Of all the international human rights organizations, only Human Rights Watch (HRW) has kept a constant, close eye on Guinea beginning with the September 28, 2009 massacre and rapes to the state-sponsored violence during the 2010 presidential campaign and during this most recent period of Alpha Conde’s stunning governance of impunity. It has been three years since the massacre and Guinea has clearly demonstrated that it meets the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) criteria for the ICC to take the case over — it is” unable or unwilling to prosecute the case.” In the September 28 case, both of these conditions apply.
In February 2012, Fatou Bensouda, who would become the Head Prosecutor at the ICC four months later, paid Alpha Conde and other government officials a visit to deliver a stern message: either Guinea get on with the investigation and prosecution of the case, or the ICC would take it over. That was ten months ago. And, now it is Human Rights Watch’s turn to bang the Guinean government over the head. HRW has been consistent in calling for the international community to pressure the Guinean government to conduct and conclude an investigation. This is important because the international community has much to do with whether the case goes to the ICC. But, the international community is loathe to apply pressure on Guinea about the case and unlikely to call for a transfer to the ICC. Why? The massacre and rapes of September 28 were committed by Guinean state security officers under orders of the ruling junta headed by Dadis Camara. If Guinea were to engage in a bald-faced investigation, it would lead directly to both civilian and military men who sit as members of Conde’s cabinet and others in high positions of the Guinean government. The international community is reluctant to go out on such a limb. During the 2010 election, the gross fraud and brutal violence, aimed at disenfranchising Peuls, were committed under the orders of interim president, General Sekouba Konate, and accomplished with little objection by the international community. Why should the September 28 case be any different? In both cases the international community was not willing to upset Guinea’s lucrative mining cart to stand up for the rule of law and human rights. Prosecuting military men for gross crimes would only raise the ire of all security forces who might be inclined to destabilize the country, negatively affecting business investment.
HRW knows this case belongs at the ICC and its report on what Guinea is not doing concerning the case, is one of the rungs that must be climbed to point it in the direction of the Hague.
But, this won’t happen unless citizens in the EU, France, and US apply pressure to their governments demanding that it be done.
If there is any doubt that Guinea is stalling on this case, this should clear it up – the Guinean court dealing with the September 28 case was shut down between May and September this year (after Bensouda’s personally-delivered ultimatum) because of lack of pencils, pens, paper and furniture. With all of Guinea’s mining revenue and Conde can’t come up with a few office supplies?
Important Test Case for International Community to Promote Domestic Accountability
December 5, 2012
Victims of the horrific abuses on September 28, 2009, are waiting for justice more than three years later. President Alpha Condé and other Guinean officials have said they support accountability, but they need to better translate the rhetoric into action. Credible prosecutions would be a major contribution in moving Guinea to an era marked by respect for rule of law.
Elise Keppler, senior international justice counsel
(Conakry) – The Guinean government should increase support to the domestic investigation of the September 28, 2009 massacre, rapes, and other abuses to enable fair, credible prosecutions of the crimes without further delay, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The conclusion is based on extensive research and analysis of the factors holding up the investigation. International partners – including the European Union (EU), United States, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – also should increase pressure and support for justice to be done.
The 58-page report, “Waiting for Justice: Accountability before Guinea’s Courts for the September 28, 2009 Stadium Massacre, Rapes, and Other Abuses,” analyzes Guinea’s efforts to hold those responsible for the crimes to account. On that day, several hundred members of Guinea’s security forces burst into a stadium in Guinea’s capital, Conakry, and opened fire on tens of thousands of opposition supporters peacefully gathered there. By late afternoon, at least 150 Guineans lay dead or dying, and dozens of women had suffered brutal sexual violence, including individual and gang rape. More than three years later, those implicated have yet to be held accountable.
“Victims of the horrific abuses on September 28, 2009, are waiting for justice more than three years later,” said Elise Keppler, senior international justice counsel at Human Rights Watch. “President Alpha Condé and other Guinean officials have said they support accountability, but they need to better translate the rhetoric into action. Credible prosecutions would be a major contribution in moving Guinea to an era marked by respect for rule of law.”
The report is based on research in Conakry in June 2012 and follow-up interviews with government officials, lawyers and other legal practitioners, civil society members, journalists, victims, and internationalpartners.
