A military court in Burkina Faso’s capital has indicted former President Blaise Compaoré in connection to the 1987 murder of his charismatic predecessor, Thomas Sankara. Thirteen others including Gilbert Diendere, Compaoré’s right hand man, and Hyacinthe Kafando, his security chief were also indicted on charges ranging from “assassination” to “concealment of corpses”.
Sankara, a Marxist, pan-African leader, took power in 1983, but he was killed aged 37 along with 12 other government officials during a coup led by on October 15, 1987. Compaoré took over and ruled the country until 2014, when he was forced to resign in the face of mass demonstrations against an attempt to extend his 27-year rule. He has been in exile in neighboring Ivory Coast since 2014 and has always denied involvement in Sankara’s assassination.
Sankara’s relatives initially brought the case to the courts in 1997. It was closed soon after, before being reopened by the country’s then-transitional government in 2015.
Benewende Stanislas Sankara, a lawyer representing the relatives of the slain former president, described the indictment as “a victory and a step in the right direction”.
In 2015, authorities exhumed what are thought to be Sankara’s remains from a grave in Dagnoen, on the outskirts of Ouagadougou. According to his widow, an autopsy revealed his body was “riddled with more than a dozen bullets”.
“It is a matter for the Burkinabe people – and, I have to say, the African people. So this 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, Burkinabe courts had issued an international arrest for Compaoré , but Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara has prevented his extradition back to Burkina Faso despite an extradition treaty between the two countries.
During his election campaign in the lead-up to the November 2020 polls, Kabore had also said he would be open to Compaoré returning to the country to live out retirement.
A national debate ensued over whether the former president, now 70, should face trial upon his return or be effectively pardoned in the interests of national reconciliation.
“The warrant can be executed at any time if Cote d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso implement the existing agreements between the two states properly,” Benewende Sankara said. “I must specify that it can happen very quickly.”
Tuesday’s indictment may put further pressure on Ivory Coast to follow through on the extradition treaty.
It is unclear when the trial will take place.