Monday, October 24, 2011

An influential Personevent

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Norbert Zongo was a pioneering journalist and fearless critic of the government in Burkina Faso. He was brutally killed on 1 December 18, along with three companions. Compelling evidence points to the involvement of security officials in his murder. In an interview given in July 17, he himself said, you cannot be everyone’s friend. The full text of this interview, which provides a vivid insight into his commitment to human rights, can be found as an Appendix to this report. This report honours the memory of Norbert Zongo.

ARTICLE 1 adds its voice to the many who have called for the full truth about his murder to be revealed and for those responsible to be brought to justice.


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Norbert Zongo, one of Burkina Faso’s best known journalists, was editor-in-chief of an independent weekly newspaper, L’Ind�pendant, and a founding member in 18 of the Mouvement Burkinab� des droits de l’homme et des peuples (MBDHP) [Burkinab� Movement for Human and Peoples’ Rights]. The organisation became a powerful voice for justice and freedom as Burkina Faso embarked on an uncertain, flawed democratic transition. By 18, this independent human rights organisation had representatives in all 45 provinces. As Norbert Zongo argued, the climate of impunity for violators of human rights has remained a fundamental problem in Burkina Faso.

On 1 December 18, he became a victim of the climate of impunity he had fought so hard to dispel. The charred body of Norbert Zongo was found with those of two other passengers in a vehicle about 100 kilometres from the capital, Ouagadougou, on the road to Sapouy. A fourth body was found beside the vehicle. The other victims were his brother, Ernest Zongo, his chauffeur, Ablass� Niki�ma, and a companion, Blaise Ilboudo.

His brutal death is also evidence of how dangerous it can still be to exercise your right to freedom of expression in Burkina Faso. Norbert Zongos murder caused an unprecedented public outcry in Burkina Faso which so shook the government that it agreed within days to convene a commission of inquiry including members of local civil society organisations as well as an international representative from Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) in order to investigate the killings. The commission of inquiry began its investigations in January 1 and made public its findings on 7 May 1. It pointed the finger at a senior officer of the Presidential Guard and lower ranking members of the same force, and suggested that the most likely reason for the murders was Norbert Zongos work as an investigative journalist and, specifically, his investigation into the death in custody under torture of a personal employee of the Presidents

brother. But the Burkina Faso government has yet to take action to implement its recommendations, not least by bringing the perpetrators to justice. The case of Norbert Zongo and his three companions has become the acid test of Burkina Fasos democratic transition. His death has sparked a massive political crisis which the ruling party, the Congrès pour la D�mocratie et la Paix (CDP) [Congress for Democracy and Peace], led by President Blaise Compaor�, is still struggling to resolve.

The circumstances of Norbert Zongos death

On 1 December 18 Norbert Zongo and three companions were killed. There is strong evidence to suggest that the four deaths were the result of Norbert Zongos relentless determination to investigate the circumstances of the death in custody of R. David Ou�draogo, chauffeur of François Compaor�, who is both President Blaise Compaor�s brother and a presidential adviser. R. David Ou�draogo had been arrested with two other domestic employees of François Compaor� in December 17, accused of stealing money from their employers home and taken to the military barracks. It was alleged that he had been tortured to death by members of the Presidential Guard while in their barracks. These allegations were considered credible by the US State Department. () The two other detainees were also badly tortured while in custody.

In the absence of any formal inquiry into the case of R. David Ou�draogo, Norbert Zongo embarked upon his own investigation during 18 through his newspaper, LInd�pendant. An independent commission of inquiry into Norbert Zongos death directly links his murder to these investigations.

The Public Reaction to Norbert Zongos Death

Norbert Zongos death provoked an enormous outburst of public indignation and protest in Burkina Faso. Several people were briefly detained for their part in the demonstrations, which at first focused on attacking the headquarters of the CDP in Ouagadougou and CDP supporters in Norbert Zongos hometown of Koudougou. It then became a joint movement, known as the Collectif des organisations d�mocratiques de masse et des partis politiques [Collective of grassroots democratic organisations and opposition parties] which brought together trade unions, opposition parties, student and human rights groups and which called for a general strike. In mid-December 18, Herman Yam�ogo, leader of the Alliance pour la d�mocratie et la f�d�ration (ADF/RDA), [Alliance for Democracy and the Federation], which is a member of the Collectif, was briefly held at the Gendarmerie during an Organization of African Unity (OAU) summit meeting in Ouagadougou, in an apparent attempt to silence him.

On 18 December 18 the government announced it would set up a commission of inquiry comprising members of civil society and international representatives. However, sectors of the population were not satisfied that the commission of inquiry would be sufficiently independent and so a few days later set up their own inquiry. Eventually a compromise was reached with the government. The proportion of non-governmental representatives was increased and commission of inquiry members were granted immunity from prosecution. However, once the commission of inquiry was established, there were further delays as family members and members of the Collectif withdrew their support until demonstrators were released and the state of siege was lifted throughout the country.

