Source: Make Every Woman Count (MEWC)
On 28th September 2009, thousands of pro-democracy supporters gathered peacefully at the main stadium in Conakry to protest Guinea's military rule. They were calling for an end to army governance.
Relatives weep after learning the fates of their loved ones at the 2009 Guinea massacre. (Photo Courtesy of HRW).
The demonstration meant to be peaceful quickly degenerated into a bloodshed of violence when the army entered the packed stadium without warning, and opened fire on the crowd. More than 150 people were killed, thousands wounded and hundreds of women suffered brutal sexual violence; “they were gang raped, with objects, including bayonets sticks, pieces of metal and clubs” by the security forces. “Young women were raped along with their mothers - it’s abominable,” said Ibrahima Baldé of the Centre Mère et Enfants, a clinic in the city where rape victims continue to turn for medical and psychosocial care. The scene of the massacre was indeed shocking for the International community but mostly for the Guinean population who has never witnessed this type of barbarism.
“The army has ruled Guinea more than a decade, over the years it has grown into an unaccountable, bloated body of more than 30,000 men – far more than is required in a country that faces no serious outside threats” (BBC.)
It is difficult to say how one can gain true justice and reconciliation from rape, especially the type of sexual violence many of the women in the stadium experienced on September 28th; and even more difficult when the perpetrators are the country's leaders.
In 2010, IRIN published a profile of one of the survivors of sexual violence at the stadium. Although it was months later, she said the suffering she endured that day is engraved in her memory. She said she will never forget; she can only hope for retribution. Djeneba's story is particularly gruesome. A soldier beat her over the head, called her a whore, and shoved a wooden club into her vagina after raping her. “I was hanging between life ans death,” she said. Djenaba makes a slicing motion at her chest as she says: “One of the red berets [presidential guard] cut off the breast of a young woman - probably 17 or 18 - right in front of me. At that moment in my mind I was saying, ‘This is it. It’s over.’” She was an educated university student studying for a Master's degree in Economics and a politically active young woman, peacefully protesting for democracy. Today, she lives with the constant affliction of her wounds from the torture and rape, having acquired HIV.
Her life as been turned upside down as a result of the sexual violence inflicted upon to her. Not only does she suffer physically but mentally as well. As she now lives in constant fear of men. She cannot return home for fear of her safety and the stigma that comes along with rape. She can never forget what happened as her image, along with the other faces of female victims living in Senegal, where she currently resides, were published in a widely circulated Guinean newspaper.
Still, despite her circumstances and the lack of justice she has received, she and many other women like her have shown great strength and resilience in continuing to pursue their hopes and dreams, while fighting for accountability and justice. It is hard for the victims to achieve peace of mind and even more, without the freedom to assemble peacefully, many of the victims will continue to live in fear.
Photo: Nancy Palus/IRIN
Where is the justice for the victims?
In the two years since the massacre, the case against the perpetrators of violence has yet to go to trial, despite the opening of a criminal investigation in February of 2010, by the Guinean judiciary. Meanwhile, politicking and a mass cover-up have allowed perpetrators to go free. According to Jeune Afrique, the International Criminal Court (ICC), which also found that crimes against humanity had been committed, claimed in April 2011 that the Guinean judges were handling the case satisfactorily and no transfer to the ICC was needed. Despite international human rights agencies calling for the sanction of the perpetrators involved in the massacre, nothing has actually been done. Those implicated by the international investigators have gone unpunished and many have been promoted within the army ranks. This sets a terrible example and a dangerous precedent for Guinea. Both the UN and the US State Department have encouraged Guinea to use a reconciliation process to address the violence committed by the state against its unarmed civilians. But a reconciliation process such as a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) must not be used as a substitute for judicial prosecution of those who orchestrated and carried out the crimes, many of whom hold high political positions today.
The victims of the 28 September 2009 massacre are still waiting for justice and reconciliation to be rendered. Trials and sentencing must occur. In addition, the government of Guinea should take steps to prevent violence against women in the future and ratifying and implementing the Maputo Protocol, UNSCR 1325/1820 both of which would help to end impunity that has gone unchecked in Guinea.
Although the UN commission concluded, "the violence committed constituted crimes against humanity,” the same conclusion reached by the NGO Human Rights Watch, there is still no justice for the victims and their families. “While the mothers, fathers, spouses, and children of those murdered [two years] ago still grieve for their loved ones, the people who planned, perpetrated, and tried to cover up this atrocious act remain free men,” said senior West Africa researcher at HRW Corinne Dufka. The one and only way to break the cycle of impunity in Guinea is to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Two years on, where is the justice for these victims? Are we going to wait until another massacre happens to do something?