Freedom in the World
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Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Burkina Faso's civil liberties rating improved from 4 to 3 due to continued governmental steps to combat trafficking in persons and the practice of female genital mutilation.
Amid controversy over his eligibility to run for a third term, President Blaise Compoare was reelected to a five-year term in November 2005 with over 80 percent of the vote. Election observers described the results as generally credible but noted the widespread and unfair use of government resources on behalf of Compaore's campaign. In July, Burkina Faso signed a multilateral cooperation agreement to combat child trafficking. Meanwhile, the government continued to take significant steps to combat trafficking in persons, including children, and the widespread practice of female genital mutilation (FGM).
After gaining independence from France in 1960, Burkina Faso suffered a succession of army coups. In 1987, Blaise Compaore took over the presidency in a coup against members of a junta that had seized power four years earlier. The populist, charismatic President Thomas Sankara and 13 of his closest associates were murdered, and many more Sankara supporters were executed two years later.
The promulgation of a new constitution in 1991 paved the way for a multiparty system, but widespread violence and an opposition boycott discredited the December 1991 presidential election, which Compaore won by default. He was returned to office for a second seven-year term in November 1998 with nearly 88 percent of the vote. Opposition parties boycotted the legislative elections of both 1991 and 1997.
The assassination in December 1998 of internationally recognized journalist Norbert Zongo, who had been investigating the death of an employee of President Compaore's brother, ignited a wider political crisis. Zongo's murder provided an opportunity for opposition parties, human rights organizations, civic groups, and media representatives to draw domestic and international attention to the government's weak commitment to accountable and transparent democracy. While the murderers have neither been identified nor brought to justice despite the appointment of a special prosecutor to the case, Zongo's death led to important political reforms-in particular, the creation of the Independent Electoral Commission and revisions to the electoral code that included the establishment of a single-ballot voting system, public financing for parties presenting candidates, and the creation of a third vice president position within the National Assembly, to be held by the designated opposition leader.
These reforms contributed to the success of the 2002 National Assembly elections, the first to be conducted in the absence of a major opposition boycott. The ruling Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP) won 57 of the 111 National Assembly seats, compared with 101 during the 1997 polls. Opposition parties fared better than they had any time previously, capturing the remainder of the seats.
Despite raised popular expectations for improved political competition, however, the ruling party continues to dominate government institutions. A 2001 constitutional amendment stipulates that the presidential term of office is five years, renewable once. Compaore has served two consecutive, elected, seven-year terms, but his supporters claim that these term limits cannot be enforced retroactively. His decision to accept the CDP's nomination for the November 2005 presidential election increased public skepticism over the government's commitment to a fair electoral process, while proposed revisions to the electoral code thought to favor the ruling party exacerbated political tensions between the CDP and many opposition parties. The inability of opposition leaders to agree on a coordinated election strategy against Compaore heightened tensions among opposition parties. A total of 12 candidates contested the November elections, which Compaore won with over 80 percent of the vote. Voter turnout was less than 60 percent. While election observers concluded that the results were generally credible, they also noted the widespread and unfair use of government resources on behalf of the incumbent's campaign.
Burkina Faso's relations with neighboring Cote d'Ivoire, where thousands of Burkinabe and other West African migrant workers have been entangled in an ethnoreligious conflict over land and resources, have been strained since the conflict began in 2002, though Burkina Faso consistently denies allegations of support for Ivorian rebels.
Burkina Faso has in the past been cited in reports by the New York-based Human Rights Watch, the U.S. State Department, the United Nations, and others as a transshipment point for the region's illicit trade in small arms and diamonds. However, this trade appears to have declined since the removal from power of former Liberian President Charles Taylor in 2003.
Burkina Faso ranked 175 of 177 on the UN Development Program's 2005 human development index. More than 80 percent of the population relies on subsistence agriculture, and the economy is highly vulnerable to climatic conditions and international commodity prices. War in neighboring Cote d'Ivoire has meant increased costs for routing trade via the ports of Ghana, Togo, and Benin. The influx of more than 350,000 ethnic Burkinabe from Cote d'Ivoire has strained the country's weak infrastructure.
