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HRW Working to Bolster Human Rights in Guinea

  • Nancy Palus

A September 28, 2009 photo shows Guinean demonstrators fleeing as security forces disperse them from outside the stadium where tens of thousands gathered for a pro-democracy rally, in Conakry. Security forces loyal to the ruling military junta opened fire on the crowd that day, killing at least 157 and raping dozens of women.

A September 28, 2009 photo shows Guinean demonstrators fleeing as security forces disperse them from outside the stadium where tens of thousands gathered for a pro-democracy rally, in Conakry. Security forces loyal to the ruling military junta opened fire on the crowd that day, killing at least 157 and raping dozens of women.

Survivors of the 2009 stadium massacre in the West African country of Guinea have yet to see any of their alleged assailants brought to justice. Human Rights Watch said the international community could do more to ensure that Guinea lives up to the commitment it has made to prosecute those responsible for hundreds of rapes and killings that day.

A couple of weeks before she died in October this year, Aissatou Bailo Diallo - who was raped during Guinea’s 2009 stadium attack - said her appeal to the international community was simply: “Justice, and the truth.”

She was among the many people still suffering health problems from the rapes and beatings that took place when soldiers cracked down on demonstrators at a stadium in the capital, Conakry, on September 28. Survivors are still waiting for justice.

Judicial process

Human Rights Watch is researching the status of the judicial process in Guinea and on Wednesday released its latest report in Conakry.

In the wake of the stadium attack, the International Criminal Court said it would step in if Guinea did not investigate and prosecute the stadium crimes. Guinea’s government then created a panel of judges and committed itself to doing so. But after three years, scores of victims have yet to be heard by the judges and no one has been convicted.

HRW says countries party to the ICC are increasingly looking at ways to ensure that justice be carried out at a national level. Guinea is a test.

Elise Keppler is senior counsel with Human Rights Watch’s international justice program.

"Guinea is in a way a test case for that possibility," said Keppler. "And, it’s an important moment where international partners can be looking to what can they do to help ensure fair, credible prosecutions at the domestic level for these crimes."

She cited the United States, France, the European Union, the United Nations and other international actors, who are working closely with Guinea as it makes a transition from years of autocratic rule to democracy and the rule of law. Keppler said Guinea presents an opportunity to promote the International Criminal Court's principle that national courts should be the first line of defense against impunity.

Human Rights Watch says the U.N. human rights office, which now has a representative in Guinea, should take a more active role in pressing the government to ensure the national investigators can function effectively. The group also said other international actors "should substantially increase public and private diplomacy with Guinean officials to press for justice".

To date judges have heard testimony from 278 victims, according to Hamidou Barry, a Guinean lawyer who’s with the Guinea Human Rights Organization. Human Rights Watch said at least 100 people await their chance to testify.

Human Rights Watch said a number of obstacles remain, including a lack of independence in Guinea’s judicial sector, inadequate resources for judges and a lack of protection for victims and witnesses.

Although some Guineans say, given how long the process is taking, they want to see the ICC step in. Guinean lawyer Barry said it would be better for all concerned if justice worked at the national level.

He said victims want to see justice carried out in Guinea. He said bringing perpetrators to justice here in Guinea will deal a blow to impunity and would lend credibility to the national judicial system.
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