Burkina Faso

Last updated: 2 September 2021

Introduction

Burkina Faso is a landlocked country in West Africa. Formerly known as the Republic of Upper Volta, the country was renamed “Burkina Faso” – meaning “Land of Incorruptible People” – on August 4, 1984. Previously, the country had been a French colony from 1919 until gaining independence on August 5, 1960. After 1960, independent institutions in Upper Volta were not yet fully established, and colonial-era French laws stayed in place. A French law governing freedom of association remained in force from 1958 until 1992.

A new Constitution was adopted on June 2, 1991, and on December 15, 1992, the National Assembly enacted Law 10/92, which instituted a legal regime that encouraged the growth in the number of associations. Supported by Law 10/92, civil society played an increasingly large role on issues of public importance, including social, economic, and humanitarian services for the poor, and citizen oversight of human rights and governance. In addition, civil society has often played an important political role, such as during the struggle against constitutional amendments in 2014, which led to a popular uprising in October 2014 and a political transition in 2015.

Law 10/92 was replaced in 2015 by Law 064-2015 CNT, which addressed a number of flaws in the prior legal framework. Under Law 064-2015/CNT, civil society organizations (CSOs) are able to form freely and do not need advance government approval. They may pursue any legal purpose, defined in the bylaws of the organization, along with internal decision-making bodies and management rules. They can seek and secure registration by submitting declarations of their existence along with draft bylaws, internal regulations, and other information to the Ministry of Territorial Administration, Decentralization, and Social Cohesion (MATD). In short, the current legal framework generally conforms to international standards for freedom of association and is considered generally favorable to civil society.

Organizational Forms Associations, NGOs, and Trade Unions
Registration Body Ministry of Territorial Administration, Decentralization, and Social Cohesion (MATD)
Approximate Number While the number of associations is uncertain, there are reportedly 17,000 NGOs.
Barriers to Entry No significant barriers to entry.
Barriers to Operations/Activities The law prohibits vaguely defined acts, including those contrary to “proper mores” or “the dignity of human persons.”
Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy The law imposes vague conditions on “professional” online media services by requiring them to avoid content that can shock or undermine human dignity or decency; and prohibits the dissemination of “fake news” without defining the term.
Barriers to International Contact No legal barriers to international contact.
Barriers to Resources No legal barriers impeding either domestic or international funding, but there are cases of the government pressuring organizations to not receive funding through international cooperation.
Barriers to Assembly Prior authorization required, and authorities have broad powers to forbid or dispel an assembly. Organizers of assembly where violence or property damage occurs are subject to criminal sanctions, including imprisonment.
Population 21,382,659 (July 2021 est.)
Capital Ouagadougou
Type of Government Presidential republic
Life Expectancy at Birth Total population: 63.06 years; male: 61.28 years; female: 64.89 years (2021 est.)
Literacy Rate Total population: 41.2% male: 50.1% female: 32.7% (2018)
Religious Groups Muslim 63.2%, Roman Catholic 24.6%, Protestant 6.9%, traditional/animist 4.2%, none 0.7%, unspecified 0.4% (2017-18 est.)
Ethnic Groups Mossi 52%, Fulani 8.4%, Gurma 7%, Bobo 4.9%, Gurunsi 4.6%, Senufo 4.5%, Bissa 3.7%, Lobi 2.4%, Dagara 2.4%, Tuareg/Bella 1.9%, Dioula 0.8%, unspecified/no answer 0.3%, other 7.2% (2010 est.)
GDP per capita $2,178 (2019 est.) (sources: CIA World Factbook)
Ranking Body Rank Ranking Scale
(best – worst)
UN Human Development Index 182 (2020) 1 – 182
World Justice Project Rule of Law Index 70 (2020) 1 – 128
Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index 36 (2021) 179 – 1
Transparency International 86 (2020) 1 – 180
Freedom House: Freedom in the World Status: Partly Free

Political Rights: 23

Civil Liberties: 33 (2020)

Free/Partly Free/Not Free

1 – 40

1 – 60

International and Regional Human Rights Agreements

Key International Agreements Ratification* Year
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Yes 1999
Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1) No
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) Yes 1968
Optional Protocol to ICESCR (OP-ICESCR) Yes 1999
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) Yes 1974
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Yes 2005
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women Yes 2005
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) No
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW) Yes 2003
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) Yes 200
Regional Treaties
African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights Yes 1987

* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty

Constitutional Framework

Adopted by referendum in 1991, the Constitution enshrines respect for political pluralism, the separation of powers, and civil and political liberties. It articulates rights that are generally consistent with international norms, as reflected in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1981 African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.

