December 7, 1999 - Updated on January 20, 2016

What's happening about the inquiry into Norbert Zongo's death?

On May 7, 1999, the independent commission of enquiry charged with the responsibility of throwing light on the death of Norbert Zongo, a Burkinabe journalist and three of his companions, submitted its report to the Burkinabe Prime Minister. After hearing the accounts of more than 200 witnesses, the commission put the matter at the initiative of the authorities, saying, ''The real motive for the quadruple murder could be traced to the investigations carried out by the journalist over the years, especially the recent investigations on the death of David Ouedraogo, the driver of François Compaoré, a presidential adviser''. It adds, ''as regards the authors of the crime, the commission does not have definite proofs that will lead to unravelling the riddle''. The commission, however, highlighted the contradictions and the incoherences in the statements of some of the suspects in relation to their schedule of duty on Dec. 13, 1998 (the day Norbert and his companions were assassinated) especially those of Christophe Kombacere, Ousseini Yaro, Wampasba Nacoulma, Banagoulo Yaro, Edmond Koama and Marcel Kafando, all soldiers attached to the presidential guard regiment (RSP). ''This does not make them guilty but they are serious suspects,'' the commission said. In his reaction to the commission's conclusions, President Blaise Compaoré, during his broadcast to the nation, announced ''the reorganisation and the reallocation of barrack quarters in the presidential guard regiment and that he was bent on facilitating the course of justice which according to him, has the task of resolving the issue once and for all''. The head of state also said that he would do everything possible to ensure the social security cover for Norbert Zongo's widow and children, as well as those of his companions including David Ouedraogo. On June 1, ''A college of sages'' was put in place at the initiative of the president with the aim of bringing about reconciliation as well as consolidate peace. The college headed by Mgr. Anselme Sanou, the Bishop of Bobo-Dioulasso is made of 16 members, three of them former heads of state, religious and traditional leaders and some 'resource persons'. On June 17, the college asked for the arrest of all those implicated in the death of David Ouedraogo. The next day, three members of the presidential guard close to President Blaise Compaoré including Yaro Ousseini, Edmond Koama and Marcel Kafando were detained in Ouagadougou and charged for murder of François Compaoré's driver. But François himself was not touched. The report of the college of sages, submitted to the president on Aug. 2, made some ''recommendations that will end the crisis''. The recommendations included the setting up of a government of national unity, the establishment of a truth and justice commission for national reconciliation and the constitution of an ad hoc committee to be charged with the review of some articles in the nation's constitution and to develop definite texts on the life of political parties. On the death of Norbert Zongo and other recent crimes, the college proposed an accelerated hearing and that the state should assume responsibility of Zongo's widow and the children. During the submission of the report of the college of sages, the head of state declared that he had taken note of the recommendations of the college and affirmed that he would take all necessary measures for the best interest of Burkinabes. This report is aimed at highlighting the steps taken to concretise the commission's recommendations and the proposals of the college of sages particularly as it affects the assassination of Norbert Zongo. The two bodies have made recommendations since seven months now for the first and four months for the second body. But aside from pronouncements and promises, what have the authorities done with the recommendations made by the two bodies on the death of the publisher of the weekly newspaper, L'Independant and his three companions? 1) The Independent commission recommended the setting up of a judicial follow-up to the results of the enquiries and enough money and materials to be made available to the magistrate handling the case. The Zongo affair is in the hands of trial magistrate Wenceslas Ilboudo of no 1 cabinet in the high court of Ouagadougou since the beginning of 1999. About 20 million f cfa have been made available in an open account in his name. He was also equipped with among other things, vehicles, mobile phone and computers, while policemen and gendarmes were also put at his disposal for his security. He has started hearing in the case and several witnesses who appeared before the independent commission have been detained. But it would appear that personalities who are in the centre of the whole episode have neither been invited nor heard especially François Compaoré, the brother of the head of state. Till date, none of the six suspects mentioned by the commission have been charged. According to local human rights organisations, the judge would have taken the report of the commission into consideration and charge the six members of the presidential guard as well as François Compaoré, the president's brother to court. They maintain that the steps taken by the magistrate is a real set back. 2) The commission recommended that the widows and orphans of Norbert Zongo as well as those of his companions should benefit from social security services from the state. The college of sages also made similar suggestions that the widows and