Given that there were at least 60 different ethnic groups in the country, was the State party taking any special measures to ensure that all ethnic groups enjoyed the same rights and that discrimination against some of the most vulnerable ethnic groups was prevented?

An Expert asked how terrorism was interpreted in Burkina Faso and why it had been included in their report. What measures were taken by Burkina Faso to address possible terrorist threats, including from extremists entering the country as refugees?

Where did racial discrimination feature in the work of the National Human Rights Institute and what targets had been set in terms of fighting against racial discrimination? Concerning minorities and internally displaced persons, what were the relevant State authorities, programmes and initiatives which dealt with such issues? Civil society had a particularly important role to play in the fight against racial discrimination. How were non-governmental organizations fulfilling that role in Burkina Faso? What measures was the State party taking to tackle its high maternal mortality rate?

Response by Delegation

The delegation said that the tradition of mocking (known as “la parenté à plaisanterie” in French) was a long tradition based on humour. The practice had been widely used in Burkina Faso to resolve disputes between ethnic groups and communities in a humorous manner. Thanks to la parenté à plaisanterie the country had avoided serious ethnic conflict, which was virtually unknown in the daily lives of ethnic communities. The parenté à plaisanterie practice was also used by families, and the mocking tradition existed in other countries in Africa.

There was a tradition for foreign communities living in Burkina Faso to organize an annual set of activities comprising symposia on peace, social cohesion and integration. Last year was the twelfth edition of The Day for Foreign Communities (known as “Les Journées des Communautés Etrangères” in French), which featured a parade during the independence festivities.

The Office of the Ombudsperson had been established in 1994. It received complaints concerning the functioning of State bodies, territorial units, and other public service departments. It could also take a case on its own initiative when it had reason to believe that a person or a group of persons had been or could be harmed by the action of a State body. The Ombudsperson could also receive appeals from individuals, entirely free of charge. The competent authorities had not yet released relevant statistics, but no complaints had been received so far. The reason for that was not lack of awareness, because everyone in the country was informed of their rights and knew where to go to file a complaint.

The Ministry for the Promotion of Human Rights was established in 2002, initially under a slightly different name, and then was merged with the Department of Justice. Following an institutional reorganization in 2012, the Ministry also took on mainstreaming civic promotion work and started to function separately from the Ministry of Justice. The Ministry for the Promotion of Human Rights today comprised seven regional directorates.

The Ministry for Human Rights established the National Human Rights Commission, which fully complied with the Paris Principles. The functions of the Commission did not infringe upon those of the Ministry. Conversely, the Ministry was a Government unit while the Commission was an independent body. The delegation was aware that, according to the Paris Principles, the National Commission had to have its own budget, which should be independent from that of the Ministry for Human Rights. From the start of the new budgetary year the Commission would have its own independent budget and would be given all the means needed for its proper functioning.

Concerning the guidance centres for citizens, the delegation said that those had been established to deal with citizen requests for assistance and to ensure that their rights were respected when dealing with Government bodies. The high level of illiteracy in Burkina Faso made citizen guidance centres a necessity.

Considering the impact of sustainable development and growth, the Government’s accelerated growth strategy was the current benchmark for development in Burkina Faso and had replaced the older strategic framework to combat poverty. The pillars of the new strategy were boosting institutional development, enhancing governance, and promoting sustainable growth, a fair distribution of the country’s wealth and equality. Enhancing local potential was central to the accelerated growth strategy.

There were no political parties with persons from one ethnic group only, which, in any case, was also prohibited by the law. Access to basic social services was for all citizens, regardless of whether or not they were nomad, and no other considerations came into this. Concerning the population growth, a national birth planning policy was in place and a set of initiatives were currently being taken within the framework of that policy, including awareness-raising campaigns.

“Castes” in Burkina Faso referred to the way in which certain sectors of the society were organized. The notion of a “caste” went back to a traditional prohibition for blacksmiths to marry outside of their own professional group. Today such notions were rapidly declining, especially in the cities, and marriages between blacksmiths and non-blacksmiths were not prohibited in any way.

Turning to the practice of defamation against individuals or groups of individuals on the basis of origin, religious beliefs or ethnic affiliation, the delegation underlined that such practice constituted a criminal act. The law on freedom of association had specific provisions for the punishment of the leaders of discriminatory movements. Although it was primarily the organizers of such events who faced charges, those participating may also be prosecuted too.

Concerning the conflicts between farmers and cattle-breeders, the delegation said that the population growth had created an increasing problem of scarcity of resources, which, in turn, had caused competition between different groups and had led to social upheaval. Some farmers were also livestock-breeders, so the distinction was not clear-cut. The Ministry of Justice was in close cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fish Resources and the Ministry for Territorial Administration and Security to prevent the destruction of public and private property and to ensure the State was prepared to deal with such conflicts whenever they broke out.

Terrorism was a concern to Burkina Faso, even though the country had not experienced terrorist attacks on its own soil. Bearing in mind that there were several zones of instability around the country, legal measures had been taken to prevent acts of terrorism. Burkina Faso had also been cooperating with the United Nations Counter Terrorism Committee to ensure readiness to deal with terrorist attacks if they occurred. It also fostered excellent cooperation with the police forces of other neighbouring countries. On a recent visit to the country, the Special Rapporteur in charge of combating terrorism had noted that Burkina Faso was taking all necessary measures to combat terrorism.

