Burkina Faso

Last Updated 26 May 2023

Re-named in 1984 to Burkina Faso (“land of the upright/honest people”), the country gained independence from France in 1960. It is completely landlocked, surrounded by Mali and Niger to the North and Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire to the south. President Blaise Compaoré ruled the country from 1987 and was ousted in October 2014 by a popular youth protest movement.

In 2022, Burkina Faso experienced two military coups (in January and in September). Restrictions on civil society space, widespread impunity for human rights violations and a severe humanitarian crisis have followed on from the political instability, and secular state schools have been made the target of terrorist violence.1https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/10/1129342; https://news.un.org/en/story/2023/01/1132257; https://www.article19.org/resources/burkina-faso-respect-for-human-rights-must-be-at-the-heart-of-negotiations/

The population is predominantly Muslim with a large Christian minority. At the time of a 2006 census, around 60.5% of the population was Muslim, 23.2% Christian, 15.3% followed indigenous beliefs, and the remaining 1% reported having no religion.2https://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/burkina-faso-population

Systemic Discrimination
Free and Equal

Constitution and government

Burkina Faso is a “unitary and secular state” (Article 31 of the Constitution)3https://faolex.fao.org/docs/pdf/bkf128139E.pdf and its constitution and other laws and policies protect freedom of thought, conscience and religion. There is no state religion.

Article 7 of the Constitution guarantees “freedom of belief” as well as the freedom of non-belief, of conscience, of religious opinion, [of] philosophy, of exercise of belief.” It states that freedom of belief is subject to respect for the law, public morals and the ‘human person.’

Political parties based on religion or ethnicity are banned (Article 13). However, the government does provide subsidies for the four main religious groups (Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, and traditional/animist), including subsidies for travel costs for Muslim Hajj pilgrims.4https://www.crisisgroup.org/africa/west-africa/burkina-faso/burkina-faso-preserving-religious-balance There is no indication that any non-religious or humanist groups would be eligible to receive similar subsidies.

Education and children’s rights

Article 27 of the Constitution states that “public education is secular,”5https://faolex.fao.org/docs/pdf/bkf128139E.pdf and there is no religious instruction in public schools.

However, there are a number of private schools operated by Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant groups, which include primary and secondary education institutions, as well as some schools of tertiary learning. These schools are inspected to ensure they teach the standard national curriculum, however they are also permitted to conduct extracurricular religious instruction. The majority of Quranic schools are not registered and thus their curricula are not reviewed according to national standards.6https://www.state.gov/reports/2021-report-on-international-religious-freedom/burkina-faso/

The Government does not fund religious schools or require them to pay taxes unless they conduct for-profit activities. However, it does provide subsidies to a number of Catholic schools as part of an agreement allowing students from public schools to enroll in Catholic schools when public schools are at full capacity. The government also provides subsidies to registered Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim schools for teacher salaries.7https://www.state.gov/reports/2021-report-on-international-religious-freedom/burkina-faso/

Since January 2016, Burkina Faso has experienced an increasing number of terrorist attacks by religious extremists allied with Al Qaeda or the Islamic State, who have specifically sought to target teachers, students, and schools. They justified their attacks by citing their opposition to “French” education, insisting that children should study only Arabic and the Quran, or not study at all.8https://www.hrw.org/report/2020/05/26/their-war-against-education/armed-group-attacks-teachers-students-and-schools

Family, community and society

The Catholic Church reportedly retains an influential presence in social and political life. Catholic schools serve as Burkina Faso’s training and recruitment ground for the national administrative elite. Historically, in contrast, Muslims tend to be more marginalized in terms of access to the State and political institutions.9https://csis-website-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/publication/Elishcer.%20Burkina%20Faso.%20Faith%20in%20Balance_1.pdf