The independent commission of inquirys findings

The 11-person commission of inquiry was set the task of carrying out investigations which would reveal the causes of the death of the four people on 1 December 18. It was formally established on 5 January 1 and began hearing testimonies on 1 February. It collected testimonies from 04 people despite widespread fears of harassment. The commission of inquiry had the power to compel people to testify. The commission of inquiry suffered from the fact that some of its support staff were withdrawn without notice and before its work was completed by involved ministries and the national Gendarmerie. The commission of inquiry was able to profit from the co-operation of a ballistic and incendiary expert who examined the burnt-out vehicle and the ammunition retrieved and a pathologist who together with a forensic doctor carried out autopsies on the four corpses.

On 7 May 1 the independent commission of inquiry made public its conclusions � it stated clearly that Norbert Zongo had been killed for purely political motives because he was a committed investigative journalist. It asserted He defended a democratic ideal and took up the commitment, with his newspaper, to fight for the respect of human rights and justice and against public mismanagement and impunity. The report established that the fire which engulfed the vehicle was not linked to a mechanical fault but had been deliberately caused by pouring an alcohol-based liquid on the car and setting it alight.

It further concluded that Norbert Zongo and his companions were murdered. They had been shot before they and their vehicle were set alight. The commission of inquiry examined various possible explanations for the attack - highway bandits, hunters, cattle raiders, foreign actors, or a crime committed by the opposition or the State. Six members of the R�giment de la s�curit� pr�sidentielle [Presidential Guard] were named as prime suspects in the murder of Norbert Zongo. They were Christophe Kombacere (a soldier), Ousseini Yaro (a soldier), Corporal Wampasba Nacoulma, Sergeant Banagoulo Yaro, Sergeant Edmond Koama and Adjutant Marcel Kafando. The commission of inquiry recommended that judicial proceedings should be instituted against them and stated that, given the barbaric nature of the crime, there should be no limit on the period during which it can be investigated.

Norbert Zongo had, according to the commission of inquirys report, been investigating several topics, which could have been irritating to the authorities. They listed various investigations, including those dealing with economic fraud and electoral malpractice, his concerns about a modification to the Constitution allowing the President to be re-elected indefinitely, and his determination to discover the truth about the R. David Ou�draogo Affair. It stated that the other three victims were killed because they would have otherwise been witnesses to the crime.

Various witnesses testified that Norbert Zongo had previously been threatened. Reference was made to attempts to poison him and to death threats he had received. Speaking of the past, a senior lawyer, Dramane Yam�ogo, stated Norbert used to write that he had received threats and I have no reason to doubt him.

The report also states that if the judicial authorities had properly investigated the circumstances of R. David Ou�draogos death (which the report implies was a direct result of torture), it is possible that the death of Norbert Zongo and his three companions could have been avoided.

It was not until 0 March 1 that it was made public that François Compaor� had been charged on 18 January 1 with the murder of R. David Ou�draogo and with harbouring his body. He was never arrested or detained and remains a free man to this day. The day after the charges were made public, the Appeal Court in Ouagadougou responded to François Compaor�s request that charges be withdrawn by ruling that they were not competent to hear the case and by referring it to a military court. As R. David Ou�draogo had died in custody of members of the Presidential Guard, the judge declared that military jurisdiction was more appropriate. No subsequent action is known to have taken place under any military jurisdiction. The report also noted that the action taken by the authorities in reaction to R. David Ou�draogos death was slow and fell far short of international human rights standards.

The commission of inquiry called for an end to impunity in Burkina Faso. This demand was not new in Burkina Faso. In April 18, the MBDHP submitted a complaint to the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights about the governments failure to investigate and establish accountability for past human rights violations. In October 18, the government agreed to negotiate with the MBDHP measures to resolve the various cases raised in the complaint. () In doing so, the government was acknowledging that the problem of impunity was a real one.

Government reaction to the commission of inquiry findings

In early May 1, the report of the commission of inquiry was handed to the Prime Minister, Mr Kadre Ou�draogo, who said that appropriate measures would be taken in response to the report. In mid-May, Herman Yam�ogo was again arrested after violent demonstrations in Koudougou, the hometown of both Herman Yam�ogo and Norbert Zongo. He was accused of ordering acts of vandalism, but no charges were brought and he was released after three days. His home reportedly had been attacked by a militia group linked to senior government officials. Halidou Ou�draogo, President of the MBDHP and Chairman of the Union Interafricaine des Droits de lHomme (UIDH) [Inter-African Human Rights Union], was also briefly held with Thibaut Nana, President of the Thomas Sankara Association.

