The arrest of a man charged with crimes committed in a horrendous massacre in Guinea brought justice an important step closer for one of the single worst incidents during decades of abusive, authoritarian rule that ended in 2010.
On Septembr 28, 2009, several hundred members of Guinea’s Presidential Guard, or Red Berets, burst into a stadium in Guinea’s capital, Conakry, and opened fire on tens of thousands of opposition supporters peacefully gathered there. By late afternoon, at least 150 Guineans lay dead or dying. Dozens of women suffered brutal forms of sexual violence – they were raped, gang raped, and sexually assaulted with sticks and rifle butts.
At the time, Diakité ‘Toumba’ Diakité – who was arrested yesterday in Dakar, Senegal – commanded the Red Berets. Dozens of witnesses placed him and the Red Berets allegedly under his command at the scene. In 2011, Interpol issued a red notice for his arrest.
He was also a close confident of Guinea’s then-leader, Dadis Camara, who had seized power in a military coup.
My research in Conakry has shown that Guinea’s judiciary has made unprecedented progress in accountability for the crimes committed during the massacre since a panel of investigative judges was appointed to the case in 2010. They have heard from hundreds of victims, interviewed members of the security services, and brought charges against high-level suspects.
But progress in the case has been uneven, and government support for the investigation was grossly insufficient early on.
One hopes the arrest of ‘Toumba’ will help hasten the case’s move to trial, more than seven years after the crimes. As the mother of one young man killed in the massacre has stressed to me in multiple discussions, there is an urgent need for justice to bring redress to the victims – some of whom survived, but are now sick or dying.
Such a move would put Guinea’s government squarely on the right side of history, showing it can ensure perpetrators of the gravest crimes are held to account. Justice delivered fairly and credibly close to home is the ideal when possible.