Nairobi — The panel of Guinean judges investigating the September 28, 2009 massacre of more than 150 protesters and rape of 100 women by the security forces during a peaceful protest concluded their investigation on November 9 2017, Human Rights Watch said today. The development is a major, much-awaited step in ensuring justice for the victims.
The domestic investigation - which began in February 2010 - broke new ground in combatting impunity in the country, but progressed slowly amid political, financial, and logistical obstacles. During the investigation, the judges have brought charges against high-ranking members of the security forces.
"Concluding the investigation into the 2009 massacre and rapes is a major development in the case," said Elise Keppler, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch. "More than eight years after the crimes were committed, wrapping up the investigation brings the victims and family members a significant step closer to seeing justice for the crimes."
More than 14 suspects have been charged, including current and former high-level officials. Suspects include Moussa Dadis Camara, the former leader of the National Council of Democracy and Development junta which ruled Guinea in September 2009, and his vice president, Mamadouba Toto Camara. Abubakar "Toumba" Diakité, Dadis Camara's aide de camp, has also been charged, and was extradited to Guinea in March after being at liberty for more than five years.
Judges have heard the testimony of more than 450 victims and their family members, and have also questioned witnesses, including members of the security services. A civil party action (partie civile) to the case, which allows victims to join the criminal proceedings, has facilitated the inclusion of extensive information from victims and their families in the investigation. This action was initiated by the International Federation for Human Rights and victims' associations and their lawyers.
Under Guinea's legal system, the prosecutor now has up to one month to review the file prepared by the investigative judges and to propose any changes. The judges will then review the prosecutor's suggestions and make final decisions, including which suspects, if any, should be tried and under which charges. The prosecutor may lodge one appeal to the final decision of the investigative judges, after which any trials will move ahead before the criminal chamber of Dixinn (Chambre criminelle du Tribunal de première instance de Dixinn).
The International Criminal Court (ICC) opened a preliminary examination into the situation in Guinea in October 2009 and has urged the Guinean authorities to ensure progress in the investigation. The ICC is designed as a court of last resort, and the ICC only steps in when national courts are unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute cases under its authority.
Trials of suspects in the September 28, 2009 crimes are likely to be among the most - if not the most - complex and sensitive cases ever tried before Guinean courts. Measures to ensure the protection and security of witnesses, victims, defence counsel, judges, and other staff working on the case will be needed. The accused should be afforded the full range of international fair trial protections, and the Guinean authorities should consider how to best inform the general population about developments in the case to maximize its impact.
Several victims and family members described the hope they felt after learning that the investigation was closing. A 52-year-old man who was wounded and lost his business in the violence said: "I have suffered since that day - I still have pain from my injuries. I want to know the truth and have justice and reparations for all I have lost." A victim of sexual violence said, "The closure of the investigation gives me great hope and I pray to God that we will soon know the truth in the case of September 28, 2009."
One aspect, which remains unclear, is the location of mass graves believed to contain the bodies of about 100 victims who remain unaccounted for. A man whose father has been missing since the 2009 violence told Human Rights Watch that he hoped the judicial process would eventually locate his father's remains. "I have hope that one day, the truth will be known and we will finally be allowed to mourn my father, who has been missing since Monday, September 28, 2009," he said.
"The long-awaited conclusion of the September 28, 2009 investigation gives hope that accountability for the crimes may at last be possible in Guinea's domestic justice system," said Keppler. "Guinea's government and its international partners should take steps to ensure that the courts have the resources to try these cases fairly, with adequate protection and security for those involved."