A Burkina Faso prosecutor said on Wednesday that a preliminary probe could not determine what caused the death of 12 people in detention cells hours after they were arrested, a decision advocacy group Human Rights Watch says could signal a cover-up.
The prosecutor launched the investigation on 14 May after 12 out of 25 people arrested for suspected terrorism-related offences in a town in the east of the country died in detention cells.
The prosecutor, Judicael Kadeba, told a news conference on Wednesday that it wasn’t clear what caused the death of the 12 people, and further investigations would be needed by military authorities because the incident occurred on military grounds.
“The report on 12 lifeless bodies was made through photographs,” Kadeba said, adding that the corpses, wrapped in shrouds and taped, could not be fully examined during the investigation because they were already in advanced decomposition and the hospital lacked proper facilities.
Human Rights Watch Sahel director Corinne Dufka said in a statement to Reuters the preliminary findings “smack of a cover-up and lay bare the need for an independent investigation done from Ouagadougou and with the collaboration of international actors, including for an autopsy.”
“Suspects detained in normal circumstances don’t drop dead for no reason nor are their bodies soaked in blood and heads crushed beyond recognition. The families of the dead and the Burkina people deserve better than this,” Dufka said.
Burkina Faso has been battling armed Islamist insurgents with ties to al Qaeda and Islamic State since 2017.
Human Rights Watch said in April the militants have killed more than 300 civilians in Burkina Faso, while the government has killed several hundred for their alleged support of the groups.