"We are Guineans and we will judge Guineans”

In Guinea’s capital Conakry, the trial of the September 28, 2009 massacre started symbolically thirteen years after the crime, with a grand opening and a three-hour hearing. This is an exceptional judicial event for Guinea, with a former head of state in the dock.

Moussa Dadis Camara (right) sits next to a co-accused during his trial in Conakry, Guinea.Former Guinean head of state Moussa Dadis Camara (in white boubou), surrounded by co-accused, on 28 September 2022 in Conakry. © Matthias Raynal
4 min 35Approximate reading time

This Wednesday, September 28, 2022, a relentless sun blazed on the ad hoc tribunal and the tiny courtyard in front of its entrance. Tents were set up here for Guinean officials, foreign diplomats and members of international organizations. The president of the National Transitional Council (CNT) - Guinea's post-coup national assembly – was there, and some influential figures from the ruling junta, the CNRD, such as Colonel Balla Samoura, head of the gendarmerie. Also present were the UN Secretary General's Special Representative on Sexual Violence, Pramila Patten, and the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Karim Khan. He welcomed this moment, adding that "this is only the beginning of a process", and promising that the ICC would follow it "very closely”. They had all come to attend the opening ceremony and start of the trial on the September 28, 2009 massacre, which left at least 156 people dead and hundreds injured. Guinea's strongman for the past year, Colonel Mamadi Doumbouya, did not attend, although he had been expected.

In the courtroom, chairs were set up to replace those that were supposed to be there but whose delivery had been delayed. The floor and mezzanine were full up with people. Arriving last, journalists tried to find a place to position their cameras. Dozens of Guinean media were present, as well as a handful of foreign journalists. At 3 p.m. people suddenly stopped talking and all eyes turned to the man who had just made his entrance.

Karim Khan (right), the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) sits next to Pramila Patten, UN Secretary General on Sexual Violence.
International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan (right) at the inauguration of the ad hoc tribunal in Conakry, Guinea, on 28 September 2022. He is sitting next to Pramila Patten, the UN Secretary General's Special Representative on Sexual Violence. © Matthias Raynal

A former head of state in the dock

Moussa Dadis Camara, who was in power from December 2008 to January 2010, walked calmly towards a glass booth. It was 3.15 p.m. when the trial opened with the roll call of the defendants. From a podium decorated with the three national colours, a judge in red robe and white collar read the charges against the former head of state. "You are appearing before this court for having (...), with full knowledge of the facts, by provocation, and provision of instructions, participated in the murders and assassinations committed" in and around a stadium in the suburbs of Conakry on September 28, 2009, said court president Ibrahima Sory Tounkara to Captain Camara and then, in turn, the ten other co-accused present. All of them were military and government agents at the time. The court president chose not to ask them whether they pleaded guilty or not.

These soldiers and gendarmes of various ranks are accused of a litany of crimes: sexual violence, torture, kidnapping, arson and looting. The audience was plunged into the horror as the court recounted that September 28 and the days that followed, the murder of peaceful demonstrators, the wounded who were prevented from receiving treatment in Conakry's clinics, and the rapes of many women. This is a trial “for history," the court said, giving exceptional authorization to film during the hearing. All TV channels, whether private or public, broadcast the same images in Guinea.

The hopes and fears of women victims

The defendants were invited to take the stand one by one. They were asked for family name, first name, marital status, professional status. When it was Moussa Dadis Camara's turn, he got up slowly to stand in front of the varnished wooden desk. May I keep my glasses on?" he asked the court president politely. Camara answered the questions in a small voice. As he listened to the charges, he remained impassive. But once back on his bench, he could not keep still, searching his pockets frantically, playing with his oversized gold bracelet. On him were the eyes of dozens of women who were sexually abused at the Conakry stadium. They were everywhere in the audience. "We were much more affected than the men," confided one of them just before the start of the hearing. "September 28, 2009 is an unforgettable day for me. It's been 13 years to the day, so I'm really happy to be at the opening of this trial. We have been fighting all this time, and I never thought this day would come. I pray to God that this trial will come to an end without any problems. Maybe this trial will ensure that something like this never happens again in our country.” She says she is here to get "reparation". She is still struggling to put into words what happened to her, and has not yet decided whether she will testify during the trial.

One of the challenges of this trial will be how the media cover it and use of the victims' image. By coming forward, these women risk renewed rejection, shame and stigmatization. On the day of this initial hearing, Guinean journalists were busy discussing this. Should they be there, or was this trial so sensitive that it should be held behind closed doors? What measures have been taken to allow victims to testify anonymously, as the defendants continue to cause fear, particularly the former head of the junta. Indeed, one of the victims said she did not want to reveal her identity for fear of possible reprisals.

"Justice is peace”

It was almost 6 p.m. when the parties were given the floor. The defence lawyers asked for a postponement of the case to allow them to better prepare. They claim to have received the details of the investigation file only the day before, on a USB key. This was the only moment of unanimity between all the lawyers present: "We do not want a summary trial in which the rights of the defence are not respected," said Martin Pradel, lawyer for the civil parties. The trial was therefore postponed to October 4. "I am satisfied. This is the beginning. Today was the launch, and now the time has come for us to do technical work," said Fodé Mohamed Béavogui, lawyer for two defendants, as he left the hearing.

"I am proud of Guinea,” said a victim in her forties. “We are Guineans and we are going to judge Guineans. We are beginning to enter the rule of law. For there to be peace in a country, there must be justice. Justice is peace.”

THE 12 ACCUSED AND THEIR POSITION AT THE TIME OF THE EVENTS

  1. Moussa Dadis Camara, self-proclaimed head of state of Guinea.
  2. Aboubakar Sidiki Diakité, known as "Toumba", former aide-de-camp to Moussa Dadis Camara.
  3. Moussa Tiégboro Camara, gendarmerie colonel, at the time minister in charge of the fight against drugs and organized crime.
  4. Abdoulaye Cherif Diaby, army colonel, Minister of Health and Public Hygiene.
  5. Claude Pivi, known as "Coplan", army colonel in charge of presidential security.
  6. Marcel Guilavogui, military officer, deputy to Lieutenant Toumba.
  7. Cécé Raphaël Haba, soldier and bodyguard of Moussa Dadis Camara.
  8. Alpha Amadou Baldé, gendarme, secretary of the commando regiment.
  9. Mamadou Aliou Keïta, gendarme.
  10. Ibrahima Camara, known as "Kalonzo", gendarme.
  11. Blaise Gomou, gendarme, member of the anti-drug brigade.
  12. Paul Mansa Guilavogui, soldier.