Global Freedom of Expression

Abdoulaye Nikiema (Norbert Zongo) v. The Republic of Burkina Faso

Closed Expands Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Press / Newspapers
  • Date of Decision
    March 28, 2014
  • Outcome
    Reparations made by individual or entity who exercised FoE
  • Case Number
    No. 013/2011
  • Region & Country
    Burkina Faso, Africa
  • Judicial Body
    African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights
  • Type of Law
    International/Regional Human Rights Law
  • Themes
    Violence Against Speakers / Impunity, Content Regulation / Censorship
  • Tags

Content Attribution Policy

Global Freedom of Expression is an academic initiative and therefore, we encourage you to share and republish excerpts of our content so long as they are not used for commercial purposes and you respect the following policy:

  • Attribute Columbia Global Freedom of Expression as the source.
  • Link to the original URL of the specific case analysis, publication, update, blog or landing page of the down loadable content you are referencing.

Attribution, copyright, and license information for media used by Global Freedom of Expression is available on our Credits page.

Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

The African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights held that Burkina Faso violated Articles 1 and 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, as well as Article 9(2) (read together with Article 66(2)(c)) of the Revised Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) treaty. The court held that by failing to investigate a journalist’s murder, Burkina Faso chilled the freedom of expression of other journalists.


In December 1998, Norbert Zongo, a journalist and editor of a Burkinabe newspaper, L’Indepependant, was found dead in his car. His beneficiaries and independent investigators concluded that Zongo was assassinated in retaliation to a story he was working on which implicated the younger brother of the President of Burkina Faso in the torture and murder of another man. The investigation into the assassination identified six suspects, all members of the Presidential Guard, however charges were only brought against one suspect and those charges were later dismissed.

In response to Burkina Faso’s failure to adequately investigate the assassination, the beneficiaries of Norbert Zongo initiated a case before the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights alleging Burkina Faso had violated Articles 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, and 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Articles 2 (3), 14, and 19 (2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 8 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Decision Overview

The court made two separate decisions in this case, both of which ruled that Burkina Faso had violated the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. First, the court held that by failing to adequately investigate and pursue the assassins of Norbert Zongo, Burkina Faso was in violation of Article 7, which holds that a member state must not deprive citizens of their right to have causes of action heard. Here, Burkina Faso had deprived the beneficiaries of Norbert Zongo from having their causes of action heard by not seeking penalties upon those suspected of being involved in the assassination of Mr. Zongo.

The second decision rested on Article 9(2) of the Charter, which states that parties must allow its citizens the right to freedom of expression. Here, the court concluded that Burkina Faso had also violated this article. Specifically, by failing to adequately investigate the murder of Mr. Zongo, himself an investigative journalist, Burkina Faso had indirectly stymied freedom of expression. The court’s rationale was that allowing those who had committed the murder to escape justice invoked fear in media members and circles, thus paralyzing the free flow of information guaranteed by Article 9(2). As such, Burkina Faso’s failure to investigate acted as intimidation on other journalists who feared reprisals, and did not believe that the government would adequately protect them or seek justice on their behalf.

The exact penalty to be imposed was deferred by the court until the beneficiaries of Mr. Zongo had opportunity to file briefs on what reparations they were seeking and Burkina Faso had opportunity to respond to said briefs. After both parties submitted their respective briefs, the court then established that “under the African human right system, the state has a duty to ensure remedies where there is a human rights violation.” [1] Accordingly, the court then ordered Burkina Faso to reopen the investigation of the assassination of Mr. Zongo, his brother Ernest Zongo, Blaise Ilboudo and their driver Abdoulaye Nikiema. The court has also directed Burkina Faso to locate, prosecute and try the perpetrators. [2]

The court also determined that Burkina Faso had to pay damages to each of the victims’ partners CFA 25 million (approximately $43,000 US), and to each of their children, CFA 15 million (approximately $26,000 US). Moreover, the court ordered Burkina Faso to publish the French summary of the court’s judgment “once in its official gazette and once in a widely disseminated daily national newspaper and on the government’s official website for a year.” [3] Finally, the court dictated that within six months from the date of the judgment, Burkina Faso must report to the court concerning the status of fulfillment with the court’s decisions.


[1] Chidi Odinkalu, African Court orders Remedies and Damages in Case of Murdered Journalist, Open Society Foundations, June 9, 2015, (Accessed August 8, 2015)

[2] Burkina Faso: Massive Victory for Justice and Fight Against Impunity, Media Foundation for West Africa, (Accessed August 8, 2015)

[3] Chidi Odinkalu, African Court orders Remedies and Damages in Case of Murdered Journalist, Open Society Foundations, June 9, 2015, (Accessed August 8, 2015)

Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Expands Expression

The ruling seems to basically expand what type of actions can constitute violations of freedom of expression. Specifically, not thoroughly investigating an attack on a journalist, done in retaliation for a story, can be considered a restriction on freedom of expression because it can be conceived as working to intimidate other journalists away from writing on issues and thus restricting freedom of expression.

Furthermore, the court’s extensive remedies measures, including the concession of damages and the order to reopen the investigation, signal an important step to achieve accountability concerning human rights violations.

Global Perspective

Quick Info

Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

Related International and/or regional laws

  • ACHPR, art. 9
  • ACHPR, art. 1
  • ACHPR, art. 2
  • ACHPR, art. 3
  • ACHPR, art. 4
  • ACHPR, art. 7
  • ICCPR, art. 19
  • UDHR, art. 8

Case Significance

Quick Info

Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

The decision establishes a binding or persuasive precedent within its jurisdiction.

Burkina Faso is a member state to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights and therefore is bound by the decision of the court.

The decision was cited in:

Official Case Documents

Official Case Documents:

Reports, Analysis, and News Articles:


Have comments?

Let us know if you notice errors or if the case analysis needs revision.

Send Feedback