Zongo case: justice for the death of a Burkinabe journalist

On 13 December 1998, Norbert Zongo, an investigative journalist in Burkina, his two collaborators and his younger brother, were assassinated. Their bodies were found charred in the car in which they were traveling together.

The police arrived the same day at the scene of the crime, and the prosecutor arrived the next day. The Burkinabe judicial system is seized and begins an investigation to determine the circumstances of this assassination. The journalist Norbert Zongo was investigating political, economic and social scandals, in particular concerning the death of the driver of the brother of the president at the time, which could have earn him enemies in high places. A suspect was charged in 2001.

However, more than seven years after the opening of the investigation, in July 2006, the judge in charge of the case issued a dismissal order. The appeals of the Zongo family did not change anything, the justice abandoned the case.

At that time, although the first judges of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights had already been appointed, it was not yet fully functional. The Court became operational in 2010, and the Zongo family, with the association the Burkinabe Movement for Human and Peoples’ Rights (MBDHP), having never abandoned their quest for justice, brought the case to the Court in December 2011.

On 28 March 2014, the Court concludes that the legal proceedings were abnormally prolonged for years and that the charges were dropped before the culprits were found and tried, and thus, Burkina Faso failed to bring justice to the relatives of Zongo, his two collaborators and his brother. In addition, the Court considered that Burkina Faso’s failure to find and try the murderers of journalist Zongo also aroused fears and concerns in media circles, and that the State had thereby violated the right freedom of expression for journalists who no longer felt protected.

The African Court then ordered Burkina Faso to pay financial reparations to the wives, sons and daughters, fathers and mothers of the deceased for the psychological suffering they endured, as well as to resume investigations in order to seek, prosecute and judge the perpetrators of the murders of Norbert Zongo and his three companions. The families, who no longer had any possible recourse in Burkina Faso, saw this judgment open up a new path to finally obtain the truth about what had happened and justice for their loved ones.

[post judgment: Burkina Faso has compensated grieving families, and took over their quest for justice. The investigation was reopened and progressed in record time. An international arrest warrant was issued in May 2017 against François Compaoré, the brother of the former president. The challenge was that the main suspect in the murder of Zongo, had fled to France. However, he was arrested in 2017 following Burkina Faso’s request and since then there has been a legal battle between Compaoré’s lawyers and the French authorities. The lawyers are trying all possible recourses to prevent extradition to Burkina Faso, Compaoré’s country of origin, where he would be brought before a court.]