(Dakar) - Making sure that those responsible for the massacre of more than 150 opposition supporters in a Conakry stadium are brought to justice should be a top priority for both Guinea and its international partners, Human Rights Watch said today in advance of the one-year anniversary of the violence. None of those responsible for the killings have been brought to trial, nor has accountability for past abuses received adequate attention as Guinea gears up for the second round of presidential elections in October 2010.
The killings took place on September 28, 2009, as tens of thousands of protesters gathered peacefully at the main stadium in the capital to protest the continued military rule of then-leader Captain Moussa Dadis Camara. Members of the Presidential Guard, gendarmes, anti-riot police and militia in civilian clothes opened fire on the crowds in the packed stadium and on people struggling to escape. More than 100 women at the rally suffered brutal sexual violence at the hands of the security forces.
"While the mothers, fathers, spouses, and children of those murdered one year ago still grieve for their loved ones, the people who planned, perpetrated, and tried to cover up this atrocious act remain free men," said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Justice for the victims simply should not be allowed to slide, as it has for so many other acts of state-sponsored violence."
After the killings, the armed forces tried to hide the evidence by removing dozens of bodies from morgues and the stadium and burying them in mass graves. Scores of other opposition supporters were arbitrarily detained in army and police camps, where many were subjected to serious abuses, including torture.
The violence appeared to have been premeditated and organized by senior ruling party officials of the government at that time, the National Council for Democracy and Development (Conseil national pour la démocratie et le développement, CNDD). Human Rights Watch, the United Nations-led International Commission of Inquiry, and other local and international human rights organizations concluded that the killings, rapes, and other abuses committed by the security forces on and after September 28 were part of a widespread and systematic attack, and as such very likely constituted crimes against humanity.
In October 2009, the International Criminal Court (ICC) confirmed that the situation in Guinea was under preliminary analysis. The ICC can open an investigation and bring indictments for the most serious crimes if member countries are unable or unwilling to do so. In December 2009, the government of Guinea made a commitment to investigate and bring those responsible to justice. However, there has been scant information regarding progress on the investigation and no evidence of government efforts to locate the more than 100 bodies believed to have been disposed of secretly by the security forces.
There have been several other episodes in the recent past in which Guinea's security forces used lethal force against unarmed demonstrators without apparent justification. In June 2006, security forces shot dead at least 13 protesters in Conakry. In January and February 2007, security forces, notably the Presidential Guard, fired directly into crowds of unarmed protestors participating in a nationwide strike against bad governance, resulting in at least 137 deaths and the wounding of more than 1,700 people. No one has been held accountable in any of those incidents.
An assassination attempt in early December 2009 left Camara, the CNDD leader, largely incapacitated.
After Camara's evacuation from Guinea, the more moderate General Sékouba Konaté assumed power. Konaté, more professional military officers, civil society, and Guinea's international partners pushed for a free and fair presidential election. The first round took place on June 27, and the second round, being organized in an atmosphere of political tension, is scheduled to take place on October 10.
Human Rights Watch called on Guinea's current and future leaders and judicial authorities to ensure that all of those implicated in the September 2009 violence, regardless of rank, are thoroughly investigated and tried in accordance with international fair trial standards. Given concerns over the judiciary's lack of independence from the executive branch, inadequate resources, and corruption, all available expertise should be used to ensure that domestic investigations and prosecutions are conducted fairly, impartially, independently, and effectively.
African governments should ensure the surrender to the Guinean judiciary of any individual eventually indicted for involvement in the serious international crimes committed in September 2009, notably Camara, currently living in Burkina Faso, and his then aide de camp, Lieutenant Toumba Diakite, whose whereabouts are unknown. Guinean financial and development partners should consistently press the new government to make ending impunity a priority, in particular ensuring justice for the 2009 crimes, and should condition bilateral and multilateral economic aid on progress in ensuring redress for the victims.
Guinea's new leaders should move swiftly to address the impunity that has given rise to years of human rights abuses, including improving the judicial system and ensuring better discipline within the security forces, Human Rights Watch said.
"The new government should waste no time in tackling the vicious cycle of violence and impunity that created the conditions for massacres like the one last year," Dufka said. "Strengthening the judiciary and ensuring that those responsible for the 2009 violence are behind bars is a very good place to start."