Norbert Zongo murder – 18 years of impunity

On the 18th anniversary of the discovery of Norbert Zongo’s body, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on Burkina Faso’s authorities to speed up the reopened judicial investigation into this journalist’s murder so that justice can finally be rendered.

Who carried out the murder of Zongo, a well-known investigative reporter and editor of the weekly L’Indépendant? Who had him killed and why? Eighteen years after he met a violent death, his country’s judicial authorities have still not answered these questions.

After the case was reopened in March 2015, during the political transition that followed the end of 27 years of rule by President Blaise Compaoré, three former presidential guard members were arrested in December 2015, and many indirect witnesses have been questioned since then.

However, in the more than 18 months since the investigation resumed, no one has been bought to trial. Three of the six main suspects have meanwhile died in recent years and the chances of obtaining useful testimony are waning.

“We are not satisfied with the case’s progress,” Zongo family lawyer Prosper Farama told RSF. “It has dragged on for 18 years, far more than a reasonable deadline for preparing a trial (...) We call on the authorities to do everything possible to answer the public’s questions. The people of Burkina Faso now want the truth, not just more hearings and more indictments.”

The African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights ruled in March 2014 that Burkina Faso’s authorities had “not acted with due diligence” in their investigation into Zongo’s murder. The families of Zongo and those who were murdered with him have now been awarded compensation, but justice has still not been rendered.

In Farama’s view, the investigating judge in charge of the case has not been given sufficient resources.

“There have been more than 18 months of investigations since the proceedings resumed after 18 years of denial of justice, and this is a good thing,” said Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of RSF’s Africa desk.

“But it is time for these proceedings to speed up. Given that the overall facts and identity of those involved are known, the truth has waited too long. A lot is pinned on this case, not just for Norbert Zongo’s family and friends but also for the country’s entire population, which hopes that a successful conclusion will end the impunity and lawlessness of the Compaoré era.”

Zongo’s bullet-riddled and charred body was found in his car about 100 km outside Ouagadougou on 13 December 1998. He had recently begun investigating the death in detention of David Ouédraogo, who was the driver of François Compaoré, the then president’s brother and adviser.

RSF, which participated in a commission of enquiry in December 1998, repeatedly condemned the political pressure on those investigating the murder, which resulted in the case being dismissed in 2006.

Burkina Faso is ranked 42nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index. Its media are relatively free and covered the 2014 political crisis in a professional manner.

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Updated on 14.12.2016