Reporters Without Borders has praised a historic ruling by the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights for Burkina Faso to investigate the killing of journalist Norbert Zongo and compensate his family.
Zongo, a Burkina Faso newspaper editor, was murdered together with three other people in 1998.
On June 5, the court ordered Burkina Faso’s authorities to “resume the investigations with a view to finding, charging and trying the perpetrators of the murders of Norbert Zongo and his three companions”.
It also ordered the Burkina Faso state to pay compensation of 25 million CFA francs (38,000 euros) to the spouses of each of the four victims, 15 million CFA francs to each of their children and 10 million CFA francs to each of their parents.
“This ruling constitutes a major turning-point in the Zongo case, which has suffered appallingly from the impunity tolerated for all these years by Burkina Faso’s justice system,” said Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Africa desk, in a statement.
“This puts additional pressure on the authorities to keep the promises of justice initially given at the time of the November 2014 political transition. The reparations demanded for the families of the victims are an acknowledgment of the suffering they endured. We hope the authorities will seize this opportunity to redress an injustice that has lasted for too long.”
The founder and editor of the weekly L’Indépendant, Zongo was murdered while investigating the suspected implication of President Blaise Compaoré’s brother in his driver’s murder. The Zongo murder investigation was closed in 2006, without any one being found guilty, in a decision that outraged civil society and human rights defenders.
In a previous decision issued in March 2014, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights ruled that Burkina Faso had failed to properly investigate the Zongo murder.
After President Compaoré was ousted last November, transitional President Michel Kafando announced that steps would be taken to combat impunity, raising hopes that the Zongo case would be quickly reopened. An investigating judge was appointed but no tangible progress has been seen since then.
The government now has six months to submit a report on the progress achieved in the Zongo case.
Burkina Faso is ranked 46th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
The African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights is a continental court established by African countries to ensure protection of human and peoples’ rights in Africa. It complements and reinforces the functions of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights.
The Court was established by virtue of Article 1 of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, (the Protocol) which was adopted by Member States of the then Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, in June 1998.
The Protocol came into force on 25 January 2004 after it was ratified by more than 15 countries.
To date, only 26 States have ratified the Protocol. They are Algeria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cote d’Ivoire, Comoros, Congo, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Libya, Lesotho, Mali, Malawi, Mozambique, Mauritania, Mauritius, Nigeria, Niger, Rwanda, South Africa, Senegal, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia and Uganda.
The Court has jurisdiction over all cases and disputes submitted to it concerning the interpretation and application of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, the (the Charter), the Protocol and any other relevant human rights instrument ratified by the States concerned.
According to the Protocol (Article 5) and the Rules (Rule 33), the Court may receive complaints and/or applications submitted to it either by the African Commission of Human and Peoples’ Rights or State parties to the Protocol or African Intergovernmental Organisations.
Non-Governmental Organisations with observer status before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and individuals from States which have made a Declaration accepting the jurisdiction of the Court can also institute cases directly before the Court. Only seven countries have since made such a declaration. They are Burkina Faso, Ghana, Malawi, Mali, Rwanda, Ivory Coast and Tanzania.
The protocol on African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, to establish the Statute of the African Court on Justice and Human Rights was adopted in Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt in 2008.
The Court’s mandate has since been extended to try international crimes, such as genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.