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March 25, 2022

Access to Justice in Burkina Faso: Publication of an Updated “Guide for Criminal Defendants” to Increase Public Understanding of the Criminal Justice System

“Access to justice means that citizens are able to use justice institutions to obtain solutions to their common justice problems.”[1] Such ability is inextricably dependent on legal knowledge regarding the Justice system and administration, a knowledge that is spread by the concerted effort of the State and other stakeholders such as civil society organizations (CSO). The dissemination of legal knowledge and education is particularly crucial in countries like Burkina Faso, where an absence of information about legal systems constitutes a major obstacle to citizens’ access to justice. Indeed, Burkina Faso’s ‘Sectoral Policy “Justice and Human Rights’” adopted in 2018 explicitly states that, for access to justice to be broadened for all citizens by 2027, inter alia, trust between the justice administration and litigants must be strengthened by notably availing legal and judicial information. [2]

It is with the aim of contributing to the dissemination of knowledge relating to the criminal justice system that the Centre d’information et de formation en matière des Droits Humains en Afrique (CIFDHA) has updated and published a “Guide à l’usage du justiciable en matière pénale au Burkina Faso” (“Guide for Litigants in Criminal matters in Burkina Faso” or “the Guide for the Criminal Defendants” hereinafter).

The first edition of the Guide for the Criminal Defendants was published in 2012, to provide information to Burkinabe citizens regarding the country’s criminal justice system, and thus improve confidence in and ultimately the use of the state legal system. However, since 2012, the justice system has undergone numerous reforms, thus necessitating revision to this Guide. As such, with the support of the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI), in the context of the USAID-funded “Burkina Faso Human Rights and Access to Justice” Activity, on March 15, 2022, CIFDHA published the updated version of the Guide for the Criminal Defendants. This updated version of the Guide takes into account the new legal and institutional framework of the judiciary, respectively: (a) the new codes (Penal code, Criminal procedure code, Military justice code) and specific laws relating to the fight against Gender-based Violence, and to the Juvenile justice system; (b) the creation of centers specializing in the repression of certain offences (in particular the Anti-terrorist centers) and the creation of the ‘High Court of Justice’, as well as the putting in place of the Court of Appeal of Fada N’Gourma (Est region) and new High Courts.

Equally noteworthy is the fact the revision process of the Guide for the Criminal Defendants involved a wide range of stakeholders, both from the public (notably the Ministry of Justice, Human Rights and Civic Promotion, and the National Commission of Human Rights) and private (CSOs) sectors. This multi-stakeholder approach is admittedly a key ingredient for the attainment of the following interrelated objectives of the Guide:

  • Improving the quality of the legal and judicial assistance work of civil society organizations,
  • Promoting a better understanding of judicial procedures,
  • Informing the public and victims about the existing opportunities for legal and judicial assistance in Burkina Faso, and
  • Contributing to restoring public confidence in the Justice system and administration.

The various stakeholders - including the Ministry of Justice, the CNDH and CSOs members of the CNDH Working Groups (on “the Prevention of Conflicts and Abuses/Atrocities” and on “Services to Victims, including Legal and Judicial Assistance”) - have already started working on the distribution and dissemination of the content of the Guide. In addition to publishing the Guide on its website, the CNDH is currently training – with the support of ABA ROLI – the members of its Working Groups on the content and use of the Guide. It is expected that this workshop will enable the CSOs to take a wide range of actions in line with the abovementioned objectives of the Guide.

Learn more about ABA ROLI’s work across Africa.

[1] ABA Rule of Law Initiative, Access to Justice Assessment Tool: A Guide to Analyzing Access to Justice for Civil Society Organizations (New York: American Bar Association, 2012), p.3.