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Guinea and Impunity: Rapist-Soldiers and Ethnic Cleansing

December 13, 2010

Four young Peul women in Labe, ranging in age from 18 to 24, were viciously and repeatedly raped by Guinean military during the last two weeks of November 2010.  All were kidnapped.  Two of the women were taken to rape houses, where one was held for two days along with five other women.  The other two victims were raped in the back of  pick-up trucks.

The military rapists dropped off the 20 year-old woman near a hospital leaving a note, probably of a threatening nature, for the prefect, Safioulahi Bah.  The victim was found later, rushed to the emergency room, and resuscitated.  Dropping this young woman near a hospital was not a humanitarian effort on the part of her rapists, rather it was an attempt to escape a murder charge — if she was going to die, they wanted her to do it at the hospital, not in their rape chamber.  Peul women have been raped by military soldiers in other parts of the country, including Dalaba and Pita as well.

Rape is a violent crime and a weapon of intimidation regardless of the circumstances. When members of the military rape it is a state-sponsored crime and everyone from the commanding officer, to the defense minister to the head of state is responsible.  The fact that the military targeted Peul women to rape means that the transitional government is engaged in yet another facet of its overall program to ethnically cleanse Peuls. 

Beneath the nose of the international community, the 2010 presidential election in Guinea was a showcase for ethnic targeting of Peuls.  The line was drawn in the sand early.  The “anyone but a Peul” for president was uttered repeatedly to discount Cellou Diallo’s candidacy from the start.  In the second round of the election, the Conde campaign’s rhetoric was often littered with anti-Peul slurs.  And, now we know more about the massive fraud the Conde campaign used to ensure that the Peul, Diallo, would not be able to put a toe inside the presidential palace.   We know that the electoral commission, the CENI, was infected by Louceny Camara who began stealing votes from Diallo in the first round.  We know numerous election computers were sent out of the country to be tampered with in Conde’s favor.  We know that all manner of voter list, ballot and voting station fraud was set into motion by the Conde campaign to steal Diallo’s votes.  We know Conde received financing for his campaign from the Guinean government and we know that the government worked collaboratively with Conde in the commission of fraud.

Yet, it was shortly before the election, when we witnessed the lengths to which the Conde campaign would go when it debuted an audacious anti-Peul scheme which would end in death, destruction, and displacement of Peuls.   In early October, Conde stated that Peuls had poisoned his campaign supporters through water distributed during a rally in Conakry.  While it is true that some of his supporters did become sick at the rally, it was from eating yogurt that had gone bad, not “poisoned” water.  The bad yogurt,  distributed by a Malinke businessman and friend of Conde’s, did send some to the hospital.  To beef up his “poisoning” lie,” Conde  paid several of his supporters to go to the hospital and pretend to be sick.  The more arrivals at the hospital of “poisoned” patients, the more entrenched the lie became and the more agitated Malinke supporters of Conde became.  Instinctively, Guineans knew where this was heading — a violent Malinke attack on Peuls, but only Conde and his crew knew where and when. 

Days after the supposed “poisoning incident,” Dr. Diallo, superintendent of Donka hospital, stated that rather than poisoning, it appeared that patients had a reaction to food that had gone bad and that the illness did not appear to be serious.  Out of nowhere, Prime Minister Jean-Marie Dore condemned Dr. Diallo for her remarks and suspended her.  What had Dr. Diallo done wrong?  She gave her medical opinion and, because it ran counter to the “poisoning” hoax narrative, she was “disciplined” by Dore.  By intervening, the Prime Minister elevated a dangerous political campaign lie to a matter of state and, in doing so, the Guinean government formally adopted the position of pitting one ethnic group against another in which it knew there would be a violent attack.  That is ethnic cleansing.