Concerning education, at least 3,000 teachers received training in professional training schools, while a continuing education programme was also in place for teaching staff. Teachers had been paid from the State budget for more than a decade and no problems had been experienced in that regard. The right to education without discrimination for all persons residing in Burkina Faso was guaranteed by the law. The objectives of the education system were to ensure that young persons became productive and responsible citizens, and to promote democracy, national unity and social justice. Particular attention was being paid to education offered in rural and disadvantaged areas.

With regard to the use of national languages in education, monolingual teaching (in French) was offered in traditional primary schools, but a multilingual approach was used in post-primary, secondary and higher education (in nine languages).

The country’s criminal code prohibited and punished all types of begging, including the activity of the “garibous” child beggars. Taking into account the link between that type of begging and religious beliefs, the Government was working with civil society organizations to reduce the practice. A law was recently adopted to fight trafficking in persons, with harsh jail sentences for traffickers. If a child was trafficked and exploited for the purposes of begging, that was seen as an aggravating factor and the trafficker received a harsher sentence.

Concerning employment, the law recognized and protected the right to work for all persons regardless of gender, colour, social or ethnic origin, religious or political views. A specific law was in place to protect the employment rights of persons with disabilities.

Regarding primary health care; equality, social justice, solidarity and respect of cultural identity of communities and of patients’ rights were at the heart of Burkina Faso’s healthcare system. The main criterion for the establishment of healthcare units in the country was population density. Healthcare policies were more difficult to implement in the east of the country, where there were many forests.

The causes of maternal mortality included direct causes, such as infections, and indirect causes, such as delays in care provision. A strategy had been adopted for high-risk pregnancies, and a plan was in place to reduce neo-natal and maternal mortality. There was also a preventive care programme for babies and pregnant women. The Government encouraged the population to donate blood, which could save lives. Malaria was another major health problem in the country, and measures were being taken to tackle that, too.

Mining had grown substantially in recent years, which was a positive development in economic terms but could also have harmful effects on the environment, so a series of measures were being taken to regulate mining activity. Laws on the use of natural resources encouraged mining companies to respect environmental law and human rights. An environmental study had been carried out to asses the environmental impact of mining activity. Burkina Faso had joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Process and was in the process of adopting a new mining code, which would apply to all mining corporations operating in the country.

Comments by Experts

One Expert said that the population growth rate in Burkina Faso was very worrying, and asked whether there were any specific sectors affected by that phenomenon. Who did the birth control plans of the Government target and were there any statistics on the results of birth control campaigns?

Another Expert said that statistics would help to give the Government a better idea of what was going on in all parts of the country, including the most remote areas, and enable it to remedy problems.

The frank answers of the delegation were praised by another Expert, who said that the interactive dialogue showed that Burkina Faso was aware of the remaining challenges and was prepared to take the necessary measures to tackle not only persisting problems but also issues potentially arising in the future. Detailed data about developing trends in all regions of the country would help the Government to prevent discriminatory situations from developing in a more effective manner. Efforts made to consolidate national unity were commendable, including the teaching of children’s mother tongues at school.

Concerning the law on defamation, an Expert asked for examples of how and to what extent that law had been enforced in practice, and requested a copy of the text of the law. Collecting statistics about ethnic background was, of course, a sensitive issue, and the Committee did not dictate the method used to collect data, but attached great importance to detailed information about the country used in public policymaking.

Response by the Delegation

The delegation said that no particular sector or part of the country had been identified as being particularly affected by the population growth rates, and no particular segment of the population was specifically targeted by birth control campaigns. Overall, families in rural areas tended to have more children than city families, but birth control strategies planned by the government would be directed at the entire population.

Since independence from the colonial powers, the notion of social justice had re-emerged in many parts of Africa, and sociological studies showed that the basic disputes and conflicts in rural settings were often resolved by traditional, local authorities. Such cases were referred to the State justice system only if local remedies had been unsuccessful.

Regarding land conflicts, legislators in Burkina Faso recognized that traditional authorities were very effective when it came to resolving disputes between individuals or groups, so disputes were brought before a judge only when mediation by local authorities had failed.

Burkina Faso was aware of the work that remained to be done to ensure that its citizens lived in peace and social justice, free of all forms of racial discrimination, and counted on the support of the international community. Concerning statistics, the delegation said that exact figures and statistics, for example on education, were available, broken down by region or gender, but had not been included in the presentation of the report. Disaggregated data was used to amend existing policies or devise new national strategies targeting specific areas or groups. Statistics had been included in Burkina Faso’s Universal Periodic Review report.

Concluding Remarks

KOKOU MAWUENA IKA KANA EWOMSAN, Country Rapporteur for Burkina Faso, in concluding remarks, said that the Committee appreciated the frank responses of the delegation. Harmful customary and traditional practices, trafficking in children, the situation of the “garibous” children, the situation of migrants and refugees, and access to education were some of the areas requiring closer attention. The Committee had been impressed by the level of professionalism displayed by the delegation, and encouraged Burkina Faso to redouble its efforts to fight all forms of racial discrimination.

JULIE P. SOMDA-NIGNA, Minister for Human Rights and Civic Protection, thanked the Committee and the Country Rapporteur for their comments and questions, which had been taken seriously into account by the delegation and would be carefully studied. Burkina Faso would continue to address the issues which had arisen during the interactive dialogue and remained fully committed to ensuring that its citizens lived in peace and harmony.


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