ICC probes Guinea violence

2009-10-15 10:27

The Hague - The International Criminal Court said on Thursday it has launched a preliminary investigation into violence that erupted last month at a sports stadium in the west African nation of Guinea.

The investigation is meant to establish whether offenses were committed when presidential guard troops fired on 50 000 people at Guinea's main soccer stadium.

A Guinean human rights group says 157 people were killed and more than 1 200 wounded. The government put the death toll at 57.

The court's deputy prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said women were brutalised by men "apparently in uniform" at the stadium in the capital, Conakry.

Full scale investigation

"This is appalling, unacceptable. It must never happen again," Bensouda said in a statement. "Those responsible must be held accountable."

If the court finds crimes were committed it could launch a full-scale investigation and prosecute senior commanders. The initial phase of the investigation will likely take months.

All gatherings and demonstrations have been banned in Guinea since the violence broke out on September 28 as protesters held a rally at the stadium against plans by the country's military ruler to run for president next year.

Captain Moussa "Dadis" Camara seized power in a coup nine months ago, hours after the death of longtime dictator Lansana Conte.

Guinea became the first of France's African colonies to become independent in 1958, after nearly seven decades of French rule.

Pillaged by the ruling elite

But since independence, the mineral-rich nation has been pillaged by its ruling elite, leaving its 10 million people among the world's poorest.

The International Criminal Court has launched four full-scale investigations - in Congo, Uganda, Sudan's Darfur region and the Central African Republic. It also is working on preliminary investigations in nations including Afghanistan, Colombia, Georgia and Kenya.

The court has four Congolese war lords in its custody but so far has started just one trial. Its most senior suspect, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, rejects the court's jurisdiction and refuses to turn himself in. He is accused of orchestrating war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

Prosecutors also are examining whether they have the jurisdiction to respond to a Palestinian request to investigate last year's Gaza conflict.