Burkina Faso

Last Updated 16 October 2018

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.

Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory
Free and Equal

Constitution and government

Burkina Faso is a “unitary and secular state” and its constitution and other laws and policies protect freedom of thought, conscience and religion. There is not state religion.

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. There is no indication that any non-religious or humanist groups would be eligible to receive similar subsidies.

The constitution guarantees the right to choose and change one’s religion and to practice the religion of one’s choice. 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.

The constitution guarantees the right to assemble as well as freedom of association.

The possibility of constitutional reform has been discussed in connection with the protests that overthrew the president in October 2014.

Education and children’s rights

There is no religious instruction in public schools.

However, Muslim and Christian groups instead operate their own 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 empowered to conduct extracurricular religious instruction, in particular Quranic or Bible classes. We have no information about the nature of religious instruction that is permitted, though it is worth noting that the government seems generally keen to suppress religious extremism in general.

The Government does not fund these religious schools or require them to pay taxes unless they were involved in for-profit activities.

There are concerns that although free in principle, fees are required for many schools due to inadequate funding, class sizes can be extremely high, and there is a shortage of qualified teachers.

In March 2017, Jihadists burned down a school and kidnapped two people after making online threats against educational establishments in the country.

Family, community and society

According to census data from 2006, less than one percent of the population stated as being atheist or non-religious, with 61 percent being Muslim, 19 percent Roman Catholic and 15 percent maintaining indigenous beliefs. There is considered to be high levels of syncretism and overlap in practice of monotheistic religions with traditional beliefs.

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.

There is no law against homosexuality or same-sex relations, and never has been.

There have been some reports that people accused of being “witches” in rural areas have been displaced.

In January 2016, a group of gunmen armed with heavy weaponry attacked a restaurant and hotel in Ouagadougou killing 30. A counter attack by Burkinabe security forces killed three of the attackers and rescued 176 hostages. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for the attack, which they claimed as targeting ‘the enemies of religion.’

A similar attack in August 2017, only 200m away from the 2016 Ouagadougou attacked, killed 18 people.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Freedom of expression is constitutionally guaranteed and there is strong, independent media.

The constitution guarantees the right to hold or change religion.

However, journalists occasionally face criminal libel prosecutions, death threats, and other forms of harassment and intimidation. In October 2012, two journalists at the private weekly L’Ouragan were sentenced to 12 months in prison for defamation, and their paper was suspended for six months, for publishing allegations of corruption against the state prosecutor’s office. The government does not restrict internet access.

In September 2017 the High Council of Communication (CSC) questioned executives from radio station Al Houda, after the broadcast of a comment that Ahmadiyya Muslims should not be considered Muslims. The CSC described the content as “undermining the principle of religious tolerance”.

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