The horror of rape as a weapon of war in Africa is all too common. Just in Congo, hundreds of thousands of women have been raped in the last 10 years, their stories documented by award-winning radio programs, ongoing news stories and even an HBO documentary.
International awareness and outcry against these crimes is not always swift or widespread. But an attack last month by government troops on women in Conarky, Guinea seems to be drawing a quick response.
Photos of the brutal crimes, which took place during a peaceful stadium rally protesting Guinea’s ruling military junta, are circulating on cell phones, and today The New York Times published a horrific account based on interviews with witnesses and women who had been assaulted:
“I can’t sleep at night, after what I saw,” said one middle-aged woman from an established family here, who said she had been beaten and sexually molested. “And I am afraid. I saw lots of women raped, and lots of dead.”
One photograph shows a naked woman lying on muddy ground, her legs up in the air, a man in military fatigues in front of her. In a second picture a soldier in a red beret is pulling the clothes off a distraught-looking woman half-lying, half-sitting on muddy ground. In a third a mostly nude woman lying on the ground is pulling on her trousers.
The cellphone pictures are circulating anonymously, but multiple witnesses corroborated the events depicted.
The attacks were part of a violent outburst on Sept. 28 in which soldiers shot and killed dozens of unarmed demonstrators at the main stadium here, where perhaps 50,000 had assembled. Local human rights organizations say at least 157 were killed; the government puts the figure at 56.
But even more than the shootings, the attacks on women — horrific anywhere, but viewed with particular revulsion in Muslim countries like this one — appear to have traumatized the citizenry and hardened the opposition’s determination to force out the leader of the military junta, Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara.
Bernard Kouchner, the foreign minister of France, told the Times France could no longer work with Camara and urged “international intervention.” Camara seized power in a bloodless coup in December. He had promised he would not run in January’s presidential election but has since changed his mind. As the Times notes, growing internal opposition could force Camara to leave power, or the government could become even more authoritarian. Camara contends that members of the opposition, not the military, were responsible for the assaults and killings.
Amnesty International is calling for an international commission to investigate the human rights violations that occurred.
“The perpetrators of these brutal attacks must be identified and brought to justice,” said Erwin van der Borght, director of Amnesty International’s Africa Program. “This can only be achieved through an international inquiry as the Guinean authorities have already been discredited by their lack of political will to carry out a national investigation into accusations of human rights violations by security forces in 2007.”
While rape as a tool of military oppression is all too common, it previously has not been used as government tactic in Guinea.
“This time, a new stage has been reached,” Sidya Touré, a former prime minister who was beaten during the opposition rally, told the Times. “Women as battlefield targets. We could never have imagined that. [...] Where could people get the idea to start raping women in broad daylight?”
“They especially tore into the women,” François Lonsény Fall, another former prime minister who was also at the stadium, said. “They were seeking to humiliate them.”