Guinea

On 22 December 2008, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara took power in a bloodless coup, which ended fifty years of rule characterised by undemocratic governance and the systematic violation of human rights under two successive presidents, Ahmed Sékou Touré (1958 to 1984) and Lansana Condé (1984 to 2008). Despite his promise to introduce democratic reforms, Dadis Camara instead entrenched military rule, committed widespread human rights violations, and failed to hold long-promised elections.

On 28 September 2009, tens of thousands of oppositions supporters gathered in Conakry Stadium: at 11:30 am, several hundred members of the security forces entered the stadium and opened fire on the crowd, killing at least 156 people and injuring or sexually assaulting more than 1400 others.1  In the days that followed, security forces continued to commit rape, murder and looting in neighbourhoods primarily populated by opposition supporters. The Guinean authorities and security forces engaged in a cover-up of the massacre, destroying evidence and removing bodies.2

An International Commission of Inquiry mandated by the UN Secretary General concluded that crimes against humanity were committed in widespread and systematic attacks by state security forces against the civilian population on September 28 and in the following days. The Commission confirmed that at least 156 persons were killed, hundreds of persons were tortured or suffered other inhumane treatment, and at least 109 women subjected to rape and other acts of sexual violence, including mutilation and sexual slavery. A parallel civil society investigation led by Human Rights Watch concluded that the crimes were not the actions of a rogue group of soldiers but an organised and coordinated attack on civilians.3  

In October 2009, the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened a preliminary examination into alleged atrocity crimes committed in the context of the September 2009 Conakry Stadium massacre, “including crimes against humanity of murder; imprisonment or other severe deprivation of liberty; torture; rape and other forms of sexual violence; persecution; and enforced disappearances. The preliminary examination also focuses on the existence and genuineness of national proceedings in relation to these crimes.”

The country’s first free and fair presidential elections, which were held in December 2010 while Dadis Camara was outside the country recovering from an assassination attempt, were won by the country’s current leader, Alpha Condé. Although he pledged to implement democratisation and strengthen the rule of law, his tenure has been marred by accusations of corruption and political violence, which continues to be perpetrated during regional and national elections.4  In 2020, Condé secured a third term as president, following a constitutional referendum boycotted by the opposition.5

Commentary & Reports

United Nations Security Council (2009) Report of the International Commission of Inquiry mandated to establish the facts and circumstance of the events of 28 September 2009 in Guinea (EN/FR)

In October 2009 the UN Secretary General established an international commission of inquiry into the events of 28 September 2009. The Report concluded that the Guinean security forces committed crimes against humanity during the attack and in the days that followed.  

Human Rights Watch “Bloody Monday: The September 28 Massacre and rapes by Security Forces in Guinea” 2009 (EN/FR)

In the immediate aftermath of the September 2009 attacks, Human Rights Watch conducted an in-depth investigation into the events, basing their research on interviews with 240 witnesses.  

Accountability in Guinea

Priorities and challenges for strengthening accountability for international crimes in Guinea

FOLLOW THE TIMELINE BY CLICKING ON THE ARROWS​
1 October 2003
22 December 2008
23 December 2008
28 September 2009
14 October 2009
30 October 2009
3 December 2009
17 December 2009
15 January 2010
January 2010
January 2010
8 February 2010
May 2010
27 June 2010
7 November 2010
21 December 2010
August 2011
1 February 2012
February 2013
30 April 2013
27 June 2013
January 2014
11 May 2015
June 2015
8 July 2015
11 October 2015
7-11 April 2016
July 2016
16 December 2016
10 February 2017
12 March 2017
14 March 2017
29 December 2017
April 2018
May 2019
June 2019
29 October 2019
22 March 2020
19 June 2020
9 October 2020
18 October 2020

Domestic accountability

In February 2010, five months after the September 28 stadium massacre, the Minister of Justice appointed a panel of judges to investigate crimes committed during and in the immediate aftermath of the attack. Working under difficult conditions and with minimal resources, the investigation made slow but significant progress, finally completing its work seven years later, in December 2017. The investigation led to a number of charges and arrests, in some cases involving high-ranking officials, such as sitting minister, Moussa Tiégboro Camara, the Governor of Conakry, Sékou Resco Camara, and former president, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara. 

