Global Policy Forum

UN Panel Calls for Court in Guinea Massacre


By Neil MacFarquhar

New York Times

December 22, 2009


A United Nations panel investigating the massacre and rape of unarmed protesters in Guinea three months ago said in a report released Monday that the nation's military ruler and some of his adjutants should be referred to the International Criminal Court for "crimes against humanity."

The 60-page report, compiled by three African legal experts, describes in gruesome detail the violence unleashed on what had been something of a festival of protest being held in a stadium in Conakry, the capital, on Sept. 28. The attacks left at least 156 people dead or missing and about 109 women raped or sexually abused.

Because some of the victims were found in mass graves, it is likely that the death toll was far higher, the report stated. The panel interviewed nearly 700 witnesses, some in Conakry and some who fled to Senegal for their safety, to create a portrait of a military run amok.

Soldiers, many from the Presidential Guard, burst into the stadium and fired at close range on the thousands of people who had gathered there in a carnival-like atmosphere, dancing and praying. Once the troops ran out of ammunition, they attacked the unarmed civilians with daggers, bayonets, bludgeons and even catapults, the report said. People scattered in every direction, and those who paused to help the wounded were gunned down.

The panic caused some people to suffocate in the crowds streaming for the exits, with the lack of oxygen exacerbated by tear gas. Some victims were trampled to death or electrocuted when they tried to climb over the fences; soldiers had attached electrical lines that they had downed to the metal fences, according to the report.

Women were a particular target. Soldiers shoved a gun inside one victim of a gang rape and pulled the trigger, killing her, the report said. Another had her throat slit when she lifted her blindfold. At least four women were abducted and held for days as sex slaves, the report said; they were drugged and photographed while being assaulted. France has asked that the Security Council take up the report, but Michel Kafango, the ambassador from Burkina Faso and the Council's president this month, said that would have to wait until the report was translated from French.

The report described the attacks as "widespread and systematic," which is the basis for crimes against humanity in international law. Because Guinea is a signatory to the International Criminal Court, the court does not have to await a referral from the Security Council, and the court's prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, has said he has already started an investigation.

In an unusual tactic, the report singled out three people as bearing direct responsibility for the violence, because the attacks could not have happened without their orders: Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara, the country's leader; Lt. Aboubacar Chérif Diakité, known as Toumba, Captain Camara's aide-de-camp and chief of the Presidential Guard; and a third officer, Moussa Thegboro Camara, who is in charge of the special services. The two aides were at the stadium during the massacre.

Lieutenant Diakité told the panel that he had gone to the stadium to ensure that opposition leaders were protected. He also said that he had not seen any violence, nor would anybody "even think of touching a woman," the report quoted him as saying. But it also reported that a witness said Lieutenant Diakité had said at the stadium: "Nobody gets out of here alive. They all must be killed. They think there is democracy here."

The demonstrators had gathered to denounce plans by the junta leader, Captain Camara, to run in presidential elections. The captain, who is 45, seized power last December in a military coup after the death of the nation's longtime dictator, Lansana Conté. The instability plaguing the country became even more pronounced after Captain Camara was shot in the head this month and taken to Morocco for medical treatment. Lieutenant Diakité has admitted shooting the captain, saying that he suspected that Captain Camara was trying to make him the fall guy for the massacre and rapes.

Saidou Diallo, speaking for the mission of Guinea to the United Nations, said that his office had not yet seen the report and could not comment. The report said that the government in Conakry has acknowledged 63 deaths and 1,399 people wounded, and that local hospitals have confirmed that at least 33 women were raped. After the massacre, the authorities destroyed evidence, cleaned the stadium, denied treatment to victims, altered medical records and tried to intimidate witnesses, the report said.

Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, said in a statement that it was the responsibility of Guinea's government to protect the victims and other witnesses who testified to the three-member Commission of Inquiry. The members are Mohammed Bedjaoui, a former Algerian foreign minister and chief justice; Françoise N. Kayiramirwa, the minister of human rights in Burundi, among other posts; and Pramila Patten, a lawyer from Mauritius who specializes in women's rights.



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