Citizens of Burkina Faso cannot change their government democratically. Opposition parties boycotted elections in the 1990s, and the 1998 and 2005 presidential elections were marked by the ruling party's heavy use of state resources and media. A 2001 constitutional amendment stipulates that the presidential term of office is five years, renewable once. The unicameral National Assembly has 111 members, elected for five-year terms. The legislature is independent, but susceptible to influence from the executive branch. Despite gains in the 2002 elections, opposition parties have failed to coalesce around issues of shared concern. The National Assembly's minority leader declared his support for Compaore's candidacy.
Changes to Burkina Faso's electoral code in 2004 designate the country's 45 provinces, instead of its 13 regions, as electoral units. Opposition members insist that this gives an unfair advantage to larger parties, in particular the CDP, because of the numerical and logistical constraints of fielding candidates and polling observers in all 45 electoral units.
Recent electoral reforms have led to a surge in growth of new political parties, which currently number more than 100. Coalition building is difficult, as politicians have tended to address differences by creating new parties that often reflect little more than the personal rivalries of their leaders. The opposition is fragmented, and many parties are characterized by ambiguous political ideologies and platforms of limited substance. Various ethnic groups are represented in Burkina Faso's government, including 17 minority members in the cabinet and 61 minority representatives in the National Assembly.
Two anticorruption bodies were created in 2001, and there is increased public debate on the subject. REN-LAC, a nationwide anticorruption network of more than 30 civic organizations, is particularly active in raising awareness and pressing for reform. Corruption continues to be a serious problem within the police and customs services. Burkina Faso was ranked 70 out of 159 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Burkina Faso has a relatively free press, though many media outlets practice self-censorship. Freedom of speech is protected by the constitution and generally respected in practice. At least 50 private radio stations, a private television station, and numerous independent newspapers and magazines function with little governmental interference. Both the state-owned and private media play an important role in public debate, and even state-owned outlets are sometimes critical of government policies and decisions. There is liberal internet access.
Burkina Faso is a secular state, and religious freedom is respected. The government does not restrict academic freedom.
Freedom of assembly is constitutionally protected and generally respected, though demonstrations are sometimes suppressed or banned. Many nongovernmental organizations, including human rights groups that have reported detailed accounts of abuses by security forces, operate openly and freely. Labor union rights are provided for in the constitution. Unions are a strong force in society and routinely stage strikes over wages, human rights abuses, and the impunity of security forces.
The judiciary is subject to executive interference in political cases. The rule of law generally prevails in civil and criminal cases, though proceedings are hampered and often delayed because of limited resources or citizens' lack of understanding of their rights. Police often ignore prescribed limits on detention, search, and seizure, and on occasion used excessive force that resulted in death. Harsh prison conditions are characterized by overcrowding, poor diet, and minimal medical attention.
Incidents of discrimination against the country's various ethnic groups do not appear to be widespread.
There are no restrictions on travel, residency or employment, though security forces routinely perform identity checks on travelers and often levy informal road taxes.
Membership in the ruling party is advantageous for businessmen and traders bidding on public contracts. Burkina Faso's weak judicial system and the recourse to traditional courts in rural areas limit the protection of property rights.
Discrimination against women is commonplace, especially in rural areas. Constitutional and legal protections for women's rights are poorly understood or enforced. The practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) is still widespread, though the government reports that the incidence of FGM has decreased by 40 percent since 1996, when legislation made it a crime. More than 600 persons have been sentenced since 1996 for perpetrating FGM. Abortion is prohibited, with exceptions to preserve the life of the mother or in cases involving rape, incest, or fetal impairment. Burkina Faso is a transit point for the trafficking of women and children for forced labor and prostitution. As part of a broader regional effort, the government has increased efforts to stop these activities, and in 2005 it signed with its neighbors a multilateral cooperation agreement to combat child trafficking across West Africa.