The lie was repeated over and over and, in late October, the Conde campaign incited an attack by Malinkes in Siguiri and Kouroussa, highly populated with Peuls, most of whom were supporters of Diallo.  Further evidence of the state’s policy to support ethnic cleansing came when it lent its security forces, dressed in plain clothes, to attack Peuls side-by-side with Malinkes.  As we know now, several Peuls died, hundreds were injured, and hundreds of businesses and homes were burned.  The attack was so brutal and destructive that Peuls were forced to flee to other areas of the country.  Yet, immediately after the attack, it was not clear as to what advantage this offered Conde.  It became clear as election day approached:  the attack was designed to force thousands of Peuls to flee to other parts of the country in order to prevent them from voting in their home districts on election day, resulting in the disenfranchisement of thousands of supporters of Conde’s opponent, Cellou Dalein Diallo.  Conde and the transitional government worked collaboratively to provoke a deadly civilian-military attack against Peuls — their fellow citizens.  This is state-sponsored ethnic cleansing

But, the template for ethnic targeting of Peuls came a year before on September 28, 2009, when a state-sponsored massacre and rape took place in and around a Conakry stadium filled with opposition demonstrators.  After a march, demonstrators headed to the stadium for a rally.  Guinean security forces waited for the stadium to fill, locked the doors and proceeded to fire upon, stab, and rape primarily Peuls.  Hundreds were killed, over a hundred women raped and tortured and Guineans, who have seen terrible violence in their country, had never witnessed before such wholesale carnage and mass violation of women.

The manner in which the soldiers raped women at the stadium provides a clue to one of the state’s primary objectives that day. Virtually all the women raped reported that their attackers used anti-Peul slurs.  The rapes were done outside, in the open which demonstrated the height of military impunity and determination to humiliate the women.  The rapists often stabbed women and cut off  breasts as well — mutilation is a particularly degrading form of violence and the psychological/physical effects remain forever.  Yet, the worst part came when their attackers used sticks and the barrel of guns to rape the women.  Some women were shot in the vagina.  It became clear, through the use of this technique, that the rapes were not just to intimidate, humilate or mutilate Peul women, but were meant to injure them so badly that many of them will never be able to bear children again.  This is ethnic cleansing through the womb.

Wikileaks cables reveal that the US, France, and Morocco did not want a quick ICC indictment of former military junta leader, Dadis Camara, for crimes committed on September 28, 2009, fearing a Guinean military uprising would disrupt the process they were putting in place for Guinea’s transition to a “democratic” government.  Nearly 15 months have passed since the stadium massacre and no one has been indicted.  By delaying ICC action, the West prevented timely punishment for the heinous stadium crimes, allowing impunity to become thoroughly institutionalized in Guinea’s military.  Is it any wonder then, in the post-electoral period, that commanding officers ordered extrajudicial executions of Peuls and rape of Peul women?  Is it any wonder that neither Konate, nor Dore, nor Conde condemned these military actions?

Most ethnic cleansing travesties begin in the same manner:  it starts out as jealousy, but quickly changes to hatred, especially when manipulated by governments intent on fanning the flames of violence of one ethnic group against another.  The perpetrators of the cleansing never see themselves as being able to overcome their hatred and are convinced that the only alternative is to eliminate their “foes.”  The stakes are even higher if the hated ethnic group outnumbers other ethnic groups.  This spawns paranoia and, when combined with hatred, the concoction is deadly.  While exact figures are not available, it is believed that the Peul ethnic group is much larger than the often reporterd 40 % of the population.  

Yet, as you would expect from a candidate who started out with only 18% of the vote in the first round running against a man with 44% , all of the Conde campaign’s fraud and killing and maiming and destruction of homes and businesses of Peuls, could not help him beat Diallo by the numbers.  While the Supreme Court selected Conde for the presidency, he continues campaigning on ethnic grounds.  Recently, on more than one occasion, he has stated that it is the Peul businessmen who are ruining the economy.  Will this be the first ethnic cleansing battleground?  Conde has an anti-Peul agenda and a Malinke military that will be only too happy to oblige.  After the September 28, 2009, massacre and rape of Peuls, after the post-electoral murder, maiming, and rape of Peuls by the military, and now with Conde, the man who instigated the electoral season’s ethnic cleansing attack in Siguiri and Kourroussa, who has just assumed the presidency, this is a very dangerous time for Peuls in Guinea — they will need all the help the Diaspora can offer.

And, the four young women discussed at the beginning of this post?  Thanks to the kindness and generosity of the US-based Amadou Diallo Foundation, they have been transferred to a medical facility in Senegal.  Before leaving Guinea they wanted to know if there would be police or military around them in Senegal.  They were relieved to hear that the answer was “no.”

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