Civilians on the Front Lines of (Counter-)Terrorism: Lessons from the Volunteers for the Defence of the Homeland in Burkina Faso

Méryl Demuynck 25 Nov 2021
 
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Keywords: Sahel, Burkina Faso, counter-terrorism, civilians, VDP, self-defence, human rights

In the wake of the lethal attack conducted in Solhan, northeast Burkina Faso, during the early hours of 5 June 2021, debates around the use of civilian auxiliaries in the fight against violent extremism have reinvigorated. Faced with a dramatic rise in terrorist violence since 2015, national authorities have decided to arm their own citizens, allowing, since early 2020, the recruitment of nationals willing to voluntarily defend, if necessary by force of arms, their villages or places of residence. While this initiative has been generally welcomed by the population, the creation of the Volunteers for the Defence of the Homeland (Volontaires pour la Défense de la Patrie), has continued to raise serious concerns, particularly with regard to the risk of further exacerbating violence, redirecting it against civilians, and increasing intercommunal tensions. Almost two years after the promulgation of the law, this policy brief aims to confront the rationale behind this strategy with the outcomes of its implementation and the main challenges it has raised, identifying lessons learned and providing recommendations on the way forward.

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