Six years have passed since newspaper editor Norbert Zongo (photo) and three companions were found dead in their car on a road in southern Burkina Faso on 13 December 1998, but the investigation is stalled and one of the leading suspects, the president’s brother, has never been detained or charged.
Two weeks ago, a Reporters Without Borders representative asked President Blaise Compaoré about the case during the closing press conference of the summit of French-speaking countries, held this year in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou.
"Total impunity appears to be the rule in Burkina Faso," the representative said. President Compaoré replied: "The judge is free to interrogate whomever he wants. It is not the president’s role to meddle in judicial proceedings."
"You are right, Mr. President, it is not your role," Reporters Without Borders said today, the sixth anniversary of Zongo’s murder. "If Burkina Faso’s most senior officials had not meddled in this investigation, it could have made some progress."
"However," the organisation added, "with the public assurances you have just given in the presence of French President Jacques Chirac and the heads of state of other French-speaking countries, investigating judge Wenceslas Ilboudo should finally be able to work properly on the case."
Irregularities, impunity and paralysis
Until now there has been one irregularity after another in this investigation, impunity prevails and paralysis has taken hold.
Three soldiers in the presidential guard, including Warrant Officer Marcel Kafando, were convicted in August 2000 of kidnapping David Ouedraogo, a presidential office employee, and torturing him to death. Ouedraogo had been suspected of stealing money from the president’s brother, François Compaoré (who is also one of the president’s advisers), for whom he worked as a driver. He died under torture a few days after being arrested by the presidential guard.
Zongo was investigating this case when he was murdered. The state prosecutor charged Kafando with murder and arson in connection with the Zongo case in February 2001. Despite this serious charge and despite being sentenced to 20 years in prison in the Ouedraogo case, Kafando lives quietly at home.
François Compaoré has never been charged in the Ouedraogo murder, although he personally phoned Kafando to tell him to come and arrest Ouedraogo. And he was only questioned once, in 2001, in connection with the Zongo case.
When the Reporters Without Borders representative visited Burkina Faso last month, he tried in vain to meet Judge Ilboudo. A meeting was arranged but the judge did not turn up, and thereafter he could not be reached by phone.
A pan-African publicity campaign
Reporters Without Borders is marking the 6th anniversary of Zongo’s murder by placing announcements in the African press parodying an advertisement for a film about an "unpunished crime in the French-speaking world," starring Blaise Compaoré as the cover-up’s author and François Compaoré as its beneficiary (download below). The ad has been sent to all the main African newspapers and a poster version was distributed in Ouagadougou during the summit.
Reporters Without Borders has written to Alpha Oumar Konaré, the chairperson of the commission of the African Union asking him to intercede in an attempt to revive the investigation. "We call on you to use all your weight so that justice may be rendered to Norbert Zongo’s family and all the people of Burkina Faso, for whom his death was a major blow to their own freedom," the letter to Konaré said.
Download the poster "Crime impuni en Francophonie" ("Unpunished crime in the French-speaking world")