- What happened on September 28, 2009, and the following days in Conakry, Guinea?
- When did the landmark trial for the crimes start and why is the trial so significant?
- How many accused are on trial, who are they, and what are they charged with?
- Why are the accused not charged with international crimes, particularly crimes against humanity?
- What is the role of victims as civil parties in the trial?
- What rights do the accused have at trial?
- What has happened in the trial so far?
- Are people in Guinea following the trial and how do they get information about developments?
- What can we expect next in the judicial process and how long will the trial last?
- What are the penalties in the event of convictions, and will victims receive reparations?
- What happened during the pre-trial investigation phase of the case and why did it last seven years?
- Why did the trial take another five years to open after the investigation concluded?
- What role did the International Criminal Court play in advancing a trial for the crimes?
- What efforts did other entities, aside from the ICC, undertake to foster justice for the crimes in Guinea?
- What is the current political situation in Guinea and does that pose any risks for the trial?
- How can the international community support Guinea in its pursuit of justice?
On September 28, 2022, the Guinean judicial authorities opened a long-delayed trial of 11 men – among them former government ministers and a former president – accused of responsibility for the 2009 Guinean security forces’ massacre of more than 150 peaceful demonstrators and rapes of scores of women in a stadium in Conakry, the capital. The trial is the first of its kind involving human rights violations on this scale before domestic courts in Guinea.
Human Rights Watch has tracked developments in this landmark trial with the assistance of lawyers, and local and international civil society organizations, including the Association of Victims, Relatives and Friends of September 28, 2009 (AVIPA), Guinean Organization for the Defense of Human Rights (OGDH), and International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). A Guinean lawyer has observed trial sessions in-person and the law firm Borden Ladner Gervais LLP has viewed trial sessions by video for Human Rights Watch.
On the one-year anniversary of the start of this trial and the fourteenth anniversary of the crimes, this question-and-answer document provides information on its progress, and efforts by the Guinean authorities, the International Criminal Court (ICC), and other domestic and international actors to ensure the effective delivery of justice for the crimes.
On the morning of September 28, 2009, several hundred members of Guinea’s security forces burst into a stadium in the country’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 in and around the stadium complex.
Bodies were strewn across the field, crushed against half-opened gates, draped over walls, and piled outside locker rooms where doors had been pulled shut by the terrified few who had gotten there first. Dozens of women at the rally suffered brutal sexual violence at the hands of security forces, including individual and gang rape and sexual assault with objects such as sticks, batons, rifle butts, and bayonets.
Following the violence, security forces organized a cover-up. Sealing off the stadium and morgues, removing scores of bodies, and burying them in mass graves. Security forces who deployed throughout the neighborhoods where the majority of opposition supporters lived carried out additional abuses, including murder, rape, and pillage. Security Forces arbitrarily detained scores of other opposition supporters, subjecting many to serious abuses, including torture.
A Human Rights Watch investigation indicated that the killings, rapes, and other abuses on and after September 28 rise to the level of crimes against humanity. The abuses were not the actions of a group of rogue, undisciplined soldiers. The absence of any apparent provocation by the demonstrators, in combination with the organized manner in which the security forces carried out the attack, the failure to use non-lethal means of crowd dispersal, and the presence of officials, including a minister tasked with security responsibilities – suggests that the crimes were premeditated and organized. An international commission of inquiry reached similar conclusions.
The trial began on September 28, 2022, 13 years to the day after the massacre, in the country’s capital, Conakry.
The opening of the trial, while long overdue, was a major step in the search for justice for the victims and their families, who have waited more than a decade for accountability. The trial is the first of its kind involving human rights violations on this scale in Guinea, though the people of Guinea have been repeatedly subjected to violations during successive authoritarian and repressive governments. The September 28 massacre, rapes, and other abuses were among the country’s worst episodes of abuse.
Guinean victims have repeatedly called for holding the attackers to account and revealing the truth about the events. One lawyer told Human Rights Watch: “Unfortunately we have been a society that accepted crimes. We are beginning to value the voices of victims, with a new type of citizen who refuses these types of crimes and impunity.”
The trial can offer important lessons to other countries where justice for serious crimes is needed. International law mandates prosecution of suspects against whom there is evidence suggesting responsibility for serious crimes that violate international law, including crimes against humanity. The duty to prosecute lies first and foremost with domestic authorities. At the same time, domestic prosecutions of atrocity crimes face many challenges, particularly around securing adequate political support and capacity to try them.