In 2017, the government tried to pass a draft bill to enforce greater public secularism through regulating religious practices in public spaces. Amongst other provisions, the draft law sought to ensure that prayer services could only occur within buildings designated for prayer and with prior authorization by the state. It further included provisions banning the building of religious structures on public grounds, ostentatious displays of religious symbols in public, and public school officials from discussing their religious preferences.10https://csis-website-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/publication/Elishcer.%20Burkina%20Faso.%20Faith%20in%20Balance_1.pdf The government withdrew the bill after representatives of the country’s Islamic community, the Fédération des Associations Islamiques du Burkina (FAIB), expressed opposition to the draft law.11https://www.la-croix.com/Urbi-et-Orbi/Actualite/Monde/Le-gouvernement-Burkina-Faso-retire-projet-controverse-libertes-religieuses-2017-01-12-1200816717; https://lefaso.net/spip.php?article75098

It is unclear how those expressing atheism socially are likely to be treated, but we have recorded no reports of direct abuse.

There is a civil law system in which Sharia codes play no part.12https://sunulex.africa/en/theburkinabelegalsystem/

There is no law against homosexuality or same-sex relations, and never has been.13https://www.upr-info.org/sites/default/files/documents/2018-04/ishr_upr30_bfa_e_main.pdf

Belief in witchcraft is prevalent in the country, which also suffers from high levels of illiteracy. There have been reports of elderly women accused of being “soul eaters” being targeted with acts of violence. There are several rehabilitation centers in the country to host victims of witchcraft accusations.14https://lefaso.net/spip.php?article119961; https://www.awid.org/news-and-analysis/witchcraft-accusations-perpetuate-womens-oppression-sub-saharan-africa#:~:text=In%20Burkina%20Faso%2C%20the%20Ministry,support%20to%20victims%20of%20exclusion.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Prior to the military takeover, a strong and independent media operated in Burkina Faso. However, the recent political instability has resulted in restrictions on freedom of expression and civil society freedoms in general. The military government has used the excuse of combating terrorism to suspend media outlets and public protest. Activists have been arrested and charged with the crime of “insulting the head of state” for criticism of the military government.15https://rsf.org/en/country/burkina-faso; https://www.mfwa.org/issues-in-focus/burkina-faso-media-organisations-decries-authoritarian-tendencies-of-the-new-junta/; https://www.mfwa.org/country-highlights/burkina-faso-court-sentences-activist-for-insulting-head-of-state/


1 https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/10/1129342; https://news.un.org/en/story/2023/01/1132257; https://www.article19.org/resources/burkina-faso-respect-for-human-rights-must-be-at-the-heart-of-negotiations/
2 https://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/burkina-faso-population
3, 5 https://faolex.fao.org/docs/pdf/bkf128139E.pdf
4 https://www.crisisgroup.org/africa/west-africa/burkina-faso/burkina-faso-preserving-religious-balance
6, 7 https://www.state.gov/reports/2021-report-on-international-religious-freedom/burkina-faso/
8 https://www.hrw.org/report/2020/05/26/their-war-against-education/armed-group-attacks-teachers-students-and-schools
9, 10 https://csis-website-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/publication/Elishcer.%20Burkina%20Faso.%20Faith%20in%20Balance_1.pdf
11 https://www.la-croix.com/Urbi-et-Orbi/Actualite/Monde/Le-gouvernement-Burkina-Faso-retire-projet-controverse-libertes-religieuses-2017-01-12-1200816717; https://lefaso.net/spip.php?article75098
12 https://sunulex.africa/en/theburkinabelegalsystem/
13 https://www.upr-info.org/sites/default/files/documents/2018-04/ishr_upr30_bfa_e_main.pdf
14 https://lefaso.net/spip.php?article119961; https://www.awid.org/news-and-analysis/witchcraft-accusations-perpetuate-womens-oppression-sub-saharan-africa#:~:text=In%20Burkina%20Faso%2C%20the%20Ministry,support%20to%20victims%20of%20exclusion.
15 https://rsf.org/en/country/burkina-faso; https://www.mfwa.org/issues-in-focus/burkina-faso-media-organisations-decries-authoritarian-tendencies-of-the-new-junta/; https://www.mfwa.org/country-highlights/burkina-faso-court-sentences-activist-for-insulting-head-of-state/

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