children of the victims should be taken care of by the state under a given law. On June 11, 1999, a joint ministerial decree was issued by the economic and finance ministry and the ministry of social and family affairs. The decrees dated 9th and 10th of June are those of "taking responsibility of the social security of the families of deceased Norbert Zongo, Ernest Yembi Zongo, Ablasse Nikiema, Blaise Ilboudo and David Ouedraogo and on the special allocation to the families of the same dead persons". The decree gave a precise amount to Norbert Zongo family to the tune of 3 900 000 f cfa, the family of Ernest Zongo, 420,000 f cfa, the family of Ablasse Nikiema, 1 080 000 f cfa, Blaise IIboudo's family, 720 000 f cfa, while the family of David Ouedraogo would get 1 400 000 f cfa. Article 2 of the decree emphasised that the expenditure should be charged to the state budget. The amount was arrived at considering the number of persons in the care of the deceased persons as well as their incomes. The Zongo family said that they would not touch the money inasmuch as the authors of the deed are not known and brought to book. The family also said that there would want the whole affair to be blown open as it is not just a question of the state taking care of us because we are not interested in the money but in the fishing out of those guilty of the deed first and foremost. 3) The Commission recommended that the functions of the police be spelt out and strictly adhered to so that there would be a distinction between military and police functions including their responsibilities on state security. "For the time being, nothing is being planned in that regards", a lawyer explained, adding ''it is true that the current functions performed by the members of the presidential guard have no legal backing as there are arbitrary practices.'' The independent commission had wanted to put a stop to what happened during the death of François Compaore's driver. As the enquiry revealed, David Ouedraogo was arrested by the members of the presidential guard, whereas in a case of theft, the presumed author was supposed to have been taken to the national police. But in the case in point, the gendarmes only tried to cover the actions of the presidential guard after it has happened. 4) The independent commission had recommended that the department which controlled the presidential guard be brought under the command of the republican army and that the functions of the presidential guard be limited to the mission of protecting the head of state. The college of sages on the other hand, recommended that the duty of providing security to the president be handed over to the police and the gendarmerie. Meanwhile, the special department continues to harbour the presidential guard. If there are changes within the hierarchy of the presidential guard, the same men are still called upon to ensure the security of the head of state. The transfers, whose details remain a secret, only came about when the bad behaviours of some soldiers became a well known secret. Within these last months, soldiers showed their annoyance about their housing allowances which were embezzled. Some observers pointed out that Blaise Compaore's regime drew its weight from the army and, particularly from the guard close to the head of state, adding that it will appear inconceivable for the president of the republic to break away from the regiment that make up his force and authority. As regards the reallocations in the barracks announced by the president, it is a farce as the presidential guard regiment has remained where it was. Only new barracks would be constructed in Ouagadougou by 2000. 5) The independent commission recommended that all cases of "disappearances" and assassinations which have defied explanations be re-opened and cleared once and for all. In its proposal, the college of sages wants the cases to be dealt with without sentiments, pressure and without bias. It wants the cases to be subjected to accelerated hearing and to charge those implicated in any way according to the law of the land. The sages also want justice and equity to be dispensed without much delay and punishments duly and effectively meted out but frowned at death sentences. No case file on past incidents have been subjected to real scrutiny nor have they been brought forward for fresh examinations. Apart from the David Ouedraogo's case which is before a military tribunal, the Norbert Zongo's case is to be tried under the penal code. The suggestion by the sages that a truth and justice commission be set up in order to bring about national reconciliation have not seen the light of day. In 1998, following a complaint by the Burkinabe human and peoples rights movement (MBDHP), the OAU commission on human and peoples rights sitting in Banjul, Gambia had asked the Burkinabe government to do everything within its power to bring the whole episode to light, Ouagadougou has set about it but nothing has come out of it. Local human rights organisations have complained that the Burkinabe authorities do not seek their assistance on the unexplained issues of "disappearances" and assassinations. For the MBDHP, one expects no justice in the present Burkina Faso. Even where, since the submission of the report by the independent commission of inquiry, some very questionable magistrates have been transferred, the MBDHP still thinks that the changes have done nothing to shake off the total and hideous state of dependence of justice in the country. The organisation adds that, the changes can not even be called reforms as much is still left to be done. Asked about the necessity for ''bringing the whole affair to light'', as recommended by the sages, a local media executive summarised the people's sentiments saying, ''for the time being, the power-that-be has not even initiated the beginning of the solution'' 6) The independent commission recommended that because of the barbaric way the crime of Dec. 13. 