Eleven men are accused, including a former president and government ministers. They are charged with a range of ordinary crimes under Guinean domestic law, and have all pleaded not guilty to all charges, according to court documents and information on the proceedings shared with Human Rights Watch and a report by the International Federation for Human Rights.
A delineation of the 11 defendants and the crimes they are accused of follows:
Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, former self-declared president of Guinea, who held the positions of commander-in-chief of the Guinean armed forces and leader of the National Counsel for Democracy and Development (Le Conseil national pour la démocratie et le développement, CNDD) in September 2009. He was the president of the transition and has represented a group of military officers who had carried out a bloodless coup in Guinea after President Lansana Conté died. Camara took power in December 2008.
He is charged with complicity in and command responsibility for murder, assassination, rape, sexual assault, indecent assault, intentional assault and battery, kidnapping, torture, failure to assist victims in the massacre and the events that followed, theft, looting, arson, armed robbery, and the illegal possession of firearms.
Command responsibility is the liability of military and civilian officials up to the top of the chain of command for failing to prevent or punish crimes by their subordinates that they know or should have known about. It was incorporated into Guinea’s criminal code in 2016.
Lieutenant Aboubacar Diakité (popularly known as Toumba), Dadis Camara’s personal aide de camp and the head of his personal security detail. Diakité also commanded the Presidential Guard, an elite military unit implicated in extensive abuses on September 28, 2009, and in the following days. Toumba is charged with directly committing voluntary assault and battery, rape, collective or armed gang looting, arson, murder, assassination, torture, and failure to assist persons in danger. He is also charged with complicity in and command responsibility for murder, assassination, rape, looting, arson, armed robbery, intentional assault and battery, contempt of law enforcement officials, torture, kidnapping and unlawful detention, failure to assist people in danger, sexual violence, indecent assault, and illegal possession of firearms.
Cece Rafael Haba, former bodyguard for Toumba; Marcel Guilavogui, former bodyguard of Dadis Camara; and Moussa Tiégboro Camara (Tiégboro), former secretary of state in charge of the fight against drugs and organized crime. They are accused of complicity in murder, assassination, rape, sexual, indecent, and intentional assaults, kidnapping, torture, and failure to assist the September 28 victims, as well as complicity in theft, looting, arson, armed robbery, and the illegal possession of firearms.
Colonel Claude Pivi (Pivi), minister for presidential security in 2009 under Dadis Camara. He is charged with complicity in murder, rape, torture, intentional assault, and failure to assist victims, as well as looting and arson.
Colonel Abdoulaye Chérif Diaby, health minister in 2009, accused of failure to assist victims.
Gendarme Mamadou Aliou Keïta, accused of rape.
Gendarme Ibrahima Camara (popularly known as Kalonzo), and Blaise Gomou, a colonel who served as part of the special services headed by Tiégboro. They are accused of complicity in murder and intentional assault and battery, and directly committing rape, sexual assault, indecent assault, torture, kidnapping, looting, arson, theft, armed robbery, contempt of law enforcement officials, failure to assist victims, and illegal possession of firearms.
Paul Mansa Guilavogui, a military staff sergeant at the time of the events, charged with intentional assault, torture, kidnapping and unlawful detention, failure to assist victims, defamation, and insult.
Though crimes against humanity were incorporated in Guinea’s criminal code in 2016, the accused do not face charges of crimes against humanity or other international crimes. Judges who conducted the pre-trial investigation did not accept to classify the crimes as crimes against humanity when making the determination to send the case to trial. Some lawyers unsuccessfully appealed the lack of classification of the crimes as crimes against humanity.
The absence of charges of crimes against humanity could mean that the breadth and depth of the crimes committed are not captured by the existing charges. As one lawyer told Human Rights Watch, these are mass crimes (crimes de masse), but the charges do not reflect that. This could mean that the justice process misses the opportunity for maximum impact, particularly for the communities most affected by the crimes.
According to justice practitioners, now that the investigation has gone to trial, the trial judges could still decide to reclassify the charges as crimes against humanity. It remains to be seen if that will take place.
