Once commonplace, abuses by state security forces against civilians in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger have dropped sharply in the previous year, according to rights groups.
Boubacar, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, said last year unidentified gunmen came to his home at night, shot and wounded his wife and son, then killed his brother.
The next day, on doctors’ orders, he traveled to Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, for medical treatment to save his son’s injured hand from amputation.
While he was away, he said, Burkinabe security forces kidnapped two of his brothers. Neighbors, he said, identified the forces. Since then, the family has had no word and doesn’t know if the two are alive or dead.
Abuses by security forces in the Sahel conflict, where Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger battle terror groups linked to Islamic State and al-Qaida, were once common.
Last year, the number of civilian fatalities caused by security forces was approaching those caused by terror groups.
Data from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, ACLED, shows the number of civilian fatalities caused by security forces has fallen dramatically in the last year to Oct. 1, compared with the previous year.
They have dropped by 77% in Burkina Faso, 74% in Mali, and 65% in Niger.
Rights groups say they have also observed the change and suggest why it might have occurred.
“We believe that there’s a combination of factors,” said Corrine Dufka, West Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “First has been reporting by human rights groups, by journalists, as well as pressure from the international community.”
Analysts say there could be other factors at play, including the outsourcing of military activities to government-backed militias, among other things.
“Over this period, the security situation in the Sahel has continued to get worse,” said the European Council on Foreign Relations’s Andrew Lebovich. “And so, I think one other possible explanation is that regional security forces are doing somewhat less patrolling and are doing somewhat fewer operations where they’re actually interacting with populations in rural areas, especially.”
The Burkinabe army says accusations of abuse by security forces have not been proven. In a statement to VOA, it said respect for human rights is a major concern for the national armed forces and is part of the basic education for soldiers.
But the consequences of the atrocities are not going away.
“The bad news is there have not been investigations, much less, justice and accountability,” said Human Rights Watch’s Dufka.
Boubacar said trying to seek justice from the same authorities he believes committed crimes would be pointless.
He said he can’t see how there would be a positive outcome, even if he went to court, so he decided to let matters lie.
But he still wants to know what happened to his brothers.