Burkina Faso: regime to identify Sankara remains

Three weeks after an uprising in Burkina Faso sent long-ruling president Blaise Campaore fleeing into exile, hopes for a civilian-led transition to free elections were dimmed this week as the military held on to powerful posts in a new cabinet. Lt. Col. Isaac Zida will be both prime minister and defense minister. Four other ministries, Interior, Sports, Environment, and Mines, will also be headed by military men. Civilian interim President Michel Kafando will also serve as foreign minister. In a bid for popular support, the interim regime has announced new efforts to verify the burial place of slain revolutionary leader Thomas Sankara. Speaking in Burkina Faso's national sports arena during the formal handing over of power to Kafando, the new civilian leader said to loud applause: "I.. decided that investigations to identify the body of Thomas Sankara will no longer be subject to a decision of the courts but will be the responsibility of the government."

Identification of the body of Captain Sankara—and those of nearly a dozen of his comrades—has been the subject of dispute since his assassination in October 1987. According to the Sankara family, the body of the martyred revolutionary was not buried with honors at Ouagadougou's main cemetery as claimed by the ousted president, but dumped in a mass grave. In 2011, the family sought permission to exhume a body from an unmarked grave in the capital's Dagnoen cemetery and carry out DNA tests. But the district court in Ouagadougou declared in April it had no jurisdiction over the case.

"Today President Thomas Sankara has been rehabilitated," said Benewende Stanislas Sankara, a, opposition figure and attorney representing the family in the case. "The Burkinabe government assumed its responsibilities to render President Sankara justice."

Hopes have also been raised for an investigation of the murder of investigative journalist Norbert Zongo in 1998. At the time of his death, Zongo was working on a story about how the driver of the Campaore's younger brother was tortured and killed in 1998 for allegedly stealing money from his employer.

All efforts by Zongo’s family and their lawyers to seek accountability for his killing were thwarted until the case reached the African Court on Human and People's Rights. In a landmark ruling, the Court found that Burkina Faso engaged in a cover-up and violated provisions of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) guaranteeing freedom of expression.

A protest this week against the former prosecutor, Adama Sagnon, accusing him of acquiescing in dismissal of the case in 2006, resulted in his resignation from the interim administration. "We wanted to show our refusal to endorse the appointment of Judge Adama Sagnon who is implicated in the Norbert Zongo case," said Rasmane Ouedraogo, a  popular musician who participated in the protests. (GIN, Reuters, Nov. 26)