Justice Needs in Burkina Faso

A new study sheds light on the justice journeys, concerns and opportunities for a nationwide people-centred justice programme.

Update: 6 October 2022

HiiL expresses concern regarding the second coup d’etat that has taken place on 30 September 2022. This comes at a time when Burkinabè are seeking a more responsive justice system. 

HiiL has worked closely with partners in Burkina Faso and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to conduct two independent Justice Needs & Satisfaction (JNS) studies. The data collected in these surveys reflect an urgent demand to address concerns of access to justice for the people of Burkina Faso, both those living in the country and those that have fled to other countries. 

We express the hope that there will be a swift transition to a democratically elected government and that the authorities will continue to be guided by the urgency that emerges from the JNS study. 

This survey data shows an urgent demand for justice systems to be more responsive and more effective to the needs of people and businesses. The JNS details challenges and opportunities for realising increased access to justice in Burkina Faso.

More than 6,000 people representing all 13 regions in Burkina Faso took part in the nationwide JNS. The survey, conducted in partnership with the Ministry of Justice, revealed that 63% of Burkinabè adults have experienced at least one legal problem in the last four years. These include issues related to employment, family conflict, crime, neighbour, and land disputes. 

“It’s important to address the justice concerns of men, women, and internally displaced populations across the country,” said Jelmer Brouwer, Data Analysis & Reporting Officer at HiiL. “Working from data is a key to achieving this and with this report we now have an opportunity to embark on a national people-centred justice programme which can ensure people’s justice needs come first.”

Key highlights from the JNS study include:

  • Two in three adults in Burkina Faso faced a justice problem in the last four years. 
  • Roughly 52% of all justice problems are resolved and the vast majority of these resolutions are perceived as fair. 
  • However, 15% of problems remain open, while in 32% of problems people have completely given up pursuing a solution.
  • Men and women in Burkina Faso tend to experience different types of justice problems. Women report significantly more family problems, domestic violence, and issues with neighbours. In contrast, men report significantly more problems related to land and employment.
  • Data shows that women have less access to neutral third parties who can help resolve their legal problems. This disadvantage means women are less likely to resolve their legal problems than men.
  • While attempting to resolve their legal problems, Burkinabè adults rely heavily on their personal network for assistance instead of modern institutions and legal professionals which are commonly associated with the justice system. 
  • Outside personal networks, Burkinabè living in urban areas seek help from the police or gendarmerie. In contrast, the use of customary and traditional authorities is more prevalent in rural areas.

The study was conducted in partnership with the Ministry of Justice of Burkina Faso and received technical assistance from the Centre for Democratic Governance. A second JNS was carried out in partnership with UNHCR. It focused on the justice needs of internally displaced persons and will be published in late October.  

A people-centred justice approach

Justice Needs & Satisfaction surveys are a key product of HiiL’s work in promoting user-friendly justice. These surveys inform sector professionals on how to restructure justice systems so they respond to people’s needs more effectively. 

“Reliable data can show the extent and impact of justice problems on society,” said Jelmer. Data can also shed light on different justice problems along with their prevalence and disruptive influence across communities and demographics.”

However, working from data is not enough for justice practitioners, entrepreneurs, and government leaders. For those committed to expanding access to justice, delivering on this promise requires a systemic and integrated approach. Working from data offers a starting point but represents only the first of five pillars in the paradigm-shifting concept of people-centred justice (PCJ). The other four pillars are: (2) Promoting evidence-based practice; (3) Scaling game-changing innovations; (4) Creating an enabling environment; and (5) Strengthening the movement. 

“People and businesses are asking justice systems to be better and to deliver justice more effectively,” said Sam Muller, CEO of HiiL. “If our societies are to reduce violence, tackle corruption, protect the environment, address inequality, and repair broken social contracts, then they will need to revamp justice systems so they respond effectively – and cost-effectively – to people’s needs.”

In Burkina Faso, the JNS data encourages innovators, service providers, justice practitioners, and civil society to implement a national people-centred justice programme. Working systematically on PCJ and building on established structures of the judiciary will help develop sustainable solutions. It will also bring impressive social and economic benefits. We invite practitioners, innovators, NGO professionals, and other stakeholders working in the justice sector to harness this data in order to realise ideas and practices that put people first.

Further reading