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Burkina Faso: Sankara’s trial to proceed … without Compaoré

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Burkina Faso’s Thomas Sankara: Who killed ‘Africa’s Che Guevara’?

By Jeune Afrique
Posted on Monday, 23 August 2021 15:26

Thomas Sankara, president of Burkina Faso on 7 February 1986 in Paris. © PASCAL GEORGE / AFP

Burkina Faso's military prosecutor has announced the opening of a trial of the alleged killers of former President Thomas Sankara and his companions in October 1987. Among the accused is another former president, Blaise Compaoré, who is currently in exile in Côte d’Ivoire - where he has been since his ousting.

Since 14 April, the trial seemed inevitable. On that day, Burkina Faso’s Chamber of Control referred the case of Sankara’s assassination and his 12 companions to the military court of Ouagadougou for trial.

By announcing – on Tuesday 17 August – that a date has finally been set, the military prosecutor indicated that justice may finally be served in this 34-year-old case. The trial will begin at 9am on 11 October 2021.

“This hearing of the trial chamber, relocated [to] the banquet hall of Ouaga 2000, is public,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement. The Burkinabé have been invited to follow proceedings in the large banquet hall, which has been transformed into a court for the occasion.

‘Attack on state security’

14 people will be tried for the assassination of the leader of the Burkina Faso revolution on 15 October 1987: Compaoré (former President); Gilbert Diendéré (who is already facing a 20-year prison sentence for the failed putsch of 2015); Hyacinthe Kafando; Bossobè Traoré; Nabonswendé Ouédraogo; Idrissa Sawadogo; Yamba Elysée Ilboudo; Tibo Ouédraogo; Albert Pascal Sibidi Belemlilga; Diakalia Démé; Mori Aldjouma Jean-Pierre Palm; Alidou Jean Christophe Diébré; Hamado Kafando and Ninda Tondé.

The announcement of the opening of the trial compromises the hypothesis of a return.

Compaoré and Diendéré are accused of ‘attack on state security’ and ‘complicity in murder’. The former president and his former chief of staff are also charged with ‘concealing corpses’. The charges of ‘assassination’, which the prosecution had initially demanded against Diendéré, were not retained, but he will be prosecuted for ‘subornation of witnesses’.

Four men, who were among the bodyguards of Compaoré at the time of the crime will be tried for ‘murder’. They are Ouedraogo, Sawadogo, Ilboudo and Kafando.

This political-judicial case was revived after the fall of Compaoré in October 2014. While the case of the ex-president is attracting attention, he is unlikely to appear for his trial as he has been exile in Côte d’Ivoire since 2014. Despite the warrants issued by the Burkinabé justice unit, it seems unlikely that he will be extradited.

Return to the country compromised

For several months, discussions have been taking place between the authorities of both countries. Though President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré has made reconciliation his second mandate, supporters of Compaoré have made his return one of the conditions for their participation in possible discussions. Zéphirin Diabré and Kouadio Konan Bertin, the two countries’ respective ministers for reconciliation, have also discussed the issue.

The announcement of the opening of the trial nevertheless compromises the hypothesis of a return. “It would obviously be better if Compaoré were here,” Guy Hervé Kam, a lawyer for some of the victims’ families, told us in March. “But there are enough elements and testimony in the file to show that he was the mastermind of this case.”

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