Burkina Faso’s education in limbo after years of islamists’ attacks

The education system is in limbo in the West African country of Burkina Faso, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Tuesday, after years of attacks since 2017 on teachers, students and schools by islamist groups allied with Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.

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The terrorists have said they oppose French, western-style education and government institutions.

Human Rights Watch said it had 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. 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.

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“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.”

The 102-page report released on Tuesday, “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 six of the country’s 13 regions between 2017 and 2020.

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In the report, 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 their brutal assault against education, armed Islamist groups in Burkina Faso have cost teachers their lives, livelihoods, and physical and mental health, and they are costing hundreds of thousands of children their futures,” Seibert said. “These attacks need to stop.”

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