On May, shortly after publication, the Secretary General of RSF, Robert M�nard, who had been a member of the commission of inquiry was expelled from the country � although the Minister responsible for Territorial Administration later described the act as being escorted to the border. The same Minister had reportedly told Agence France Presse that the government was holding Robert M�nard morally responsible for the student demonstrations which had followed radio interviews in which he has spoken of the commission of inquirys conclusions.

On 1 May 1, President Blaise Compaor� pledged to reform the Presidential Guard. He also ordered the release of all imprisoned demonstrators except for those who were accused by civil parties of acts of violence and vandalism. He also undertook to ensure that the magistrate investigating the Norbert Zongo dossier would be relieved of other casework so that he could concentrate fully on the case. The Collectif had been instrumental in advocating fundamental reforms to the Presidential Guard. The President also set up a Collège des sages, [college of elders] to deal with the question of past crimes which remained unpunished. On 17 June 1, the Collège des sages called for the arrest of those responsible for the death of R. David Ou�draogo. On the following day, three people were arrested and taken to the Maison dArrêt et de Correction de Ouagadougou (MACO) [Ouagadougou Detention and Correctional Centre], where they remain at the time of writing. Their names had also appeared in the commission of inquirys report as suspects in the murder of Norbert Zongo and his companions. They are

Adjudant Marcel Kafando, an important figure within the Presidential Guard who had been briefly detained while the commission of inquiry was sitting for giving them contradictory alibis;

Sergeant Edmond Koama; and

Ousseini Yaro, a soldier.

However, none of these three men have been formally charged with the murder of R. David Ou�draogo to date and no one has been arrested or charged in connection with the death of Norbert Zongo and his companions.

In July 1, the RSFs Secretary General, Robert M�nard, a member of the commission of inquiry, was prevented from re-visiting Burkina Faso. He had wanted to ascertain the progress made by the government in responding to the recommendations of the commission of inquiry, but the authorities declared his visit ill-timed and likely to compromise the tranquillity of the country. In September 1, the Minister of Communication responded to pressure at the Francophone Summit by saying that an RSF representative would be welcome to visit Burkina Faso. However, when their delegation arrived at the airport on 17 September 1, they were detained by plain-clothes officials who told them the chief of the Gendarmerie had ordered that they immediately reboard the plane. They were escorted to the plane and denied the right to contact their diplomatic representative in Ouagadougou.

The Collège des sages has also recommended that a commission of truth, justice and reconciliation be set up. However, the government has instead created a commission of national reconciliation, with no reference to the vital elements of truth and justice. This has further enraged public opinion in Burkina Faso, which is impatient to see perpetrators of human rights abuses held accountable for their actions.

Conclusion and recommendations

Three people are presently in custody in connection with the murder of R. David Ou�draogo in late 17. They are held being without charge or trial. Perhaps if it had not been for the extensive and sustained public outcry in reaction to Norbert Zongos death, no one at all would have been arrested. They should either be promptly charged and tried in a manner consistent with international fair trial standards or released. However, the fact that François Compaor� remains at liberty suggests that it may be the little men who will pay the price for R. David Ou�draogos death rather than the powerful facing justice. Meanwhile, no one is close to being held accountable for the death of Norbert Zongo and his three companions. It is no exaggeration to claim that Burkina Fasos democratic future may depend on a just resolution of these apparently interconnected murders.

The nomination in June 1 of a Collège des sages to deal with questions of impunity is an important first step towards breaking the cycle of human rights violations which has characterised Burkina Fasos history. It is reported that this group comprising former heads of state, traditional and religious leaders has already received numerous representations covering economic as well as political crimes, implying some public confidence in this body. But it is essential that these investigations are eventually handed over to a judicial body. While such a full and public exploration of the facts can be useful, it must be followed by a full criminal investigation and a clear judicial determination of guilt or innocence. The demand of the Collège des sages for truth and justice as well as reconciliation must be heeded.

In addition to holding past violators of human rights to account, it is essential that there is respect for freedom of expression if matters of public interest are to come to light. It is therefore worrying that journalists continue to be detained. On 15 September 1, Paulin Yam�ogo, editor in chief of the weekly San Finna, was called to the Office of State Security and detained. In a recent editorial the newspaper had published an article entitled When Blaise Compaor� rolls out the red carpet for the coup-plotters () which reportedly criticised the governments gangster-like administration and spoke of dissatisfaction within the military. He was held for a few days before being released without charge. Respect for the right to freely express one opinions and impart information is an essential component of respect for human rights. In particular, freedom of information legislation would facilitate future access to official information by the media and might remove the need for the successors to Norbert Zongo to take such enormous risks in pursuit of the truth.

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