Hundreds of people flocked to a Guinean court Wednesday as former dictator Moussa Dadis Camara was set to stand trial over a 2009 stadium massacre in an historic moment 13 years in the making.
"It's like a dream, even if we've always believed it would happen", said Asmaou Diallo, the head of a victims' association.
The trial is expected to begin Wednesday afternoon in a purpose-built court in the capital Conakry, and comes over a decade after more than 150 people were killed in days of violence that the ex-dictator and several co-defendants are charged over.
The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Karim Khan, called on Guinean authorities to respect international law, namely on witness protection and the presumption of innocence.
"Justice... is not a cosmetic exercise", he said. "I will be watching this trial very closely".
Pramila Patten, a UN special representative, congratulated the ruling junta for its "display of political will" for moving ahead with the trial.
Camara, 58, and his co-defendants face a litany of accusations from murder to sexual violence, kidnappings, arson and looting, and Camara himself is charged with "personal criminal responsibility and command responsibility" over the crimes.
On September 28, 2009, and in the days that followed, security forces loyal to the then-junta leader slaughtered more than 150 people and raped at least 109 women who had gathered a political rally in a Conakry stadium, according to a UN-mandated report.
The real figures are likely higher.
Tens of thousands of opposition supporters had been peacefully demonstrating against a possible election bid by Camara.
Numerous testimonies report how security forces entered the stadium, cordoned off the exits and opened fire indiscriminately.
They attacked unarmed civilians with knives, machetes and bayonets, leaving the stands, corridors and grass strewn with the dead and dying.
They sexually assaulted and then killed many women. Others were trampled to death in the panic.
International investigators said the abuses could qualify as crimes against humanity.
Camara had been living in exile in Burkina Faso but returned to Conakry on Saturday. Relatives say he intends to "clear his name".
The defendants were jailed Tuesday and told they would be detained for the duration of the trial.
"I don't even dare believe that my rapists are still alive", one survivor, who asked to remain anonymous, told AFP.
"But the fact that this trial is taking place is a relief".