Despite these significant steps, Guinea has not begun the long-promised trials of those most responsible for the September 2009 crimes. Human Rights Watch has followed the process closely and recorded numerous barriers to initiating the trials, including an insecure political landscape, a lack of judicial independence, and limited political support for prosecution. Various legal and institutional challenges have also delayed the trial. The insufficient protection of rights of the accused and the lack of witness and victim protection are especially critical concerns.6 

 

Play Video

Guinea: justice delayed, justice denied?

Olivier Kambala, Peace and Development Adviser in the Office of the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Madagascar, discusses the investigation and prosecution of crimes committed during the attacks of 28 September 2009 at the Conakry stadium. Kambala discusses the progress of investigations in Guinea and the role of the International Criminal Court. Kambala expresses concern about the lack of political will, as well as legal and financial difficulties that have delayed the trial, now scheduled to take place in 2021.

Citations & References

6: Human Rights Watch (2012) “Waiting for Justice”.

Capacity concerns 

Does Guinea have national capacity to hold perpetrators accountable? 

Completing investigations into the stadium massacre marked a major milestone along the path towards accountability, given the chronic lack of support and resources that the panel of judges faced during their mandate. The judges received minimal salaries, had insufficient security details, and lacked basic supplies such as computers and even pens. Despite these conditions, the panel heard testimony from more than 450 victims and witnesses. 

If and when launched, the trials of those most responsible for the September 28 massacre will be complex, lengthy and highly sensitive. This presents numerous challenges to a judicial system that continues to suffer from structural weaknesses after decades of poor governance. The high profiles of the accused, combined with insufficient legal and institutional protections for witnesses and victims, pose significant risks to both defendants and those who may testify before the courts. Considerable logistical and operational planning is also needed well in advance, if the trial is to proceed in a timely and credible manner.7 The court will require a strategy for managing the large number of victims seeking to participate and the anticipated high degree of media interest and public scrutiny. 

The challenge of organising trials for those most responsible for the alleged crimes committed on 28 September 2009 has harshly highlighted wider shortfalls and weaknesses ailing Guinea’s judicial and security services. Chronic underfunding has led to inadequate training of police, and contributed to high levels of corruption in the country.8 Although some improvements were made since the end of military rule, the independence of the courts is still in question. The ruling party has intensified its crackdown on opposition groups in recent years, and in some instances has leveraged the judicial system against members of the political opposition.9

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International Criminal Justice in West Africa

Roland Adjovi, International Law Advisor for the Global Maritime Crime Programme in West Africa at UNODC, analyses the relationship between national, regional and international judicial mechanisms and their application in West Africa. He also reviews various legal instruments, tools and mechanisms, such as the Malabo Protocol, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the International Criminal Court and hybrid courts.

Commentary & Reports

FIDH “Justice, Reconciliation and Legislative Reform: Three Priorities for Rule of Law in Guinea” (2017)

In this report, FIDH documents progress made on strengthening rule of law in Guinea. It expresses concerns over the complexity of the planned trial and the enduring weaknesses in the justice sector. The report finds that the Guinean government must urgently act on preparations, if the trial is to go forward in a timely and credible matter. 

LandInfo “Guinée: La police et le système judiciaire” (2011) 

This report reviews the structure, capacities and shortfalls of the Guinean police and judiciary. It determines that the justice system is slow, chronically underfinanced and lacks independence. Corruption has undermined the legitimacy of the judicial sector, the report finds, often allowing the rich to live above the law.

Human Rights Watch “Waiting for Justice” (2012) 

The report documents the obstacles that contributed to impeding the progress of the investigative commission, pointing to political, institutional and operational challenges. 

Establishing a legal framework for prosecuting international crimes in domestic courts 

Can perpetrators be held to account in Guinea?

To the disappointment of victims’ groups, the panel of three domestic judges leading the seven-year investigation into the September 28 stadium massacre and its aftermath, reclassified charges of ‘crimes against humanity’ as ‘ordinary crimes’ when issuing their final report. In explaining their decision, the judges note that Guinea only acquired statutory jurisdiction to prosecute international crimes in 2016. Hence, in 2010, when the accused were indicted for the crimes of September 2009, the Prosecutor General to the Court of Appeal did not include crimes against humanity.

