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Guinea opened a historic trial Wednesday exactly 13 years after a stadium massacre perpetrated by the military that left at least 157 protesters and scores of women raped, with the country’s former coup leader Moussa “Dades” Camara among the accused.
Trial proceedings began a day after Camara and five other defendants were arrested in the capital, Conakry, pending the outcome of the trial. Eleven men appeared in court on charges of murder and rape in the 2009 attacks.
Always wearing a military uniform and hat after taking power in the 2008 coup, Camara was almost unrecognizable in his flowing white bobo. He listened quietly as the court clerk read the long indictment out loud.
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“After thirteen years, let us do everything in our power to ensure that the atrocities of the massacres in Guinea are not repeated,” said Djibril Kouyate, president of the Guinean National Bar Association, during a speech at the opening of the trial. “Those who died will never speak again, but their bloodshed requires justice.”
Karim Ahmed Saad Khan, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, paid tribute to the family members of the victims for their patience.
“September 28 has become a day of sadness,” he said. “We have the opportunity, you created the space for September 28 to be the day of promise and hope.”
Security forces opened fire on protesters who had gathered in the stadium that day in 2009 to protest against then-coup leader Camara’s plans to run for president. The military council said “out of control” elements of the army carried out rapes and murders. But a Human Rights Watch investigation found that Camara’s top lieutenants were on the field and did nothing to stop the violence.
The investigation by the international organization said that the presidential guard in Kamara surrounded the stadium where opposition supporters gathered and blocked the exits. Troops entered and immediately opened fire with Kalashnikovs as the panicked demonstrators tried to escape. Several were crushed to death, while others were shot while trying to scale the stadium walls.
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Several months after the massacre, Camara survived an assassination attempt and then fled into exile in Burkina Faso. The man who shot him, Captain Tomba Diakite, is among the accused being held alongside Camara.
For years, the government of Guinea sought to prevent Camara’s return, fearing that it would lead to political instability. However, another coup last year put in power a military junta that was more than willing to bring Camara home.
He finally returned last year to Conakry, where he told his supporters that he believed in the country’s justice system and was “absolutely ready to tell my part of the truth”.
The opening of the trial “brings victims closer to much-needed justice for the horrific crimes committed on the field,” said Elise Keibler, associate director of international justice at Human Rights Watch.
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“The trial is an unprecedented step to bring justice to victims in Guinea, and it should be accompanied by reforms to enable respect for rights and greater prosecution of abuses,” Kepler said last week. “The Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has played a vital role in moving this historic trial forward through constant monitoring and frequent visits to Conakry, which should continue.”