The massacre of at least 150 people and rapes of dozens of women by troops in Guinea last month were premeditated and aimed at terrorizing opponents to military rule, a U.S.-based rights group said Tuesday, adding that rapes persisted for days.
Human Rights Watch said dozens of women were seized from the stadium where the Sept. 28 massacre took place and from clinics in Guinea's capital, Conakry, where they were seeking medical treatment. They were driven in military vehicles to villas, where they were gang-raped by uniformed men over several days, the group said.
The leader of Guinea's military junta has said "uncontrolled" elements of the army carried out the rapes and killings. But top aides of military leader Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara were at the stadium and did nothing to stop the mass killings and rapes, the report said, implicating the junta in the massacre.
"There is no way the government can continue to imply the deaths were somehow accidental," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "This was clearly a premeditated attempt to silence opposition voices."
Human Rights Watch said its 10-day investigation in Guinea showed that Camara's red-bereted presidential guard surrounded the stadium where opposition supporters had gathered, and blocked the exits. The troops entered and immediately opened fire on the crowd with AK-47s as panicked demonstrators tried to flee.
Many were crushed to death, Human Rights Watch said, corroborating claims by the junta that many died from being crushed. Others were gunned down as they tried to scale the stadium's 6-foot walls, said the report, which disputed the government's claim that only 57 people died.
Minutes later, the rapes began. Soldiers, often acting in twos and threes, grabbed women, tore off their clothes and gang raped them on the stadium grass, the report found.
‘Systemic attempt to terrorize’
Corinne Dufka, the group's senior Africa researcher, said the rapes appeared to have been planned because they occurred simultaneously in different places: on the turf, in the stadium's bathrooms, in an annex and in nearby basketball courts. Some women later died.
"The level, frequency and brutality of sexual violence that took place at and after the protests strongly suggests that it was part of a systematic attempt to terrorize and humiliate the opposition, not just random acts by rogue soldiers," the report said.
A 35-year-old teacher told the rights group she was dragged to the stadium ground by a group of red berets who sliced off her clothes with a knife then yelled at her that if she didn't do as they pleased they would kill her.
"And I believed them," she is quoted saying. "About 3 meters (10 feet) away another woman was being raped, and after they finished, one of them took out his bayonet and stuck her in the vagina, and then licked the blood from his knife. I saw this — just next to me," she said.
Also Tuesday, the European Union announced visa bans against 42 members of the military junta for their alleged roles in the massacre. Unions in the West African country called for a nationwide strike Wednesday to remember the victims.
"We, the women of Guinea, are wounded in our souls and humiliated by the events of Sept. 28," said activist Diaraye Haidara. "A day of remembrance will certainly make us feel better but it will never heal our open wounds from these rapes."
Camara was a junior officer largely unknown outside the army when he seized power in a coup last December after the death of Lansana Conte, the former strongman who had ruled the nation of 10 million for a quarter century. Camara promised to crack down on corruption and drug trafficking and to quickly hand over power to civilians following nationwide elections but later hinted he planned to run in the election.
When the stadium protest against Camara's presumed candidacy was announced, Camara personally tried to have it stopped, Human Rights Watch said.
The conclusion that the rapes were premeditated is a shocking revelation in Guinea, which has endured numerous dictatorships and army-led attacks on opposition rallies. Never before have there been systematic, army-led rapes in broad daylight.
One opposition leader said that as he was being led out of the stadium by Lt. Abubakar "Toumba" Diakite, the commander of the presidential guard and Camara's aide-de-camp, they passed at least a dozen women being raped by Diakite's own men.
"There were three or four red berets on top of her and one had pushed his rifle into her (vagina). She was screaming so loudly in pain we had to look and see it ... Lt. Toumba was right next to us and saw it all — but he didn't do anything to stop the rapes," said the unnamed opposition politician, according to the report.
The European Union imposed an arms embargo and visa ban on Guinea's military leaders Tuesday to punish them for the massacre.
The EU is drawing up a list of 42 Guinean leaders to be included in the visa ban and it is also moving to freeze assets of the junta officials at a later stage, said French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.
"We have reacted in the face this massacre," said Kouchner. "The whole international community has reacted."
The African regional grouping ECOWAS has also imposed an arms embargo on the junta.
Guinea's Foreign Affairs Minister Alexandre Cece Loua said the EU action would be counterproductive at a time when the junta is seeking an end to the crisis.
"At a time when the two parties are moving slowly but surely towards a resolution of this crisis through AU-backed mediation, we think the EU should have aided us in this direction," he added.
He said that "much as the imposition of these sanctions by the EU is understandable, this is not however the solution to the crisis in Guinea."
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