More than a decade after 150 people were killed, Guinea puts a former president on trial

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — The trial of the former president of Guinea and 10 others accused of responsibility for the 2009 stadium massacre and rape began Wednesday in the country’s capital, as survivors and relatives of the victims They hope it will bring justice.

Thirteen years ago, on September 28, 2009, security forces stormed a stadium where tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters were demonstrating against the then president, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, who had seized power in a coup.

More than 150 people were killed, hundreds more were injured and at least 109 women were raped or sexually assaulted. according to a UN investigation Y witness accounts compiled by Human Rights Watch.

The trial is unprecedented in Guinea, with a new courtroom built in the capital, Conakry, for the occasion. The case is seen by many human rights experts as a test for a West African country to hold military officers accountable.

The trial comes even as military leaders have toppled governments across the region, including in Guinea, a nation of 13 million where Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, a US-trained officer, staged a coup last year. Guinea has suffered decades of state repression and impunity, leaving some observers to question whether its historically weak judiciary can hold a fair trial for the massacre.

Since Colonel Doumbouya took power in September 2021, the Guinean authorities have cracked down on civil liberties, including banning demonstrations, disbanding the country’s main pro-democracy coalition and firing live ammunition. against the protesters. At least seven protesters were killed in clashes with security forces this summer. Colonel Doumbouya’s government has pushed for the trial, which is expected to last at least a year, to go ahead and has framed it as an opportunity for long overdue justice.

Many survivors of the 2009 massacre and relatives of the victims have praised him for bringing the country’s former president and others to justice, despite criticism of his government from human rights groups.

“He is a soldier who thinks of us, who takes into account our pain and abandonment,” said Sarah Cissé, 43, a Guinean political activist and former humanitarian worker who participated in the 2009 demonstration. “I want to thank him.”

The officials who are on trial include Captain Camara; his aide-de-camp, who according to witnesses was at the stadium and directed the guards there; and the head of a gendarmerie unit involved in the killings. Shortly after the massacre, Capt. Camara deflected responsibility for the aide-de-camp from him, who shot Capt. Camara in the head in retaliation, according to authorities at the time. Captain Camara, who had held power in Guinea for about a year, survived the shooting and lived in exile in Burkina Faso until he returned to Guinea last week for trial.

His lawyer, Pépé Antoine Lama, said that Captain Camara would plead not guilty. “He has always asked to return home to face justice.” the UN investigation He said he had “command responsibility” for the massacre and accused him of “criminal responsibility.”

The United Nations has labelled violence in 2009 as a crime against humanity, and Human Rights Watch said that violence it was premeditated.

Witness testimony revealed that hundreds of members of the red beret presidential guard, gendarmes and riot police assaulted the stadium and opened fire as civil society activists and opposition supporters sang in a mostly peaceful atmosphere.

The soldiers subsequently raped dozens of women in and around the stadium, sexually assaulting them with their weapons and killing several after raping them, according to testimonials compiled by Human Rights Watch. The United Nations said security forces were armed with pistols, clubs, knives and AK-47-style rifles, among other weapons.

Later, more women were taken from the stadium and a clinic to private homes, where members of the presidential guard raped them for days, according to testimonies.

“It went on for hours, or longer, for some,” said Cissé, who said she had been sexually assaulted by so many soldiers that she passed out. “In broad daylight.”

Asmaou Diallo, whose son was killed at the stadium, said she wanted “justice, reparations and guarantees that this will never happen again.”

Guinean authorities launched an investigation into the massacre in 2010, which ended in 2017. But it took five more years and new political leadership to organize the trial.

Credit…Seyllou/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Still, many human rights observers doubt that the trial can be conducted fairly, or safely, in Guinea’s current political climate. And lawyers say they have received little assurance that witnesses and victims’ relatives can, without fear of reprisal, testify against the defendants, who may still benefit from some support within the armed forces.

Alpha Amadou Bah, leader of a group of lawyers representing more than 600 survivors and relatives of victims, said there was also a risk the board could turn it into an impeachment trial.

On Tuesday night, Captain Camara was interviewed by a prosecutor and detained along with two former high-ranking military officers, his lawyer told reporters.

“How efficiently and meaningfully the trial proceeds, with an opening that is not just ceremonial, remains an open question,” said Elise Keppler, deputy international justice director at Human Rights Watch, who was in Conakry for the hearing. opening of the trial.

Ms. Cissé, a former political activist and survivor, echoed these concerns. “If we start and don’t finish, it will only be more traumatic for us, as victims.”

Mohamed Barry contributed reporting from Conakry, Guinea.