Hundreds of victims have joined the case in Guinea as civil parties (parties civiles), a feature of civil law systems that allows victims to be formal parties to the proceedings, alongside the prosecutor and the defendant, as distinct from being a witness. Civil parties may through their lawyers examine and make submissions to the case file, question witnesses and the accused, make arguments to the judges, and claim reparations.
FIDH, OGDH, and AVIPA constituted themselves as civil parties to the case jointly with several hundred victims of the crimes starting in 2010, and additional victims have continued to join them over time. Other victims have joined as civil parties with representation by at least a dozen other lawyers including in connection with other survivors’ associations and organizations, according to two lawyers involved with the trial. They include the Association of Family and Friends of Disappeared on September 28, 2009 (Association des Familles et Amis de Disparus du 28 septembre 2009), and the Association of Women and Girls Victims of Violence (Association des femmes et filles violées au stade).
Victims have a right to reparation under international law – benefits for victims, their families, and affected communities to redress harm suffered by victims in the event of convictions. Such benefits can be material or symbolic.
An open question is whether any financial assistance could be obtained to support victims prior to a judgment. According to one lawyer involved with the trial and media reports, the government has concluded that some provisional assistance can be made available prior to a verdict.
Civil parties can in principle obtain reparations from the defendants, but if they do not have the funds, a compensation fund can be created. A steering committee established to help organize the trial has been involved in creating a compensation fund for victims and searching for funding. The fund has yet to secure sufficient resources and the Guinean government is exploring various funding sources beyond its own contributions, one justice practitioner involved in the efforts told Human Rights Watch.
Guinean law on criminal procedure provides for internationally accepted rights of the accused, including the presumption of innocence, the right to remain silent, and the right to counsel. A law to facilitate access to counselwhen defendants cannot afford it was adopted in September 2022. All defendants in the trial are represented by counsel. Two defendants, Paul Mansa Guilavogui and Mamadou Aliou Keita, are represented by a court-appointed defender and all other accused have secured their own lawyers, according to trial observations organized by Human Rights Watch.
Guinean law on criminal procedure also provides for the right not to be arbitrarily detained, to be heard by an independent and impartial court in a public hearing, to question witnesses and experts, to have an interpreter without cost, and to appeal judgments.
Five of the accused were detained for extended periods, including beyond legal limits prescribed by Guinean law on criminal procedure: Cece Rafael Haba and Marcel Guilavogui have been held since 2010, Mamadou Aliou Keïta since 2013, Paul Mansa Guilavogui, since 2015, and Aboubacar “Toumba” Diakité, who was arrested in Senegal in December 2016 and then extradited to Guinea, since 2017.
On the eve of the trial, September 27, 2022, the remaining six accused were detained: Moussa Dadis Camara, who had been living in exile in Burkina Faso and had returned a few days earlier, Moussa “Tiégboro” Camara, Claude Pivi, Abdoulaye Chérif Diaby, Ibrahima “Kalonzo” Camara, and Blaise Gomou.
As the trial opened on September 28, 2022, the courtroom was packed with victims and their family members and media. The crimes of which each was accused were read aloud, and the judges confirmed that defendants had representation by lawyers. The proceedings generally take place three days a week, Monday through Wednesday, with the exception of holidays, judicial recesses, one six-week suspension, and several shorter postponements, including due to Dadis Camara’s health.
Hearing of the Accused
In the first days of the trial, the judges considered and rejected several claims of unfair treatment raised by defense counsel, including that the accused had not been informed of charges against them individually and a lack of proper basis for detaining Dadis Camara, according to trial observations organized by Human Rights Watch. Dadis Camara also argued unsuccessfully that he should be placed under house arrest instead of being held in detention.
Over the next four months, the court heard from each of the 11 accused, one after the other, with judges, defense lawyers, and lawyers of the civil parties having the opportunity to question the accused. Some of those accused highlighted their prolonged pre-trial detention. Others said they had requested provisional release without success.
Some accused placed responsibility for the crimes on their fellow accused, saying that they were not in the stadium at the time the violence took place, or lacked relevant authority to oversee the actions of others or give them orders when the crimes were committed. This included Cece Rafael Haba, Ibrahima “Kalonzo” Camara, and Claude Pivi, all of whom said they were not present in the stadium. Paul Mansa Guilavogui denied accusations against him, contending that he could not stop torture because he was a subordinate, and not a person of command or authority.