Specifically, the Constitution provides for the freedom of assembly, procession, and demonstration (Article 7); the freedom of opinion, the right to information, and freedom of expression (Article 8); and the right of citizen participation in governance without exception (Article 12). The freedom of association is enshrined in Article 21, which states that: “Freedom of association is guaranteed. All persons have the right to form associations and to participate freely in activities of existing associations. Associations must act within the confines of existing laws and regulations.”

While the Constitution generally recognizes civic freedoms, its provisions include legal compliance clauses, such as “within the confines of existing laws and regulations.” These clauses may open the door to restrictions, as constitutional rights become subject to laws and regulations passed by the government.

National Laws and Regulations Affecting Constitutional Rights

Several laws and regulations (e.g., decrees) directly or indirectly affect civil society:

  • Law 064-2015/CNT of October 20, 2015, concerning freedom of association (replacing Law 10/92 of December 15, 1992)
  • Law 22/97 concerning freedom of manifestations and public demonstrations
  • Law 051/2015 concerning access to public information
  • Law 056/1993 concerning information (the Information Code)
  • Law 010-2004/AN protecting personal data
  • Law 057/2015 concerning the legal status of printed media
  • Law 058/2015 concerning the legal status of online press
  • Law 059/2015 concerning the legal status of radio broadcasting
  • Law 039/2017/AN concerning the protection of human rights defenders in Burkina Faso
  • Decree concerning ARUP (Association Reconnue d’Utilité Publique)*
  • Decree concerning NGO exemptions*
  • Decree concerning PNDES (Plan National de Développement Economique et Social)*
  • Law 055-2004/AN concerning the General Territorial Collectivities Code

* Numbers are not available for these decrees.

Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives

There are currently no pending initiatives to amend the legal framework affecting civil society or the freedoms of association, assembly, and expression.

Organizational Forms

Article 2 of Law 064/2015/CNT governs three organizational types, including (1) associations, (2) non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and (3) trade unions.

Excluded from the application of the law are associations pursuing purely political or commercial goals or objectives. This clause leads to uncertainties due to the imprecise notion of “purely political or commercial.”

Under Article 3 of Law 064, an association is defined as any group of natural or legal persons, whether national or foreign, with a permanent, non-profit vocation and the aim of achieving common objectives, particularly in the cultural, sporting, social, spiritual, religious, scientific, professional, or socio-economic realms. A foreign association is any association whose head office is located outside Burkina Faso. An association of recognized public utility (ARUP) is any association or association of associations whose activities pursue an aim of general interest, particularly in the areas of economic, social, and cultural development in a specified region.

A non-governmental organization (NGO) is defined as any declared national association or authorized foreign association engaged in the field of economic, social, or cultural development of the country or a specified region. To become an NGO, a national association must obtain approval through an agreement with the Ministry of the Economy and Finance, and a foreign association must conclude “une convention d’établissement” (framework agreement) with the Ministry of the Economy.

A trade union is defined as any organization or group of workers that seeks to promote and defend the moral, material, and professional interests of its members, or any free association of workers or employees exercising the same occupation, similar trades, or related professions contributing to the establishment of specific products.

The legal status and the financial regimes governing foundations derive from common law under Law 008 of 2017.

There used to be much uncertainty about the precise number of CSOs in Burkina Faso, in part due to the multiple locations where CSOs were registered. Registration occurred both centrally (at the Ministry) and locally (at the regional, provincial, and commune levels). No centralized registration system existed. Since 2010, the Territorial Administration and Decentralization Ministry (MATD) has undertaken efforts to better record registrations. Currently, there are approximately 17,000 NGOs in Burkina Faso.

Public Benefit Status

There is no comprehensive legislation defining the tax treatment of CSOs in Burkina Faso. Tax exemptions are available for NGOs, but not for associations or trade unions. These exemptions are addressed in the “Convention d’établissement” (or Framework Agreement) that must be endorsed by the Council of Ministers (Articles 32 and 33 of Law 064). This agreement is akin to a memorandum of understanding that provides the NGO with official recognition as a government partner and confers benefits, including tax exemptions.

