A military tribunal charges the exiled former president of Burkina Faso with alleged complicity in the 1987 murder of the man he kidnapped in the coup, Thomas Sankara.
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso – A military court in Burkina Faso’s capital has indicted former President Blaise Compaoré for the 1987 murder of his charismatic predecessor, Thomas Sankara.
A statement released Tuesday by the court cited “complicity in the assassination” and an “attack on state security” by Compaoré, who ruled the country until 2014, when he was forced to resign in the face of to mass protests against an attempt to extend its 27 Year Rule.
Thirteen other people – including Gilbert Diendere, Compaoré’s right-hand man, and Hyacinthe Kafando, his security chief – have also been charged with charges ranging from “assassination” to “concealing corpses”.
Benewende Stanislas Sankara, a lawyer representing the relatives of the assassinated former president, described the indictment as “a victory and a step in the right direction”.
“It is with a sigh of relief that the family can now move forward with all the guarantees that surround Burkinabè justice,” he told Al Jazeera. “We can now go to trial quietly.”
Burkina Faso’s communications minister said an official government statement on the indictment would likely be released on Wednesday. Eddie Komboigo, leader of the Compaoré-based Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP) party, declined to comment on the court’s announcement.
Compaoré, who has been in exile in neighboring Côte d’Ivoire since 2014, has always denied any involvement in Sankara’s assassination.
Sankara came to power in 1983, but was killed at the age of 37 along with 12 other government officials in a coup led by Compaoré on October 15, 1987.
Many Burkinabés consider Sankara to be a national hero. A leading Pan-Africanist, he is sometimes also referred to as the “Che Guevera” of the continent, in reference to the Argentine Marxist revolutionary who led a number of armed struggles, including in Cuba.
In 2015, authorities unearthed what are believed to be Sankara’s remains from a grave in Dagnoen, on the outskirts of Ouagadougou. Sankara’s widow said an autopsy revealed her body was “riddled with more than a dozen bullets”.
To this day, graffiti calling for “Justice for Sankara” is rife throughout the capital.
“This is a question for the Burkinabe people – and I must say the African people. It therefore transcends Thomas Sankara’s family, ”said Benewende Sankara.
Following his re-election last year, President Roch Kabore appointed a minister for national reconciliation, Zephirin Diabre, who pledged to address the issue of justice for Sankara.
In 2015, Burkinabè courts issued an international arrest for Compaoré, but Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara prevented his extradition to Burkina Faso despite an extradition treaty between the two countries.
During his election campaign for the November 2020 elections, Kabore also said he would be open to the return of Compaoré back home to retire.
A national debate ensued on whether the former president, now 70, should stand trial upon his return or be effectively pardoned in the interests of national reconciliation.
“The mandate can be executed at any time if Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso correctly implement the existing agreements between the two states,” said Benewende Sankara. “I must point out that this can happen very quickly.”
Tuesday’s indictment could put additional pressure on Côte d’Ivoire to follow through on the extradition treaty.
It is not known when the trial will take place.
Sankara’s relatives initially took the case to court in 1997. It was closed soon after, before being reopened by the country’s transitional government in 2015.
“We can say that the Sankara case has now taken all the necessary steps to obtain a judgment,” Lassane Sawadogo, executive secretary of the ruling Popular Movement for Progress (MPP), told Al Jazeera.
“This represents a decisive step forward for the manifestation of the truth.”