Hearing Victims and Witnesses
The second–and ongoing–phase of the trial started in February 2023. During this phase, the judges began hearing from victims who are civil parties in the case.
Prior to the August judicial recess, more than 50 victims had appeared, including former opposition leaders, other individuals who were at the stadium during the attack, and family members of those who were at the stadium.
Survivors of rape and sexual violence are among those who have testified. Most victims of sexual violence have testified in closed session, agreed to by the judges. There was a major problem when the court breached the anonymity of the first sexual violence survivor, who had asked to testify at a closed session, but was told by the judges to identify herself before taking a decision on her request while cameras were filming and the court hearing was being broadcast. The judges then decided to hear her testimony in a closed session. This situation has not been repeated.
One victim of sexual violence, Fatoumata Barry, opted to testify publicly “to share with the world and [her] nation” the horrors that she–and hundred others–experienced on September 28, 2009.
Victims of other abuses, including shooting, torture, beating, assaults, and mistreatment have testified publicly. Some victims testified about ongoing injuries, others about seeing dead bodies, and others about the bodies of family members that have never been found following the massacre, according to trial observations organized by Human Rights Watch. Victims who have testified about abuses other than sexual violence have been required to testify publicly even if they prefer to testify in a closed session according to one lawyer involved in the trial; although, a law on protection of victims was adopted just before the start of the trial in 2023 that does not restrict testimony in closed session to those who experienced sexual violence.
The first victim to testify was Oury Baïlo Bah, who spoke about his younger brother, who was killed at the stadium, and whose body has never been found. Another victim, Alpha Amadou Balde, testified about how he was arrested at the stadium and held at a camp with several other protesters.
Another victim, Fatimatou Diallo, testified that she had a phone conversation with her husband when he arrived at the stadium, but later learned that he had been shot and died, though his body has not been found. One victim’s lawyer requested a judicial visit to a potential mass grave site during the trial. The judges have apparently yet to respond to this request.
The judges have deemed some questions posed by defense counsel to victims relating to their private lives too intrusive, directed lawyers to refrain from such questions, and instructed victims that they did not have to answer the questions, according to trial observations organized by Human Rights Watch.
It is not yet clear how many victims will be allowed to testify out of the more than 700 victims who are civil parties in the case, according to an activist and a lawyer involved with the trial.
Suspension and Resumption
On May 29, the trial was suspended due to a boycott by defense counsel. The boycott began after the lawyers requested financial assistance for their work given their clients’ limited resources (though they are not indigent) and the “scope of the tasks, complexity of the trial, and the amount of time the trial is taking.” After multiple weeks and negotiations between the Guinean Justice Ministry and the lawyers, the boycott ended.
The trial’s resumption appears to have been possible because the Justice Ministry agreed to try to make some financial assistance available to the lawyers. The Guinean Bar Association helped facilitate negotiations and may be able to assist in ensuring that the lawyers involved can obtain any assistance the government makes available.
The trial was scheduled to resume on June 21, but a nationwide prison guard strike prevented the transportation of the accused to the courthouse. The trial resumed on July 10. On the day it resumed a request by Marcel Guilavogui, one of the accused, to take the stand a second time paused the hearing of victims. Following Guilavogui’s additional testimony, during which he recanted some of his earlier testimony about not being present at the stadium, victims returned to the stand. Since then, more than 10 additional victims have testified.
Interpretation and Security
The trial is conducted in French. The court has provided interpreters for the accused and victims who need it, according to trial observations organized by Human Rights Watch.
Security is an ongoing issue, given the sensitive nature of the charges and the high profile of the accused. The Guinean government has deployed hundreds of security guards around the trial premises to ensure security. In December, one man was convicted for online threats to a prosecutor involved with the trial.
Civil society representatives have said that victims remain concerned for their security. Although the government has made transport to the trial available to victims, because it is labeled as trial transport, there has been some concern by victims about using it.
Victims, the media, and members of the public are allowed to attend the trial, lawyers said, though at some points they have needed to first obtain a pass from the Justice Ministry.
The trial is broadcast live on Guinean television daily and is available on YouTube. The proceedings are widely watched and discussed, and one diplomat has described the trial as “riveting the nation.” The state broadcaster RTG has set up its TV and radio stations in the court building, and staff broadcast each hearing. The trial is not broadcast in full on radio, but summaries of proceedings are broadcast in French and local languages, according to one journalist who is covering the trial. Print media report on the highlights of the hearings in short articles and on social media. Some journalists have received training organized by the UN Office for the High Commissioner of Human Rights to assist in their coverage of the trial.