Although removing the charge of crimes against humanity was challenged by victims’ groups, in June 2019 the Supreme Court dismissed the plea in a decision that cannot be taken on appeal. This ruling was handed down, despite the United Nations investigation’s description of the massacre as a crime against humanity and the OTP’s ongoing preliminary examination dating from October 2009.

Commentary & Reports

Diawo Barry “Guinée: la Cour suprême clôt enquête sur les massacre du 28 septembre 2009, une étape de plus vers l’ouverture du procès” (jeune afrique: 26 June 2019) 

In a decision that cannot be appealed, Guinea’s Supreme Court finally closed investigations into the September 28 Stadium massacre in June 2019. Although investigations finished in 2017, the process was reopened by civil parties contesting the requalification of crimes against humanity to ordinary crimes. 

Diawo Barry “Massacre du 28 septembre 2009 en Guinée : deux officiers soupçonnés bénéficient d’un non-lieu” (jeune afrique: 12 January 2018) 

When the panel of investigating judges finished their work in December 2017, conditions were met for a trial to open in Dixinn, outside Conakry. Civil parties were not, however, satisfied with the outcome of the investigation. Charges against two prominent suspects were dropped, and the charge of ‘crimes against humanity’ was ultimately changed to a charge of ‘ordinary crimes’. 

Political Will

 

Guinea has made slow yet notable efforts towards putting those most responsible for the September 28 stadium massacre on trial, going as far as indicting sitting senior officials and high-ranking members of the former government. This slow but steady progress has often led prominent international observers to characterise Guinea as a context where significant political will for criminal prosecutions of international crimes exists but is undermined by a lack of resources and capacity.10 

After a decade of delays, many of those same observers now worry that the slow pace of investigations and preparations for the trial are better explained by the government’s reluctance to follow through on its promise of prosecutions, and moreover that this lack of political will is being masked by the appearance of ongoing cooperation with the ICC Prosecutor’s office.11 This concern has heightened in recent years in light of the sitting government’s own involvement in numerous human rights violations during increasingly frequent episodes of electoral violence. The Condé regime’s role in election-related human rights violations may have dampened its initially professed willingness to bring to trial individuals accused of crimes committed by the previous regime.12

Citations & References

 

10: Human Rights Watch (2012) “Waiting for Justice”.

11: Human Rights Watch (2020) “Guinea: Violence During Referendum, Investigate Abuses, Rein in Security Forces”.  

12: Ibid.

Commentary & Reports

Human Rights Watch “Guinea: Violence During Referendum, Investigate Abuses, Rein in Security Forces” (2020) EN/FR

The report documents recent crackdowns on political opposition by security forces, leading to the death of at least eight people during 2020, including two children. At least forty others were forcibly ‘disappeared’. The report condemns continued impunity for these human rights violations and expresses concern that impunity is a driving force behind the violence.

VOA “Crise politique meurtrière : des clés pour comprendre” (2019)

In a process that appeared politically motivated, eight opposition leaders stood trial for their role in leading demonstrations against President Condé’s efforts to secure a third term. The demonstrations turned deadly when security services used excessive force against demonstrators. The case comes in the wake of increasingly harsh crackdowns on opposition protests over recent years.

Impunity and its consequences

The Guinean government has regularly pledged itself to ensuring accountability for the grave crimes committed in September 2009, yet impunity remains the norm for human rights violations committed during more recent episodes of electoral violence or crackdowns on political demonstrations.13 In 2020, the Guinean authorities harassed, intimidated and arbitrarily arrested opposition members and human rights defenders with impunity, following the frequent episodes of excessive use of force against protestors by gendarmes and police.14

Human rights monitors contend that a culture of impunity for the perpetrators of human rights violations is a driving force behind worsening cycles of political violence surrounding Guinean elections in recent years. In light of these developments, national groups and international observers increasingly worry that a lack of political will for accountability, rather than operational or financial issues, is the primary source of ongoing delays in putting those most responsible for the September 2009 crimes on trial.15

Citations & References

13: Cellou Dalien Diallo (2020) “Guinea: Downfall of Democracy? An Interview with Former Prime Minister”, Freiheit.org.

14: Amnesty International (2020) “Guinea: Stadium massacre victims await justice”.

15: Ibid.