The preferential tax treatment for NGOs likely springs from the involvement of NGOs in providing humanitarian services during the droughts of the 1970s, at which time, tax exemptions were extended to them to facilitate their work.

In 2016, the government attempted to adopt a decree amending the tax treatment of NGOs. Had it been adopted, the decree would have eliminated tax exemptions altogether and would have subjected foreign funds received by NGOs to taxation. In response, however, the NGO Permanent Secretary (SPONG), which is an independent, umbrella NGO, mobilized push-back and prevented the adoption of the decree.

Associations of Recognized Public Utility (ARUP) do not yet benefit from tax exemptions but receive subsidies from the state, depending on available state funds. They are required to submit annual reports with financial statements to the Territorial Administration and Decentralization Ministry (MATD), the Ministry of Economy and Finance, and their line ministries. Failure to submit the reports can result in the suspension of funding, although this is not known to have happened. NGOs are similarly supposed to submit annuals reports to the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

Corporations and individuals may receive deductions for donations to all types of CSOs.

Barriers to Entry

According to Article 4 of Law 064, “Associations are formed freely and without prior administrative authorization. Their validity is governed by general contract law.” Furthermore, Article 13 affirms this freedom by stating that, “A receipt for the declaration of association is delivered by the relevant authority no later than two months afterwards, including the day of declaration. Beyond such a time period, silence from relevant authorities constitutes a declaration of the association’s existence and obligates the administration to provide a receipt for the declaration to facilitate publication formalities.” In practice, associations are often created and sometimes operate for several years before obtaining administrative recognition.

The conditions for creating and establishing associations are described in Articles 5 and 6, which state that, “Any person wishing to create an association with legal capacity must observe the following formalities:

  • hold a board meeting;
  • during that meeting submit for adoption the organizational plan and statutes governing the association (among other things, the organizational plan must mention the directors’ roles);
  • establish board meeting minutes within the organizational plan, provide the identities and complete addresses of members and, if it exists, the association’s mailing address; and
  • have board meeting minutes signed by the board members.”

Associations seeking legal capacity must submit an application to the Ministry of Territorial Administration, Decentralization, and Social Cohesion (MATD). The Directorate of Civil Society Organizations has a dedicated office within the MATD to receive all the required documentation.

Law 064 introduced a fee of 15,000 CFA (approximately 25 USD) as a registration fee, along with stamp fees charged for the legal filing of application documents.

Chapter 2, Title 5 of Law 064 outlines available sanctions. These sanctions mostly concern violations of stated procedures governing the association’s publication of its registration, declarations of changes in board membership, and refusals to apply a suspension or withdrawal of receipt by the administration. Articles 59 and 60 of Law 064 establish financial penalties for not abiding by certain rules of the law, which range from 500,000 CFA (approximately 800 USD) to 1,000,000 CFA (approximately 1,600 USD).

Barriers to Operational Activity

Article 16 of Law 064 expressly states that certain activities are illegal: “Associations founded for illegal purposes or aims contrary to law and proper mores are null and void. Equally null and void are associations whose purpose and practices go against the dignity of human persons or that advocate hate, intolerance, xenophobia, ethnocentrism or racism.” When an applicant association’s internal statutes and regulations reveal evidence of such illegal purposes or practices, the administrative authority can refuse to recognize an association. A list of the sanctions when associations’ activities violate laws can be found in Articles 58 to 65 in Chapter 2, Title 5 of Law 064.

The law does not allow the government to interfere in the management and operation of associations. In practice, there have been no reported cases of administrative interference in the management of associations’ or NGOs’ operations. Government agencies do not carry out arbitrary checks, nor do they harass NGOs with arbitrary inspections of their headquarters.

More concerning, however, is collusion by certain NGOs with governments or parties in power. After 2015, which was a year of political transition, the politicization of a part of civil society became more apparent, with NGOs called “specific movements” becoming openly partisan. NGOs believed to be close to political powers, for example, abstained from cooperating with other NGOs that were critical of the government. This phenomenon lessened somewhat with the return of elected political institutions in 2016.

Barriers to Speech and Advocacy

Article 8 of the Constitution of June 2, 1991, states “Freedom of opinion, press and the right to information are guaranteed. All persons have the right to express themselves and to broadcast their opinions within the confines of existing laws and regulations.”

Areas related to freedom of expression, such as the freedom of information, also benefit from constitutional protection. Media agencies are usually freely created, and the procedures for establishing them are straightforward.