Some lawyers have described the trial as “hypermediatized,” as every minute of the trial is broadcast and there is such widespread coverage of the proceedings. Justice advocates, journalists, and trial observers have noted that the broadcasts could allow Guinea to learn lessons from its past, raise awareness on the country’s justice needs and increase public confidence in the national judicial process.
One lawyer told Human Rights Watch that the extent of coverage offers advantages, but also presents security risks given that the names and images of those who take the stand publicly as victims and witnesses are so widely disseminated. The extensive dissemination of information also has fueled theories around who should be found guilty and who should be found innocent, which risks creating pressure on the judges presiding over the case, another lawyer said.
Despite the extensive media coverage and broadcasting of the trial, there has been no outreach conducted on the trial. Outreach programming includes discussions and other exchanges with the communities most affected by the crimes on key issues and players in the trial to increase understanding and awareness. This is a missed opportunity to ensure the trial’s maximum understanding and impact on ordinary Guineans.
The trial was originally anticipated to last eight months to a year, but it remains unclear how long the proceedings will take. Unanticipated developments, such as the prison guard strike and defense lawyer boycott, and the ill health of one of the accused have contributed to the trial taking longer than anticipated.
When the court returns from recess, the hearing of the victims will continue.
According to lawyers involved in the proceedings, this will be followed by hearing any witnesses who are not civil parties. After witnesses are heard, there will be what is known as a “confrontations phase,” in conjunction with the submission of any additional video and audio evidence. This phase involves aspects of cross-examination but does not necessarily involve the examination of one individual at a time, according to Guinean lawyers.
During this phase, the accused can pose questions to victims as well as other co-accused, and judges and lawyers may also raise additional questions for the accused and victims with a view to reconciling inconsistencies. The accused may also take the stand again to reply or make statements in response to issues raised by the victims, witnesses, and the co-accused.
Following confrontations, the civil parties, prosecutor, and defense counsel can present final arguments (plaidoirie). The president of the court would then declare the proceedings closed and issue a judgment of guilt or innocence. Sentences may be announced at the same time, or later. The court may rule on reparations at the same time or later.
The accused and civil parties have the right to appeal within 15 days. The prosecutor has two months to appeal.
According to Guinea’s law on criminal procedure, an appeal by the prosecutor could lead to the judgment being confirmed or overturned in whole, or in part. Appeal by civil parties also could result in the confirmation of the judgment or the setting of it aside in whole as it concerns their interests.
The potential penalties for the charges faced by the 11 accused range from 16 days to a life sentence, and a fine from 500,000 to 5,000,000 Guinean Francs (approximately €53 to €533). In 2016, Guinea removed the death penalty. Before that, a moratorium was in effect.
Under the Guinean Criminal Code, those who are complicit in crimes face the same penalty as the person who commits it. Dadis Camara and his personal aide de camp, Aboubacar “Toumba” Diakité, are charged with direct responsibility, complicity, and also command responsibility.
A major question has been the type of reparations the court will award victims in the event of convictions. Under Guinean law, the reparation measures envisaged are for individuals, as opposed to communities, and would take the form of compensation and restitution. The convicted may be directed to compensate their victims for damage resulting from harm suffered. The convicted may also be directed to restore the victim to their original situation before the harm was suffered.
Considering the magnitude and unprecedented nature of the trial as well as budgetary challenges, it is uncertain whether other forms of remedy could also be granted–including the possibility of collective and symbolic reparations, such as commemorations and tributes to the victims–or if the prescribed reparation measures under Guinean law would actually be ordered.
As a result of the September 28, 2009 events, victims have suffered physical and psychological trauma, and many need compensation to access healthcare. It will be important for any reparations or other financial assistance to cover such needs.
11. What happened during the pre-trial investigation phase of the case and why did it last seven years?
During the pre-trial investigation phase, which opened on February 8, 2010 and lasted until 2017, a panel of three investigative judges heard the testimony of more than 450 victims and their family members, indicted suspects, and also questioned suspects and witnesses, including officials and members of the security services. The civil party action (partie civile) facilitated the inclusion of extensive information from victims and their families in the investigation.
