In Guinea’s capital, Conakry, family members cry after identifying the body of a relative killed on September 28, 2009, when security forces fired on opposition supporters as they marched to and later held a rally in the September 28 Stadium. The body of their relative was one of 57 dead displayed at the Grand Fayçal Mosque on October 2, 2009.

© 2009 Reuters

The resignation of Guinea’s Justice Minister Cheick Sako – who oversaw significant progress in the investigation in Guinea’s devastating 2009 stadium massacre – should not end hope of bringing those responsible to justice.

On September 28, 2009, several hundred members of Guinea’s security forces opened fire on tens of thousands of opposition supporters in a stadium in the capital, Conakry. At least 150 people died and dozens of women were raped.

Efforts to deliver justice for one of Guinea’s worst episodes of political violence is a litmus test of President Alpha Conde’s willingness to end impunity for the security forces, demonstrate the independence of the judiciary, and improve the rule of law. 

The years after Sako’s appointment in 2014 saw several steps forward in the case. In July 2015, a panel of Guinean judges charged Moussa Dadis Camara, the former leader of the junta ruling Guinea at the time of the massacre and commander-in-chief of the security forces responsible for the killings. In November 2017, the judges closed their investigation, having charged more than 14 suspects, including several high-ranking security officials in President Condé’s current administration

In April 2018, Sako appointed a steering committee to organize the trial. But the steering committee, initially supposed to meet once a week, has met only sporadically and has not yet set a trial date.

In a May 20 resignation letter made public earlier this week, Sako stated his opposition to a potential revision to Guinea’s constitution, which many believe Condé will announce to remove barriers to a third term in office. Guinean human rights groups worry that with Sako gone, any remaining momentum for the trial will be lost.

Guinea’s justice system should operate independently of politics, however complicated they become. Asking the steering committee to set a date for the trial would be a way for Sako’s successor, currently interim minister Mohammed Lamine Fofana, to show he is committed to a credible, independent judicial system and that he stands ready to advance Guinea’s crucial fight against impunity.