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A victory for human rights defenders in Burkina Faso

March 28 2014 was a victorious day for human right advocates in Burkina Faso. A decision by the African Court on Human and People’s rights on the case of the publisher and former editor of l’Independant Norbert Zongo, who was killed over 16 years ago, is a victory for journalists, freedom of press and human rights defenders.

4/3/2014 Publisher: Anna Bengtsson

Norbert Zongo was killed in 1998

The body of Norbert Zongo was found burnt with bullet wounds in a car in the country side on December 1998, together with the bodies of his brother Ernest Zongo and journalist colleague Blaise Ilboudo and the driver Ablasse Nikiema.

At the time of his murder, Zongo was working on an investigation into the killing of David Ouedraogo – former driver of the President’s brother – who was tortured and murdered.

Efforts for justice with no success

A monument has been raised on this spot in their honour but the efforts of the families of the deceased to seek justice in front of the Court in Burkina Faso were to a great extent in vain, since only one of the five accused was ever charged for the killings and the charges against him was later dropped.

MBDHP supported taking the case to the African Court

Since no justice was to be found in Burkina Faso, in 2011 Zongo’s widow decide to take the case to the African Court on Human and People’s rights with help of a multinational team consisting of lawyers from Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Tanzania and Senegal. Among the actors who have supported her in the process to seek justice is the Diakonia partner organization Mouvement Burkinabé des Droits de l’Homme et des Peuples (MBDHP) who amongst other things attended the hearings in November 2013 in Arusha with her. 

Ruling by the Court: State of Burkina Faso had failed in investigating the murder

On 28 March 2014 the African Court on Human and People’s rights decided that all efforts by Zongo’s family and their lawyers to seek accountability for his killing were thwarted in Burkina Faso.

They ruled that the legal proceedings before the courts in Burkina Faso were unduly prolonged; that the Burkina Faso did not diligently investigate the crimes; that the families of the victims had not been contacted over eight years after the beginning of the case; and that the government showed no will to hold the killers to account. The court also held that the killing of a journalist was a method of intimidation that should not be allowed anywhere.

To Open Society Foundation where you can read more about the court case

March 30th: The Forgiveness Day

After the murder of the journalist Norbert Zongo, the Diakonia partner organization MBDHP set up a huge coalition of civil society organizations and political parties in a joint campaign to combat impunity (Collectif pour la lutte contre l'impunite). The protests led to political reforms in 2001 among them the limitation of presidential terms and the institutionalization of March 30th as a forgiveness day.

Coalition for freedom of press

In order to ensure the security of journalists a centre has been set up with the contribution of MBDHP named "Centre de presse Norbert Zongo", which is now the biggest coalition for freedom of press with the support of Diakonia and Danish Embassy.

About Mouvement Burkinabé des Droits de l’Homme et des Peuples (MBDHP) 

Mouvement Burkinabé des Droits de l’Homme et des Peuples (MBDHP) is a partner organization of Diakonia in Burkina Faso and one of the most important human rights organizations in the country, especially in the area of protection and promotion of political and civil rights. MBDHP is funded by both the Swedish Embassy and the Danish Embassy. 

MBDHP is present in all 45 provinces of the country, working to ensure that State of Burkina Faso and its institutions, especially the justice sector and courts, are fulfilling their human rights obligations and adherence to the rule of law.

MBDHP has supported a number of high visibility judicial cases, for example the case of high school student Justin Zongo who died in 2011 from injuries caused by police violence – they managed to have the guilty officers condemned by the court. They have also undertaken important advocacy work towards the government in the area of abolishment of the death penalty and torture.

MBDHP is working for the rights of journalists to practice their vocation free from intimidation or the fear of death. They are involved in the research and publishing of national human rights reports of Burkina Faso and are regularly participating in the bi-yearly sessions of the African Commission of Human and Peoples’ rights as well as in statutory meetings of the Inter-African Union of Human Rights and the Federation of the League of Human Rights.

To Freedom House with more information about the climate of press freedom and freedom of expression in Burkina Faso