Former Guinean president and military ruler Moussa Dadis Camara and 10 other men are set to face trial for a 2009 stadium massacre and mass rape by the country’s security forces.
The 11 men have been indicted for their responsibility in the killing of more than 150 people and the rape of more than 100 women in the capital Conakry, according to a report by a United Nations-mandated international commission.
On September 28, 2009, tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators held a protest in the stadium to pressure Camara not to stand for election as president of Guinea the following year. Camara came to power through a military coup in 2008.
“The tens of thousands of opposition supporters and civil society had no idea of the terror waiting for them that day in 2009,” Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris said while reporting from Conakry.
“Survivors speak of horrific massacre with some victims shot at close range. Women and girls trapped by the shootings were beaten and raped by security forces.”
Like hundreds of families who blamed Camara for the killings, Cherno Maju Bah, is still bitter over the killing of his nephew.
“You can forgive somebody if (they) didn’t do it deliberately,” Bah told Al Jazeera. “But if he did do it deliberately, you can’t forgive him. He did it. He meant it and he did it.”
Numerous testimonies report how the presidential guard’s Red Berets, police officers and militiamen entered the stadium around noon, cordoned off the exits and opened fire indiscriminately on a crowd that had previously been festive.
Unarmed civilians were attacked with knives, machetes and bayonets, leaving the stands, corridors and grass strewn with the dead and dying. Others were trampled to death in the panic.
Asmaou Diallo, who was at the protest, told the Reuters news agency she was assaulted and barely escaped with her life, and that her son was killed in front of her.
“The most shocking image for me that day was that of the body of my slain son. I still haven’t processed what happened,” said Diallo, who now heads an association of parents and victims of the killings.
“Knowing that this trial will take place is for all the victims the beginning of hope for deliverance,” she said.
International investigators found the abuses could qualify as crimes against humanity, noting the brutality went on for several days against sequestered women and male detainees who were tortured.
Camara has denied responsibility for the incident, blaming it on errant soldiers, including his former aide-de-camp Lieutenant Aboubacar Toumba Diakite, who is also among those indicted. He has also denied responsibility.
‘Personal criminal responsibility’
On the eve of Wednesday’s trial, Amnesty International released a report calling for better protection for rape victims in Guinea and the “urgent” adoption of a comprehensive law on gender-based violence.
After prolonged investigations and repeated delays by the previous government, the military government that seized power in September last year gave an order that the trial should start no later than September 28, the anniversary of the mass killing.
Camara, who was in exile in Burkina Faso following an attempted assassination and his removal in 2009, returned to Guinea over the weekend. Relatives say he intends to “clear his name” but the international commission has accused him of “personal criminal responsibility and command responsibility”.
He was interviewed by a prosecutor and detained on Tuesday alongside two other former senior military officers, their lawyer Pepe Antoine Lamah told journalists.
“It is in violation of the law that the prosecutor decided to incarcerate my clients,” Lamah said.
At least 600 victims of the stadium incident have been identified, according to Alseny Sall, a spokesman for the Guinean Organization for Human Rights.
Sall said some 154 were killed that day by soldiers from the presidential guard, the military police, the police, and military trainees as about 50,000 people gathered at the stadium to protest.
Waiting for trial
Some relatives of those killed have said they never received their loved ones’ remains.
“The hardest thing for me was not being able to mourn my husband. His body disappeared and was never returned to us. It’s a situation that weighs on me,” said Salimatou Bah, a rice seller.
“All we want is justice. This trial must ensure that such things never happen again in this country,” she said.
Despite repeated commitments under former President Alpha Conde’s regime, victims and relatives say they have been waiting for the trial for 13 years.
While many welcomed the move by Guinea’s military government to bring the case to trial, there are also suspicions that the decision could be politically motivated by the current military leader, Colonel Mamady Doumbouya.
Doumbouya, who came to power in a coup last year after 11 years of civilian rule, is under pressure to step down and set a date for new elections.
Human rights defenders and the International Criminal Court have also been pushing for justice.
“The objective is to ensure that the perpetrators are punished and victims are granted their rights,” Alpha Amadou Bah, a lawyer who has taken the case to the ICC on behalf of a victim, told Al Jazeera.
“Because many people are still missing. This trial could lead us to where the missing are buried. Without justice, there will be no closure for families.”