The regulation of social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) began in 2015 through Law 058/2015, which regulates professional online media services. Some of its provisions contain overbroad terms that could make their enforcement problematic. The law imposes vague conditions on “professional” online media services; for example, the media service is required to avoid content that can shock or undermine human dignity or decency. The law provides for penalties that are problematic due to overbroad offences like “false news”. Administrative offences like “not properly declaring one’s service” or operating without accreditation (for foreign services) are subject to substantial fines.

Since 2016, government supporters have targeted NGOs and media on social networks, and certain activists have been thrown in prison for expressing themselves on subjects of national importance. Cyber-activist Naïm Touré, for example, spent over two months in prison in 2018 for his post about a police officer being wounded in a counter-terrorism operation.

In July 2019, the government passed an important modification of the penal code that limited freedom of expression, particularly on social media, but also traditional media, by making “fake news” illegal. The limitations were denounced by many organizations, such as Reporters Sans Frontières, Human Rights Watch, and the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Criticism of public governance leads to subtle reprisals that may be difficult to prove. For instance, workers in the public sector who criticize the government, demonstrate, or unionize are passed over for promotion, relegated to working in remote areas, and ostracized when carrying out their activities. Citizens in independent professions are also restricted from accessing markets, harassed by tax authorities, and encounter all types of administrative obstacles to operating their businesses. Activists and NGOs are also deprived of financing as much as possible in order to prevent their operations and counter their influence. Victims of these abuses have significant trouble obtaining justice because such persecution is hidden and difficult to document or prove publicly.

Burkinabe law very clearly separates associations from political parties. Article 7 of Law 064 states, “Leading members of an association cannot be leading members of political parties.” In practice, this provision creates difficulties, however. For example, a member or leader of an association may seek to participate in some party activities, such as helping to draft a proposal for legislation or a political platform, without being part of the party leadership or public representation.

Barriers to International Contact

Burkinabe laws place no restrictions on associations becoming members or partners of international or regional networks. Internet access is unrestricted in Burkina Faso and theoretically available to all citizens. That said, access to the Internet is too expensive for poorer citizens and the quality of internet access may be impeded by challenges with bandwidth and stability.

Barriers to Resources

Foreign Funding

No legal or regulatory provisions restrict associations or NGOs from accessing foreign funding. In fact, a large percentage of funding for association and NGOs comes from foreign sources. There is concern, however, that the Burkinabe government exerts pressure to ensure certain associations and NGOs do not receive funding through international cooperation or from international development institutions in an effort to reduce the impact of independent voices in the country.

Domestic Funding

Law 064 does not prohibit NGOs from engaging in economic activities. The only restriction is the notion of “not-for-profit,” which does not prevent NGOs from engaging in economic activities, but rather concerns the use of revenue generated by such activities. Certain NGOs like Association pour les Initiatives Locales based in Kaya and VARENA ASSO in Diébougou have well-developed economic activities.

Ministerial officials charged with recognizing associations sometimes ask certain associations to refrain from revenue-generating activities because they do not understand the law or the nature of not-for-profit associations.

In order to continue to receive funding, most NGOs practice self-censorship on sensitive subjects. In early 2019, self-defense militias from the Koglweogo movement and members of the armed forces were involved in multiple massacres, leading to at least 500 deaths in only two months. Very few NGOs and activists mentioned these summary executions, however, or participated in press conferences. The vast majority of NGOs remained silent rather than risk being labeled opposition organizations and having their funding cut.

Philanthropy, sponsorship, and corporate social responsibility are not well-developed in Burkina Faso and thus corporations rarely provide domestic funding to NGOs.

Barriers to Assembly

The Burkinabe Constitution recognizes the freedom of assembly and demonstration. Article 7 states, “The freedom to believe, not to believe, of conscience, religious opinion, philosophy, religious practice, freedom of assembly, practice of customs as well as the freedom of procession and demonstration are guaranteed by the current Constitution, on condition that law, public order, proper mores and human persons are respected.”

Advance Notification

Law No. 22/97 implementing the Constitutional provision on freedom of assembly requires that demonstrations receive prior authorization, stating, “Public gatherings must receive prior authorization when such gatherings include a conference or exposé, on any subject, followed by a debate or not; they must adhere to conditions set by Articles 8 and 9 below. Advance notification must be written and addressed to the relevant administrative authority. This authority may, for reasons of public order, forbid the gathering.”

