Rape Victim from 9/28/09 Speaks: “Guinea’s leaders must remember the girls, women and grandmothers raped . . . put ethnocentrism aside and think of our collective future.”
The young woman profiled here was a university student, soon to receive her degree, when she was attacked in the stadium on September 28, 2009, by red berets. In addition to the physical, psychological and emotional injuries she is trying to deal with, she has HIV now as well. If anyone has the right to speak truth to power, it is Djenaba.
DAKAR, 10 November 2010 (IRIN) – On 28 September 2009 in a Guinea stadium, Djeneba* was raped by a soldier while another beat her head. Calling her a criminal and a whore, the men then shoved a wooden club into her vagina. “I was hanging between life and death.”
In a way, she still is. Now living in the Senegalese capital Dakar, where she and several other women raped that day received medical treatment, she is far from her family and has abandoned her studies, “which were my life, my future… That is how I was going to contribute to my parents.” She said she would have finished her Master’s in economics this year.
“I’m among ‘the rape victims’. But I’m still a militant of a political party and someone who wants to fight for Guinea.” People demonstrated on 28 September in the capital Conakry to call for an end to military rule in Guinea – to say No to the presidential candidacy of coup leader Moussa Dadis Camara.
Human Rights Watch reckons 150 to 200 people were killed when security forces attacked the pro-democracy rally at the stadium in Conakry. Dozens of women, of all ages, were raped.
“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.
Djeneba 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.’”
Apparently not all of the soldiers were ready to kill and rape that day. A woman who identified herself as A. B., who lives in Conakry’s Hamdallaye neighbourhood, told IRIN that after two soldiers raped her, another man in military uniform intervened.
“He brought me to an area where there were some other women, and two youths came and said they would protect us. Then the first group of soldiers came and shot the young men. The soldiers ordered us to laugh and applaud.”
In Dakar, Djeneba’s food and rent are still covered by donors helping stadium victims. But the 30-year-old university student who was active in civic life said her life today – mostly eating and sleeping, with the occasional chat with building-mates and fellow Guineans – leaves far too much space for memories; especially at night but even during the day, thoughts and visions of the violence flood her mind. “That day is engraved on our minds.”
The event persists in another indelible way for Djeneba – in colour photographs that clearly identify her and two other rape victims, published in a Senegalese magazine. She keeps a copy in a knapsack with her medical and university documents.
The women said they had no idea their images were going to be published. The magazine circulated in Guinea and was covered on national TV there. “My family saw it. Some people in Guinea were saying we took money to denounce our country and Dadis.
“We were raped in Guinea, then raped again in Senegal. I still see that publication in shops. To this day people say to me, ‘Hey – didn’t I see you in that magazine?’ I tell them it’s not me. There are days I simply dare not go out. Imagine – even people in Guinea who don’t know me will now see me as someone who was raped. This all just weighs too heavily on me. The adage is ‘where there is life there is hope’ – a lot of people died in the stadium that day – but I don’t know when the hope is going to emerge.”
Sitting on a mattress in her room in Dakar, Djeneba hands over some medical documents. “HIV positive’’ is written in bold black in the middle of the first page. This is the second thing blocking her from returning home to Guinea.
“In Guinea if you say you have HIV, people will be afraid of you. Especially in my ethnic group – Peulh… People will say I’m going to contaminate them. They won’t eat with me, they will reject me… I long to see my parents. I miss my country. But when I think of the HIV I decide just to stay on here for now.
“I always envisioned a family, children, a good husband. But now, with HIV, how could I ever have a husband? Back in Guinea, if the family were ever to say there is a man who wants to marry me, once he learns about the HIV he would never come around again. That hurts.”
She said she sees a doctor periodically to check her CD4 count, which measures the strength of one’s immune system; for now it is not at a level to start antiretrovirals.
Even were she to find someone who would accept her HIV status, she is not sure she could ever interact in any meaningful way with a man again.
“Just seeing a man is agonizing for me. When I see a man it’s as if instantly I’m naked in front of him. I used to say hello to men and we’d kid around. But now, even if sometimes I say hello, it’s not coming from me. Deep inside I’ve got hatred. All men did this to me.”
Move on but don’t forget
Djeneba said she remains broken partly because her country still is. Like many others in Guinea, she had hoped the events of 28 September would make a long-overdue political transition irreversible in Guinea. But since a presidential election on 27 June, political strife and violent clashes between supporters of the two second-round candidates have marred the process.
She is alarmed by the uncertainty and the ethnic hostilities. Her own peace of mind and future, she said, hangs largely on how things will evolve in Guinea. When she heard of longstanding ethnic tensions surfacing in the election campaign, she feared Guinean leaders were forgetting 28 September. “All of Guinea’s ethnic groups were in that stadium that day. When I hear people so focused on ethnicity – this burns me inside. I’m worried about it… It’s as if they’ve forgotten.”
Supporters of the two candidates – Cellou Dalein Diallo from the 40-percent-strong Peulh ethnic group, and Alpha Condé from the second-largest group, the Malinké – are largely divided along ethnic lines.
“I cannot be at peace until the country is stable,” Djeneba said. “Guinea’s leaders must remember the girls, the women, the grandmothers who were raped on 28 September, put ethnocentrism aside and think of our collective future… It was because of us, because of the rapes, that the world paid attention and things turned around… But today there’s no telling where Guinea is going.”
(*not her real name)
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]