The investigation’s progress was very slow and uneven. This was due in part to resource constraints, which were most likely connected to an uneven commitment by the Guinean government led by then president Alpha Condé, who was the country’s first democratically elected president, to holding those responsible to account, and a seeming hesitancy of the judges to take concrete steps forward absent unequivocal expressions of support by the executive branch of Guinea’s government.
It took more than a year at one point for the judicial panel to get basic supplies, equipment, and transportation for the judges to do their work. Key officials who were potentially implicated in the crimes and indicted suspects, namely Moussa Tiégboro Camara and Claude Pivi, also remained in government posts in which they could have potentially influenced the investigation, instead of being placed on leave.
On November 9, 2017, the panel of Guinean judges concluded the investigation phase and referred the case for trial in Conakry, with more than 14 suspects charged, including current and former high-level officials. The referral was upheld on appeal.
Two of the people indicted are believed to have died before the trial started. One is General Mamadouba Toto Camara, then-second in charge of the CNDD, and the other is Colonel Sambarou Diamakan, then commander of camp Alpha Yaya. The judges dismissed the case against Alpha Amadou Balde, Toumba Diakité’s then-private secretary.
Once the investigation was completed, the Guinean judiciary failed to move to trial for five years.
In April 2018, the Justice Ministry, under the leadership of Cheick Sako issued a decree setting up a steering committee (Comité de pilotage) tasked with the practical organization for the trial, including securing and financing it. The committee is composed of domestic and international actors, including representatives of the Justice Ministry, police, and general prosecutor, and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the European Union, United States, and civil society.
From its first meeting, the committee focused on identifying a location to hold the trial, security of the judiciary and the parties, and the trial budget. Nonetheless, the committee struggled to set a location and a date for the start of the trial. This committee was supposed to meet once a week, but only met intermittently and at times went for months without meeting. The committee had extremely lengthy discussions on some issues, including whether a new courtroom was necessary, or the trial could be held in existing court facilities.
As the months and years wore on, victims’ associations criticized the lack of political will of then president Alpha Condé’s government to see the trial through and rights organizations raised concern that questions over the setup of the trial had become a pretext to avoid starting it. Meanwhile, Condé’s government’s increasing involvement in numerous human rights violations raised larger questions about prospects for respect for rights and advancing justice in the country.
On September 5, 2021, Guinean army officers overthrew Conde’s government. They were led by Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, who remains in power. Doumbouya signaled support for justice for the September 28, 2009 crimes and attended the 2021 commemoration of the massacre. At the same time, Doumbouya indicated it was still necessary to complete a new court building to begin the trial.
In July 2022, Doumbouya indicated that the trial should open before the 2022 thirteenth anniversary of the crimes. This appears to have motivated extensive last-minute preparations to make the deadline.
On October 14, 2009, the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court announced that the situation in Guinea was under preliminary examination, a phase during which the court assesses whether it should open an investigation. The Guinean foreign minister indicated to the ICC that Guinea was “able and willing” to ensure justice for the September 2009 crimes through its national courts and that an ICC investigation was thus unnecessary.
The ICC has pursued a robust program of activity to help ensure justice for the September 2009 crimes, and appears to have been a major factor in galvanizing progress over time. The ICC prosecutor’s approach has been characterized by close monitoring of progress and hands-on, active engagement with Guinean authorities, bolstered by specific, public reminders that an ICC investigation would go ahead in the absence of justice at the local level. Regular visits to the country–focused on assessing progress in the investigation and encouraging advances–were the primary, although not the exclusive, way in which the strategy was carried out.
Guinean government officials, civil society activists, and international observers all pointed to the ICC as pivotal to domestic progress in this case.
The ICC prosecutor attended the start of the trial, after which the prosecutor’s office closed its preliminary examination. At the same time, the prosecutor’s office signed a memorandum of understanding with Guinea, saying that it would “work actively and collaboratively” with Guinean authorities to ensure accountability for the September 28 crimes.
The memorandum also states that the Office of the Prosecutor may reconsider its decision not to open an investigation “in light of any significant change in circumstances, including the imposition of any measures that might significantly hamper the progress or genuineness of the judicial proceedings related to the 28 September 2009 events.” The ICC continues to track developments in the trial, including through a visit to Guinea in 2023, to assess progress and is expected to continue to be a vital source of encouragement for the trial’s effective progress and conclusion.