1998 was committed and the cruelty it denotes, legislative measures should be taken so that it would be considered as an imprescriptible crime. The authorities till date have not in any way addressed this proposal made by the commission and it is feared that with the establishment of a judicial inquiry into the case, the risk of the crime being lapsed has been avoided. Unless the family of the victims and the various human rights bodies act fast, the parliament would very quickly vote in favour. According to many people, it is first and foremost a moral question or even a symbol. It is a test of the goodwill of the powers-that-be. Conclusions and Recommendations. The Burkinabe government has only scorched the proposals of the independent commission of inquiry and that of the college of sages on the assassination of Norbert Zongo and his three companions, but not addressed them (this report is not out to deliberate on the political and economic recommendations of the college of sages). Special allocations have been made for the families of the victims and the judge has been provided with the wherewithal with which to carry out his job and the judicial inquiry is going on even now. But the fact that none of the six suspects cited by the commission has been charged till date and the fact the François Compaoré, the president's brother has not even been invited for questioning by the judge are clear indications that the state, irrespective of its pronouncements and declarations, does not want and is not prepared to bring to light the issues at stake. The sacking of representatives of the Reporters Sans Frontières from the country on two occasions - May and September 1999, shows the unwillingness of the Burkinabe authorities to act decisively. These measures do not contribute in placating the situation created by the death of Norbert Zongo as they only reinforce the thinking that government has some skeletons in its cupboard. A serious public relations operation has been carried out by the Burkinabe government toward donors, political partners and the international media. But in the actual sense, one can rightly say that the government is not being sincere. The argument that one is presumed innocent until proved otherwise can not becloud the little proofs before the tribunal which are enough to bring the real authors of the death of the director of L'Independant to book. Today, the trial magistrate has all he requires to make his inquiries but surely not at the necessary levels. Without international or local pressure, it will be naive to hope that the Burkinabe authorities would clear the issues related with the death of the newspaper director. As the commission of inquiry has shown, the assassination is directly linked to the presidential family itself, for the head of state, unless if he is constrained, to allow justice to be carried out to its logical conclusions. After putting in place the independent commission of inquiry and the college of sages, two initiatives worthy of note, the authorities in Ouagadougou seems to be paralysed and frightened of their own daring ideas. After taking some good decisions under road-side pressure, as some are wont to say, the authorities today seem incapable of allowing the investigations to go on normally. If not, why are the procrastinations, the lateness and the quibbling since after the submission of the report by the commission to the Prime Minister. Today, the document concerning David Ouedraogo and Norbert Zongo are at the point of death. The military judge who inherited the case file on Ouedraogo has difficulties in digging into the file made by the two previous judges who are supposed to educate him on the affair. Within few days, Dec. 13, it will be a year since Zongo and his three companions were killed, a crime that has remained unpunished. Reporter Sans Frontières (RSF) is therefore urging the Burkinabe authorities to put into practice all the recommendations of the independent commission of inquiry and the college of sages especially that which wants the security outfit of the head of state to be reorganised. RSF is surprised that the judge handling the quadruple murder of Sapouy has not started the case and therefore has not arrested any of the three other members of the presidential guard who are currently breeding the air of freedom but who were implicated in the report of the commission. RSF is equally surprised that François Compaoré, who is directly implicated in the Ouedraogo's case, the main cause for the assassination of Zongo is still not arrested (the trial magistrate, before he relinquished the case file to the military judge, had charged François with murder and possession of dead body). Reporter Sans Frontières recommends to the main donors to Burkina Faso, especially the European Union (article 5 of the Lomé convention 1V has made the respect for human rights as one of the conditions for receiving aid), to press on the authorities of Ouagadougou to bring to light the case of Norbert Zongo and his three companions. N. B : Reporters Sans Frontières, anxious to ensure transparency, sent a copy of the report to the government of Burkina Faso over a month before it was officially released. To date, it has received no response.