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In Guinea, the historic trial of the September 28, 2009 massacre

On September 28, 2009, a terrible massacre mourned Guinea. Thirteen years later to the day, a trial has finally taken place in Conakry.

In Guinea, the interminable wait for the trial of those responsible for the September 28, 2009 massacre, so often announced and then postponed, has ended September 28, 2022.

Exactly 13 years after the events began in Conakry the trial of former military and government officials of the junta then in place, the National Council for Democracy and Development (CNDD).

A total of 13 people were indicted and referred to Guinean criminal justice for trial. Only 12 are currently appearing, the General Mamadouba Toto Camara, number 2 of the CNDD, having died in 2021. Among them are notably Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, head of the CNDD, as well as his aide-de-camp and head of the presidential guard, Lieutenant Aboubakar Sidiki Diakité (known as Toumba).

Thirteen years of waiting

Let us recall that on September 28, 2009, an opposition rally had turned to drama in the Guinean capital. While a crowd of opponents gathered in the Conakry stadium to demonstrate against the presidential candidacy of the captain Moussa Dadis Camara, the security forces had brutally repressed the rally.

A sign of the scope of the trial, its opening took place in presence of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Karim Khan, who insisted on the importance of the credibility of a fair procedure which lives up to the expectations of the victims and is not limited to an announcement effect.

Guinea, which has ratified the Rome Statute in 2003, has been the subject of a preliminary examination by the ICC since October 2009 on the crimes committed on September 28, 2009, but also on the existence and authenticity of national proceedings relating to these crimes.

Massacre of September 28 in Guinea: the ex-dictator Camara imprisoned before the trial (France24, September 28, 2022).

Over the past 13 years, the ICC Office of the Prosecutor has worked to engage Guinean authorities to honor their promise to deliver justice in this case in a “positive complementarity” with the ICC. , the latter having authority to act only if the national courts do not have the capacity or the will to judge. In other words, even when there is capacity, the will must still be real. In this respect, Karim Khan announced that the opening of the trial, subject to its success, would mark the end of the preliminary examination initiated.

A breakthrough and a surprise

The start of the September 28, 2009 massacre trial is both a major breakthrough and a surprise.

This is a major step forward, because it is the first time in Guinea, since independence in 1958, that senior political and military leaders have been tried by a court for acts qualified as assassinations, murders, rape and sexual violence, acts of torture and violence, kidnapping and pillage committed against the civilian population.

The qualification of crime against humanity was not retained. However, the common law offenses listed in the order of dismissal of the investigating judges do cover the events that took place at the Conakry stadium, during which at least 156 people were killed, 109 women were victims of rape and other sexual violence, including sexual mutilation, while hundreds of people suffered acts of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

The progress is indisputable, given the the impunity that the perpetrators of human rights violations have always enjoyed in this country. The file of the procedure was transmitted by the Supreme Court to a criminal court constituted for the occasion; available magistrates have been appointed; lawyers are present to assist the victims and defend the defendants; the 12 defendants appear in person; a new and spacious room was specially dedicated to the holding of the trial; the judgment is public and the press attends. The conditions therefore seem to be met, at least in appearance, for the holding of a true "historic" trial.

The start of the trial is also a surprise. Since 2017, the date of the end of the judicial investigation into the massacre, the impression has emerged that no government in Guinea really wanted such a trial to be held, with possible political repercussions. Those close to President Alpha Condé (in office from 2010 until coup d'etat which caused its fall in 2021) often justified the non-organization of the trial by the fact that it would risk destabilizing the military institution (from which all the accused come) and provoking a crisis in the region of Forest Guinea from which Captain Moussa Dadis Camara (and where he retains influence and networks). In addition, some of the accused (Colonels Claude Pivi and Moussa Tiégboro Camara) had retained their position in the Guinean state apparatus, whether within the team of the presidential guard or in that in charge of the fight against organized crime.

However, the schedule for the organization of the trial suddenly accelerated in July 2022, after the green light given by Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, at the head of the National Rally Committee for Development (CNRD) since the coup that brought him to power in September 2021.

Guinean justice revealed

As for the trial itself, it constitutes a challenge for Guinean justice, known less for its strengths than for its weaknesses: disorganization, corruption, slowness, low level of training of magistrates, lack of resources, political interference.

In this regard, the decision to imprison the five defendants who are still free – including Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, Colonels Claude Pivi and Moussa Tiégboro Camara and former Minister of Health Abdoulaye Cherif Diaby – seems to demonstrate that the court intends not to be impressed.

However, the conduct of such an unprecedented trial in Guinea – and hardly prepared given the sudden acceleration of the timetable since July 2022 – risks being difficult to carry out both in view of the personality of the accused and the number of victims (more than 500), the seriousness of the facts examined and the lack of experience of Guinean justice in the matter.

How will witnesses and victims be protected by national authorities during and after the trial? How will the victims be compensated? Will the trial not stretch out in length, thanks to the multiple referrals and additional information that will inevitably be requested? How will magistrates, who have little training, be able to take the measure of these facts and draft a decision that meets international standards? Will they come together to embody this independent, impartial and competent tribunal that is required for this type of case? Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, already critical for the imprisonment of members of the National Front for the Defense of the Constitution (FNDC), a civil society movement demanding respect for democratic rules, as well as for the repression of demonstrations by its supporters in Conakry, will maintain over time its commitment to the holding of the trial? So many questions that worry the international community and the NGOs that support the holding of this trial.

An incomplete trial?

A last point, and not least, raises concerns. The judicial information did not allow the constitution of a complete and detailed file on the events that took place at the Conakry stadium on September 28, 2009 and in the days that followed. The three Guinean investigating judges – who investigated between 2012 and 2017 – collected interviews with victims, witnesses and the defendants, but no scientific or material evidence of the defendants' involvement in the facts of the stadium massacre. Nor did they draw up a precise chronology of the facts, nor establish the chain of command then in place – which moreover, and inexplicably, resulted in many of the actors in the massacre never being worried and sent back to court.

Such a situation has its origins in the lack of resources of the investigating judges and the judicial police who assisted them, but also in the lack of professionalism of the investigating judges, who did not use the information at their disposal. , in particular following the reports of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry and NGO reports Human Rights Watch et International Federation for Human Rights. Will the holding of the current trial make it possible to see things more clearly and to establish the responsibilities of each party? If no one knows today, the task will undoubtedly be difficult.

Catherine maia, Professor of international law at Lusófona University in Porto (Portugal) and guest professor at Sciences Po Paris (France), Sciences Po

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.

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