Oumy Diallo recalls the day she wanted to die. She was attending a pro-democracy protest in 2009 at a stadium in Conakry, Guinea, when a group of government security officials opened fire.
As she attempted to escape, shrapnel pierced her back and forced her to the ground. She felt a pair of hands grab her ankles, she said, then several men took turns raping her.
“Could I even count? Could I even count?” she said, trying to recall how many men raped her. “I just wanted to die.”
Diallo, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy, was among at least 100 women who were raped that day, according to a report by a United Nations-mandated international commission. At least 150 were killed.
Witnesses described horrific scenes: women being pulled from hiding places to be raped by multiple men, some people being knifed to death while others were shot, corpses piled on top of each other and draped over walls.
Following the attack, security forces sealed off the entrances to the stadium and morgues in an effort to cover up the crimes. Bodies were removed and buried in mass graves.
On Wednesday, exactly 13 years after the massacre, a trial accusing 11 former security and government officials of participating in the attack finally opened.
The 2009 protest, which drew tens of thousands of demonstrators, was organized in response to a presidential bid by Guinea’s then-military ruler, Moussa Dadis Camara.
Camara, who came to power in a 2008 coup, has since lived in exile in Burkina Faso, but returned to Guinea to stand trial. He has denied responsibility for the attack, placing the blame on errant soldiers.
One year before the incident, Diallo said she had easily gotten pregnant with her first child, a daughter. But she has since been unable to conceive. Now, at 34 years old, Diallo suspects it’s due to internal injuries sustained from the rape.
“Back then, I didn’t have the strength to explain what had happened to a doctor, so I self-medicated,” she said as she listed off the painkillers and antibiotics she took. “It wasn’t until later that I realized I should have gone to the hospital. But by then it was too late.”
Despite repeated commitments from Guinean authorities to seek justice for the victims, the trial has suffered from numerous delays and obstacles. In 2009, government inaction prompted an examination by the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has since pressured officials to make good on their promise.
Human rights abuses mounted under former Guinean president Alpha Conde, who was overthrown in a coup in September 2021. Guinea’s junta leader, Mamady Doumbouya, has expressed support for victims of the massacre and pushed for the trial to open before the 2022 anniversary.
But a ban on public protests persists, and in August the government dissolved the opposition coalition when it called for credible talks with Guinea’s transitional military rulers.
Guinea also continues to be plagued by high levels of sexual violence against women, according to a report released on the eve of the trial by Amnesty International. More than 400 cases of rape were recorded by Guinean police in 2021, and most of the victims were minors. But true figures are “undoubtably” higher, the report said.
Though Guinea recently established a specialized police unit to respond to sexual violence, cases are often settled out of court and perpetrators are rarely punished, according to the report. Furthermore, it said, officials are not adequately trained on how to respond to accusations of sexual assault.
“When you want to file a complaint, some policemen will not really take you seriously or the victim will not be able to talk freely and in a confidential way,” said Fabien Offner, a researcher for Amnesty International.
The cost of healthcare and the stigma associated with rape create additional barriers, he added.
The first day of the trial was broadcast live on national television and radio. A judge called each of the 11 men to the bar and read out their charges: murder, attempted murder, torture and rape.
“That a military that had been brought to a stadium killed Guineans, raped Guineans, hurt Guineans – that that same government has recognized the actions committed by the state in front of the national and international community – that already is a good thing,” said Mamadou Barry, secretary of the Association of Victims, Relatives and Friends of September 28, 2009.
While the simple recognition of the atrocities brings solace to many, others are demanding more.
“Of course, the organization of a trial is a first step,” said Amnesty’s Offner. “But it’s not justice.”
The trial will resume October 4.
Source: Voice of America