This provision is affirmed by Article 10, which states “Any procession, parade, gathering of persons and, generally, any public demonstration must provide advance notification addressed to the Ministry for Public Liberties whenever the demonstration is of a national or international nature, and to the Head of the District Administration or municipality concerned in other cases… It may, if circumstances require it, declare the demonstration be banned.” Thus, a freedom granted by the Constitution as a political right of citizens is made dependent on approval by an administrative authority.

An organizer must contact the Ministry for Public Liberties (ministre chargé des libertés publiques) to hold a demonstration of a national nature, while local authorities, usually the mayor of the community, are responsible for local demonstrations. Demonstration organizers must submit an application for prior authorization at least 72 hours before the planned demonstration. They are also held responsible for anything that happens during the demonstration. Authorities must make their decision known at least 24 hours before the demonstration (Article 10). Organizers must take measures to prevent violence during the demonstration or else they will be held responsible for such violence.

Time, Place, and Manner Restrictions

In practice, the right to demonstrate is largely restricted by administrative authorities who have great power to permit or forbid the exercise of the right. Article 12 of Law No. 22/97/II states, “The administrative authority may, at any moment, without having previously issued a ban, put an end to any gathering, procession, parade or public assembly in the interest of public order.” At times, administrative authorities’ decisions have been colored by political or partisan biases.

Since 2013, certain streets and squares in the capital Ouagadougou have been classified as “red zones” and have been closed off to demonstrations.

It has been noted that demonstrations organized by those considered “opponents” of the government are the ones most likely to be banned. The Framework for Democratic Expression (CED), for example, was denied the right to hold a demonstration in November 2017, and its leader, Pascal Zaida, was incarcerated for two months in Ouagadougou. The CED is known for its strong views accusing political leaders and the present government of crimes.

Excessive Penalties

Articles 14 and 15 of the 1997 law set criminal sanctions for acts tied to the freedoms of demonstration and assembly. Article 14, for example, states, “When by concerted action and open force by a group, violence, assault or illegal confinement of persons or destruction or damage of property, real or personal, public or private, occurs, instigators and organizers of the action, as well as willing participants, will be punished by imprisonment of two (2) to five (5) years and fined 500,000 (approximately $800) to 1,000,000 (approximately $1,600) CFA.”

The penalty does not target the perpetrators of violence, but instead the demonstration organizers. A very well-known application of these provisions took place in 1999 during demonstrations by the Movement for Truth and Justice to support Norbert Zongo, an investigative journalist who was burned to death on October 13, 1998. Leaders of his collective were arrested and imprisoned and their heads shaven after a non-violent demonstration.

In 2017, Pascal Zaida, an activist, was also arrested and imprisoned for organizing a march followed by a meeting that had not received prior authorization by the city’s mayor. Based on the prison sentences in Articles 14-21 of Law 22/97, Pascal Zaida was incarcerated in November 2017 after the demonstration he planned was canceled.

Generally speaking, however, the police do not use excessive force to maintain order. Certain demonstrations are high-risk due to their political nature and the country’s political history, which has seen peaceful demonstrations turn into popular uprisings that led to the overthrow of governments (January 6, 1966 and October 30, 2014, for example). Police sometimes use tear gas to disperse demonstrators, particularly in the context of student demonstrations. Incidents of police assaulting demonstrators are rare, but have occurred.

UN Universal Periodic Review Reports May 7, 2018
Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs

Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism: Mission to Burkina Faso

Council on Foundations Country Notes N/A
U.S. State Department 2020 Human Rights Report: Burkina Faso
Fragile States Index Reports Foreign Policy Fragile States Index
IMF Country Reports Burkina Faso
International Commission of Jurists Frontier Dispute (Burkina Faso/Mali)
International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library Burkina Faso

While we aim to maintain information that is as current as possible, we realize that situations can rapidly change. If you are aware of any additional information or inaccuracies on this page, please keep us informed; write to ICNL at ngomonitor@icnl.org.

News Items

Burkina Faso and Global Fund Launch New Grants to Accelerate Progress against HIV, TB and Malaria (February 2021)
The Government of Burkina Faso, the Global Fund and health partners strengthened their partnership by launching four new grants to accelerate the end of AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria as epidemics and strengthen health systems. The new grants will cover the 2021-2023 implementation period.

The foregoing information was collected by ICNL’s CFM partner in Burkina Faso.