the conclusion of a historic trial in Burkina Faso

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Mariam Sankara, widow of Thomas Sankara, in Ouagadougou, April 6, 2022.

Following the publication of the verdict, shouts of joy and applause were heard in the banquet hall of Ouaga 2000 in the capital of Burkinabe. “Fatherland or death, we will win!” »even sang some in public with raised fists, referring to the motto of the “African Che Guevara”.

On Wednesday, April 6, thirty-four years after the assassination of Thomas Sankara, the former president of Burkina Faso killed with twelve of his companions during a coup in 1987, the military court in Ouagadougou, in absentia, sentenced Blaise Compaoré, his successor and former friend, to life imprisonment for “complicity in assassinations” and “undermining state security”. The former head of state, who has been in exile in Côte d’Ivoire since his fall in 2014, after twenty-seven years in power, was found guilty of ordering the killing of the captain, then 37 years old. General Gilbert Diendéré, one of the army leaders during the 1987 coup, and Hyacinthe Kafando, who led the commando soldier who killed Sankara, on the run, were also sentenced to life in prison. Eight other defendants were sentenced to three to 20 years in prison. Three were acquitted.

MM. Kafando and Compaoré were the main absentees from this trial, which lasted six months and was suspended several times. Mr. Compaoré’s lawyers, who were also absent, had condemned as soon as it opened “a political trial” Before “a jurisdiction of exception”invokes “immunity” which the former head of state would benefit from. The convicts have fifteen days to appeal.

“We will finally be able to mourn”

In the courtroom, filled on this day described as historic in Burkina Faso, the family and relatives of Sankara let their relief burst. “I am very touched, it is up to what we were hoping for, we will finally be able to mourn, even though I wish all the accused were present and asked for forgiveness”said Mariam Sankara, the former president’s widow.

It was not until the fall of Blaise Compaoré after a popular uprising in 2014 that the investigation into the death of the Pan-African icon, launched in 1997 following the complaint of Mariam Sankara, who then had to flee his country, relaunched business. “Until the Day of Judgment we had concerns, it is a liberation”, cheers Prosper Farama, the family lawyer. In this file of more than 20,000 pages, one hundred people were interviewed and a reconstruction of facts was organized at the crime scene. Experts had even performed DNA analyzes on the remains of Thomas Sankara and his comrades without being able to confirm their identity due to the poor preservation of the corpses.

Also read: Thomas Sankara, a pan-African icon still popular in Burkina Faso

For the lawyers for the civil party, the trial still made it possible to confirm “the role of the big players” of this “Black Thursday” October 15, 1987. “General Diendéré may not have pressed the trigger, but he was the direct supervisor of the whole operation “summarizes Mand Farama. During the trial, Yamba first denied Elysée Ilboudo, the former driver of Blaise Compaoré, and then confessed, after seeing Gilbert Diendéré “discuss with his men”, just before the assassination of the Council of the Entente, the former seat of the revolution. At the stand, the defendant admitted to having driven, on “Order of Hyacinthe Kafando”one of the two vehicles transporting the men from the commando and “heavy weapons” in the trunk, from it “Blaise Compaoré’s home”. After the first shot, he saw Thomas Sankara “Walk out of the meeting room with your hands up, ask what’s going on. (…) And they shot him. He fell to his knees before rolling over to the left., said the former driver. Gilbert Diendéré, Compaoré’s former right-hand man, was responsible for the security of the Conseil de l’Entente, but has always denied his involvement, claiming to have arrived at the scene after the killing.

“What was France’s role?”

During the trial, which focused exclusively on the national aspect of the case, several witnesses mentioned the trail of foreign involvement. Heard at a video conference from France, Moussa Diallo, Sankara’s former aide-de-camp, assured that the coup on 15 October 1987 was “deliberate” and that according to information “intelligence services” burkinabés, former Ivorian President Félix Houphouët-Boigny would have asked “to stop our agitation because he has found a safer and cheaper solution to overthrow Sankara, who is Blaise Compaoré”. Gray zones also exist around the listening tables of the former director of state security, Colonel-Major Jean-Pierre Palm, sentenced to ten years in prison by the judges. The latter, who is suspected of having helped French officers destroy footage of the gendarmerie, the day after the coup, has always denied the facts.

At the scene of the assassination of Thomas Sankara in Ouagadougou on April 6, 2022.

“The whole truth did not emerge: What was the role of France, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Libya?”wonders Serge Bayala, the Permanent Secretary of the International Committee on the Thomas-Sankara Memorial Project, who says “do not believe anymore” to an extradition of Blaise Compaoré. According to our information, the lawyers for the civil party have submitted a request to the military court to resume the investigation of the international aspect of the case.

also read Burkina Faso: at the Sankara trial, a member of the commando team tells the details of the assassination

In the courtroom, the promulgation of the sentences, which were heavier than the thirty years required by the prosecution, also aroused the anger and frustration of the supporters of the old regime. “Diendéré kept the reins in the country since we fired him, our country is in crisis, we need him to overcome the terrorists! »criticizes Sidi Mohammed Savadogo, an activist from the Congress for Democracy and Progress, Compaoré’s party, who calls for a “President’s pardon”. During the January 24 coup in Burkina Faso, several Putschists and military supporters demanded the release of General Diendéré, who had already been sentenced to twenty years in prison for a failed coup attempt in 2015.

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