Commentary & Reports

Amnesty International “Guinea: Stadium massacre victims await justice” (2020) (EN/FR)

Ten years after the transition to democracy, impunity largely prevails in Guinea where security forces are implicated in crimes. The completion of a credible investigation into September 2009 crimes raised hopes for justice, but eleven years is ample time to prepare a trial of this scale and as yet no trial has opened. Fears are mounting amongst victims and civil society groups that Guinea ultimately lacks the political will to move forward with prosecutions.

Astrid Chitou “Elusive Justice for Guinea Leaves Open Wounds” (justiceinfo.net: 13 November 2019) 

The article offers insights into the lives of victims and their families. The author highlights that their suffering is not merely the result of ongoing impunity: the victims interviewed explain how their lives were forever changed by debilitating injury and the loss of family breadwinners. There is a continuum, the author argues, between the long wait for justice for the Stadium Massacre and ongoing impunity for death and injury suffered during political protests in the years since. 

FIDH “Guinée: Le temps de la justice?” (2015)  

This report documents progress on national investigations. The authors contend that a continuum exists between ongoing impunity for September 2009 crimes and repeating cycles of electoral violence.

Cellou Dalien Diallo “Guinea: Downfall of Democracy An Interview with Former Prime Minister” (Frieheit.org: 17 April 2020)

This interview with Guinea’s former prime minister offers an analysis of why impunity remains for grave crimes committed by the last regime. Referring to recent political developments such as the constitutional referendum, the former prime minister argues that Guinea has the legal foundation to ensure justice but lacks the political will.

International justice  

In the ten years since October 2009, when the OTP opened its preliminary examination into international crimes committed on and after 28 September 2009, it has adopted a strategy of combining active encouragement of domestic investigations with close scrutiny of the country’s progress towards prosecutions. The Guinean government has shown itself open to these engagements and has actively cooperated with the ICC. Since taking power in 2010, the Condé administration has made a concerted effort to improve Guinea’s international reputation. Avoiding an ICC investigation is an important part of these efforts to improve Guinea’s image as a rights-respecting, democratic nation.16

Complementarity 

“Positive complementarity” is a term used by the OTP to characterise the ICC’s approach towards its preliminary examination in Guinea.17 The term refers to a strategy of active engagement by the Court in helping a state fulfil its Rome Statute obligations, whereby states and the ICC are seen as partners who share the common goal of and responsibility for ending impunity for international crimes.18 In Guinea, the Prosecutor’s office has supported domestic investigations through regular visits, benchmarking steps in the investigation, and building alliances with national institutions. Civil society groups have credited the ICC approach with slowly pushing national investigations forward through a combination of assistance and pressure.19

The ICC Prosecutor’s preliminary examination and targeted support for justice have had a notable impact, marking a significant achievement for the OTP, which could serve as a model approach for positive complementarity henceforth.20 That said, despite measurable progress towards domestic justice, the trial itself has not yet opened, more than a decade after investigations started and three years after they finished. In this regard, the Guinean example may also signal a risk entailed in the ‘positive complementarity’ approach, in that close cooperation with the OTP could, under some circumstances, facilitate delays, by masking government reluctance to follow through with domestic prosecutions, behind the legitimacy gained from close engagement with the ICC.21

Citations & References

 

16: Human Rights Watch (2018) “Pressure Point: The ICC’s Impact on National Justice”

17: ICC Office of the Prosecutor (2020) “Report on Preliminary Examination Activities”, ICC.  

18: Will Colish (2013) “The ICC in Guinea: A Case Study of Complementarity”, Révue Quebecoise de droit international.

19: Human Rights Watch (2018) “Pressure Point: The ICC’s Impact on National Justice”.

20: Ibid.

21: Nour Saadi (2017) “La volonté politique et la capacité national : Le massacre du 28 septembre et la Cour pénale international”, CHRLP Working Paper Series Vol. 5 no. 1.

Commentary & Reports

Will Colish “The International Criminal Court in Guinea: A Case Study of Complementarity” (Révue Quebecoise de droit international: 2013)

Colish describes the Guinea case as a combination of strong willingness and weak capacity. This combination, Colish contends, makes it an ideal case to analyse the activities and impacts of a ’positive complementarity’ approach. 