A range of international and domestic actors beyond the ICC contributed to the ultimate opening of the trial. They tracked progress over a period of years and the challenges in the progress of the case and insisted on justice for the September 28, 2009, crimes through encouragement, pressure, and financial support.
In the months after the crimes were committed, the International Commission of Inquiry on Guinea provided documentation of the abuses, identified people to be investigated, and recommended that the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights should establish a presence in Guinea. The UN Human Rights Council stressed the need for accountability for the September 28 crimes and provided for the opening of an office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Guinea, which helped facilitate assistance to the judges conducting the investigation.
The Office of the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict and its Team of Experts for Rule of Law/Sexual Violence in Conflict played a particularly important role, repeatedly stressing the importance of accountability for the September 28 crimes, conducting multiple visits to the country, and making an international expert available to support justice efforts. The expert has been a source of advice and encouragement throughout the process.
Guinean and international nongovernmental organizations, including victims’ associations, were central to progressing the investigation of the September 28 massacre, rapes, and other abuses by acting as civil parties. Domestic and international groups, including Human Rights Watch, consistently advocated for greater government support to the domestic investigation as well.
The September 2021 coup, organized by army officers of the National Committee for Reconciliation and Development (Comité national du rassemblement et du développement, CNRD) and led by Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, ousted former President Alpha Condé. The junta has undermined respect for rights since coming to power. In May 2022, the CNRD banned demonstrations indefinitely and dissolved the country’s opposition coalition. According to international media sources, the CNRD has lagged on a transition to civilian rule but Doumbouya officially agreed in October 2022 to do so by January 1, 2025.
In 2023, according to international media sources, protests opposing the junta in Conakry and smaller-scale demonstrations around the country resulted in civilian deaths and arrests at the hands of state security forces. Many of the protests have been led by the Forces Vives de Guinée, a coalition of civil society actors and political parties calling primarily for the release of political prisoners, lifting the ban on demonstrations and political dialogue.
The Guinean authorities’ support for justice for the September 28, 2009, massacre, rapes, and other abuses should continue. That support should be part of broader measures to ensure respect for human rights, including removing a ban on public protests and dissolution of the opposition. 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.
International and regional entities that have encouraged advances in the pursuit of justice of Guinea have an important role to play in continuing to maximize the prospects of fair, credible justice for the September 28 crimes. This includes:
Encouragement and scrutiny: The ICC should continue scrutiny of the trial’s progress, particularly with regular visits to ensure that Guinea is upholding its commitments under the memorandum of understanding.
Other international entities, including the United Nations, the African Union (AU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the EU, and the US, should continue to closely track the trial’s progress, and encourage continued advances consistent with international standards. Diplomats have sometimes viewed pressing for accountability as sensitive or too difficult. However, experience has shown that the risks of not prioritizing justice for serious crimes are too high to ignore. Persistent impunity for human rights violations in Guinea has fueled abuses and undermined the country’s positive development.
Ensuring the landmark trial has adequate resources: There are ongoing concerns about available resources for the trial. The Guinean government has funded the trial to date and in July approved additional resources to cover trial costs. The EU and the US have pledged to offer financial support to the trial, but the only financial support made available to date based on available information is to the civil parties by the European Union, and one contribution by the Austrian government according to one media report. It remains unclear to what extent international partners will provide assistance, more so because some international partners, such as the US government, may not apparently provide financial assistance to the current authorities as they came to power through a coup.
The steering committee for the stadium massacre trial (Comité de pilotage) offers an important vehicle to work through and resolve financial concerns that threaten the disruption of the landmark trial so that victims can see justice delivered at last. The trial is too significant to be curtailed by insufficient resources, Human Rights Watch said.
Technical assistance: Trials of grave crimes are complex and benefit from specialized expertise. Guinea has never engaged in prosecutions of this magnitude and can be expected to need assistance. This can include training on specialized areas of law and practice related to cases involving serious crimes, some of which has been organized already by French authorities, assistance for victim and witness protection and support, and potentially even forensic exhumations of mass graves. The AU, ECOWAS, US government, EU, ICC, and UN should raise with Guinean officials the issue of assistance that could be made available and invite requests for technical assistance and support.