(Conakry) – The long-delayed trial of 11 men accused of responsibility for the 2009 Guinean security forces’ massacre of more than 150 peaceful demonstrators and the rape of scores of women in a stadium in Conakry, the capital, is scheduled to open on September 28, 2022. The commencement of the trial is a major step towards justice for victims, Human Rights Watch said today.
This will be the first trial involving human rights violations on this scale in Guinea. It will open 13 years to the day after the crimes were committed, during which time the victims, some victims have died or become ill, their families, lawyers and activists have campaigned to ensure the trial proceeded.
“The victims have been waiting so long for those responsible for Guinea’s 2009 stadium massacre to be held to account,” said Elise Keppler, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch. “The opening of the trial brings the victims closer to much needed justice for the horrific crimes committed in the stadium.”
Those at the Conakry stadium were protesting a bid for the presidency by the then-coup leader Moussa Dadis Camara. Witnesses described to Human Rights Watch in 2009 that bodies were strewn across the field, crushed against gates, draped over walls, and piled outside locker rooms where doors had been pulled shut by the terrified few who had gotten there first. Some victims were then knifed or bayoneted to death.
Women who were raped said they were pulled from hiding places in the stadium, including from under chairs, and raped, often by multiple men from the security forces. Witnesses said that four women were shot to death after being sexually assaulted. Security forces then engaged in an organized cover up of the crimes, sealing off the entrances to the stadium and morgues and removing bodies to bury them in mass graves.
11 suspects, including several high ranking military and government figures, are facing trial. Some of them have been in detention for years, far longer than prescribed legal limits, while others have not been detained or arrested, such as Camara, who has been living in exile in Burkina Faso.
Trials in absentia constrain the ability of an accused to exercise their rights to a defense and should be avoided, Human Rights Watch said. Camara has indicated that he intends to participate in the trial and the other accused are barred from leaving the country, according to a spokesperson for the justice ministry.
Victims have joined the proceedings as civil parties in the case.
A timeline of developments and a video appeal for justice by victims and activists was issued in 2019. Representatives of victims’ associations, and local and international human rights organizations, including the Association of Victims, Relatives and Friends of September 28, 2009 (AVIPA), the Guinean Organization for the Defense of Human Rights (OGDH), International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch, will be present at the opening.
“For justice to be realized, this trial should be conducted in a manner that is fair and includes the presence of the accused,” said Keppler. “Genuine, credible proceedings are needed, in which victims can participate fully in the proceedings without fears for their security.”
Guinean authorities committed to ensure justice for the crimes and opened an investigation in early 2010, but many obstacles impeded progress which was slow and inconsistent. After the investigation concluded in 2017, groups increasingly denounced delays to the trial’s start and raised concerns about a lack of will to hold the trial.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) opened a preliminary examination of the situation in Guinea in October 2009 and has monitored progress in this case since the beginning. As a court of last resort, the ICC will only step in when national courts are unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute serious crimes. Over the years, the ICC Office of the Prosecutor sought to constructively engage with the authorities to press them to deliver on their early commitment to bring justice in this case, part of what is known as “positive complementarity.”
This is a role the Office of the Prosecutor should continue to seek to play across the ICC’s situation countries, including by carrying forward lessons from the Guinea situation into its interactions with other national authorities, Human Rights Watch said.
The Office of the Prosecutor noted in December 2020 that the Guinean authorities had not yet taken any concrete steps to organize the trial, despite repeated commitments to proceed. Representatives of the office most recently visited Conakry in November 2021 and September 2022. A UN expert from the Office of the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict in Guinea also has worked with the judicial authorities for a decade to support justice efforts.
Respect for human rights in Guinea is facing significant challenges since the National Committee for Reconciliation and Development (Comité national du rassemblement et du développement, CNRD) took power in a coup in September 2021. The coup unseated President Alpha Condé. Under Condé human rights abuses had escalated, including attacks on the opposition.
The CNRD leader, Mamady Doumbouya, has signaled support for justice efforts and attended the 2021 commemoration of the massacre. In July, he indicated that the trial should open before the 2022 anniversary of the crimes.
This trial should be part of broader measures to ensure respect for human rights, including removing a ban on public protests and dissolution of the opposition, which are in effect, Human Rights Watch said. A return to democratic rule, and trials for other serious crimes, such as killings and other abuses committed in response to nationwide protests in 2007 is needed.
“The trial is an unprecedented step for justice for victims in Guinea, which should be accompanied by reforms to enable respect for rights and more prosecutions of abuses,” said Keppler. “The ICC Prosecutor’s office has played a vital role in spurring forward this landmark trial through its ongoing monitoring and frequent visits to Conakry, which it should continue.”