Human Rights Watch “Pressure Point: The ICC’s Impact on National Justice” (HRW: 2018)

The report includes Guinea among a series of case studies analysing the impacts of ICC-led global interventions on national level justice processes. The Guinea case illustrates how close engagement with the ICC helped create and reinforce expectations that the domestic judiciary would pursue accountability for the September 28 massacre.

Nour Saadi “La volonté politique et la capacité national : Le massacre du 28 septembre et la Cour pénale international” (CHRLP Working Paper Series Vol. 5 n. 1 2017)  

The ongoing failure to open a domestic trial for the September 28 massacre highlights a potential risk in the ICC’s ‘positive complementarity’ approach. If, in the end, justice is indefinitely postponed in Guinea, the case could be seen as an example of this approach ultimately contributing to inaction in certain circumstances. Such an outcome would hurt the credibility of the ICC Prosecutor’s office in similar contexts going forward. 

Prosecuting sexual violence

At least 109 victims of rape, gang rape and sexual slavery are among the victims of the September 2009 stadium massacre and its aftermath. The Rome Statute provides a more developed articulation of gender justice than does any prior instrument of international criminal law. There is, however, a disconnect between gender justice provisions detailed in the Rome Statute and the central place of the complementarity principle in that same statute. In essence, the complementarity principle establishes that the ICC can only investigate and prosecute international crimes where domestic actors and judicial institutions are not doing so or are unable or unwilling to do so. 

Yet gender biases underpin most domestic legal and judicial systems. For the ICC’s more developed articulation of gender justice to be exercised within the complementarity regime, an assessment of discriminatory or biased practices on issues related to gender in domestic courts and legislation would need to be included within the Prosecutor’s wider assessment of the admissibility of ICC jurisdiction — something not currently done on a formalised basis.22 If and when the trial of those most responsible for the September 28 massacre goes forward, inattention to gender bias in the national judicial system will help preserve impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence and risk leaving this group of victims unrecognised.

Citations & References

22: Chappell et al (2013) “The Gender Shadow of Complementarity: Lessons from the ICC Preliminary Examinations in Guinea & Colombia” International Journal of Transitional Justice.

Commentary & Reports

Chappell et al “The Gender Shadow of Complementarity: Lessons from the ICC Preliminary Examinations in Guinea & Colombia” (International Journal of Transitional Justice: 2013)

This article argues that there is a “shadow side” to complementarity in relation to gender justice. Gender biases in the domestic legislation and judicial sector that impede access to justice for victims of sexual violence risk being reproduced under the complementarity principle. Tackling impunity for sexual violence through complementarity should therefore also include a careful examination of gender biases in domestic legal systems by the Prosecutor’s office.

Admissibility before the ICC

The OTP publishes annual preliminary examination reports on a country-by-country basis, which may help experts determine whether situations under preliminary examination, such as Guinea, should progress towards official investigation. Admissibility assessments focus on whether national authorities are ‘willing and able’ to conduct genuine investigations and prosecutions, and whether such proceedings are being conducted with a clear intent to bring perpetrators to justice within a reasonable time frame. The Court’s preliminary examination in Guinea is currently in the admissibility phase.

In its 2020 report, the OTP commended the Guinean Minister of Justice’s commitment to open trial proceedings for the September 2009 crimes in June 2020, yet highlighted Guinea’s evident failure to meet that deadline. While acknowledging the challenges posed by COVID-19, the Prosecutor noted the government’s failure to take possible alternative measures to facilitate the opening of the trial, such as convening the trials’ steering committee, and concluded that, though the Guinean authorities had made significant progress in recent years, no new steps were taken in 2020 towards prosecuting those most responsible for the September 2009 crimes. The Prosecutor has warned Guinea that the time and effort which the OTP is willing to accord domestic proceedings is not ‘indefinite’.

 

Commentary & Reports

ICC Office of the Prosecutor “Report on Preliminary Examination Activities” (ICC: 2020) (EN/FR

The Office of the Prosecutor’s admissibility assessment found that national authorities had made notable progress towards investigations and prosecutions in past years, but that no new steps were taken since Guinea’s failure to meet its self-assigned deadline of June 2020. A benchmarking framework, defined by the Prosecutor’s office and setting clear targets that must be met to avoid an ICC investigation, is forthcoming.

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