Increasing armed Islamist group attacks on teachers, students, and schools in Burkina Faso since 2017 have had a devastating impact on children’s access to education, Human Rights Watch said in a report released Tuesday.
The 102-page report, “‘Their War Against Education’: Armed Group Attacks on Teachers, Students, and Schools in Burkina Faso,” documents scores of education-related attacks by armed Islamist groups in 6 of the country’s 13 regions between 2017 and 2020.
The 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.
“Armed Islamist groups targeting teachers, students, and schools in Burkina Faso are not only committing war crimes, but are undoing years of progress in improving children’s access to education,” said Lauren Seibert, children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “The Burkinabè government should investigate these attacks, ensure children regain access to schooling, and provide needed support to education workers who experienced attacks.”
Human Rights Watch interviewed over 170 people between December 2019 and April 2020, including 74 education professionals, 35 current and former students, and other witnesses to attacks, parents of students, victims’ family members, community leaders, aid workers, experts, and government officials.
Armed Islamist groups allied with Al Qaeda and the Islamic State began attacking teachers and schools in Burkina Faso in 2017, citing their opposition to “French,” Western-style education and government institutions. The attacks have increased every year since.
Human Rights Watch documented 126 attacks and armed threats against education professionals, students, and schools, with more than half the attacks in 2019. At least 12 education professionals were killed and 17 assaulted or abducted in the documented attacks, with many others forcibly detained and threatened.
Teachers and school administrators described being chained, tied, blindfolded, and beaten, with their belongings stolen or burned. Those killed include five teachers shot at a primary school; a teacher and a principal shot at home; four teachers and administrators abducted and killed, including two beheaded; and a retired volunteer teacher gunned down as he tutored children.
In a May 2020 letter to Human Rights Watch, the education ministry reported that at least 222 education workers had been “victims of terrorist attacks” as of late April. While armed Islamists have not appeared to target children for violence during school attacks, they often fired shots in the air to terrify students and teachers.
“I was really scared. We thought they were coming to kill us,” a student recalled.
A 14-year-old girl was killed by a stray bullet during a school attack in 2018. Seven students returning from school break were among the 14 people killed when an explosive device detonated under their bus in January 2020.