Cases involving serious crimes are often sensitive and need resources that are scarce, Human Rights Watch said. But lack of justice can carry high costs by potentially fueling renewed abuses that are devastating for the population and national development. Impunity for human rights violations has been a persistent problem in Guinea over decades.
In February 2010, a Guinean prosecutor appointed a panel of judges to investigate the crimes.
More than 200 victims have been interviewed, and charges have been filed against at least seven people, including Guinea’s minister in charge of fighting drug trafficking and organized crime and the health minister at the time of the crimes. The Guinean government also recently accepted the appointment of an international expert offered by the United Nations Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict to support the accountability effort.
However, the investigation has yet to be completed more than three years after the crimes were committed, and numerous victims have yet to be given an opportunity to provide statements to the judges. The judges also have yet to interview at least two key suspects – the president at the time the crimes were committed, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, and Captain Claude “Coplan” Pivi – and witnesses who are not suspects who are members of Guinea’s security services.
In 2011 and 2012, Guinea’s Justice Ministry took upward of a year to begin to address the investigative panel’s lack of basic supplies, including pens and paper, and equipment. As a result, the work of the panel was effectively halted from May to September 2012, after which the judges resumed work when an additional stipend and computer were provided. Limited security, competing professional responsibilities, and the fact that key suspects have not been placed on leave from government posts pose additional challenges.
In addition, Guinean judicial police have yet to provide the judges access to an identified possible mass grave, and a request by the judges to interview the former president in Burkina Faso about the crimes remains outstanding. Meanwhile, some suspects have already been in pretrial detention longer than the two years permitted by Guinean law.
“The investigation has made some important strides, but the Guinean government needs to provide greater support if it is to be successfully concluded,” Keppler said.
Human Rights Watch called for the Guinean government – the president and justice minister in particular – to meet a number of key benchmarks to ensure that the panel of investigative judges can operate effectively. The government should make sure the judges have adequate resources and security; facilitate the appointment of relevant international experts; place key suspects on leave from their government posts, especially where they could interfere with investigations; and work to enable them to interview former President Dadis Camara.
In addition, the judges should swiftly deal with any illegal pretrial detention of suspects, bringing those who need to remain in pretrial detention to speedy trial and releasing any others. The justice minister also should initiate a witness and victim protection and support plan and support law reform, including making crimes against humanity domestic crimes and abolishing the death penalty.
The report also calls for greater international support for fair and credible prosecutions for the September 28 crimes.
The report found that the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the UN Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict have made vital contributions in pressing for justice for the September 28, 2009 crimes. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights also has raised concerns and provided some informal supplies to the judges, but it should take a more active role in pressing the government to ensure that the investigative panel can function effectively.
Key governments and intergovernmental players – including the EU, US, and France – should substantially increase public and private diplomacy with Guinean officials to press for justice and ensure that judges can work effectively. In addition, these players should invite requests for financial and technical assistance for efforts such as witness and victim protection and support, forensic investigation, training, and law reform. International partners do not appear to be providing any direct support for investigating and prosecuting the September 28 crimes.
ICC states parties and the United Nations notably have increasingly expressed commitments to identify ways to help promote accountability before domestic courts. This would maximize what the ICC calls complementarity, whereby the court only intervenes when national courts are unable or unwilling to prosecute. Accountability efforts in Guinea provide an important opportunity to advance this goal, Human Rights Watch said.
In October 2009, the ICC Office of the Prosecutor placed the situation in Guinea – which had joined the ICC in 2003 – under preliminary examination.
Some Guinean civil society and victims have indicated that they are waiting for the International Criminal Court to open an investigation into the September 28, 2009 crimes so that those responsible can be held to account.
Whether the ICC may open an investigation in Guinea is an open question under the ICC’s complementarity principle. But even if the ICC were to open an investigation, its scope would be limited since it is based thousands of miles away in the Netherlands, and only focuses on suspects with greatest alleged levels of responsibility, and on genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
“Guinea’s domestic investigation is a potentially important test case for the international community to help ensure accountability at the domestic level,” Keppler said. “Guinea’s international partners should use encouragement, pressure, and support to maximize its prospects to provide justice for the stadium massacre.”
Also available in French.