(MintPress) – In 2009, Guinea security forces entered a stadium, the site of a peaceful opposition protest, and opened fire, killing more than 150 people, wounding 1,200 and subjecting dozens of women to rape in plain sight. Three years on, the U.S. ally has yet to pursue justice for the victims — and a nation attempting to heal and move on.
The U.S. severed ties with Guinea in 2008, citing disapproval with the country’s coup, which overthrew authoritarian president and U.S. ally Lansana Conte, also cited for grave human rights abuses. Human Security Gateway reports Conte died, providing an opportunity for a military junta to seize control, which they did, led by Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara.
Relations were maintained in 2010 following presidential elections in the country, won by Alpha Conde. The U.S. took a public stance of encouraging freedom and democracy in the African country, lifting sanctions and opening the country to U.S. aid intended for programs that support democratic transition.
The U.S. also stands to gain economically through close relations from this move as Guinea is rife with natural resources, including gold, diamonds, uranium and potential oil and gas reserves. This is on top of an abundance of bauxite, a key component of aluminum. According to a Congressional Research Service report, Guinea is home to 27 percent of the world’s bauxite reserves.
A report released this month by Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemns the country’s government for failing to address the massacre of 2009 — a flaw in the country’s “steps toward democracy.” With the U.S. potentially standing to gain from economic ties to Guinea, echoing the sentiment of HRW and addressing the nation directly would be a step in the right direction. Yet, it hasn’t.
“Victims of the horrific abuses on September 28, 2009, are waiting for justice more than three years later,” Human Rights Senior International Justice Counsel Elise Keppler said in a press release. “President Alpha Conde and other Guinean officials have said they support accountability, but they need to better translate the rhetoric into action. Credible prosecutions would be a major contribution in moving Guinea to an era marked by respect for rule of law.”
Guinea is not the only example of the U.S. supporting a country whose human rights record doesn’t live up to international standards. Its support for Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s foremost oppressive countries, enjoys a close relationship with the U.S., due to oil. Bahrain, Colombia and Myanmar, all considered top human rights abusers, are on the list of allies, as well.
The U.S.’ reignited relationship with Guinea also comes at a time when the U.S. plans to increase its special operative troops on the continent, with plans to grow troop presence from 64,000 to 72,000 by 2017. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, citing the need to fight terrorism, announced the African mission during a recent speech, also claiming that the use of unmanned drones will be part of the equation.
The 2009 massacre
On the morning of Sept. 28, 2009, tens of thousands of government opposition supporters gathered at a stadium in the Conakry, the country’s capital, to protest against Camara’s rule, broken promises regarding a promised 2009 election and rumors that he was going to run for president.
“Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara promised he wouldn’t stand in any election in 2009 but by putting the election back in 2010 he has, as it were, got out of that promise,” wrote Paul Melly, an African analyst.
More than 150 of those protesters were killed by the afternoon. Women were subject to gang rape and individual rape. Sexual assault was carried out by security forces, with weapons including batons and bayonets.
“I don’t know whether I’m on earth or in hell,” opposition leader Sidya Toure famously said following the massacre.
Reports indicate security forces opened fire on the crowd, wounding more than 1,200, on top of those who had died to gun wounds.
HRW’s report on the incident indicates security forces not only inflicted the mass murder and assaults, but also attempted to cover up the events, closing off the stadium, removing bodies and burying them in mass graves.
The British Broadcast Corporation (BBC) reported as many as 157 dead from the stadium massacre, at the same time quoting Guinea’s estimate of just 57 dead, as a result of “protests.” Camera, who was leading the military-led government at the time, denied accusations of sexual assaults altogether. The interior ministry at the time claimed that only four people had died, acknowledging at least that rounds had been fired into the crowd.
Following the incident, thoroughly documented by HRW, the U.N. International Commission of Inquiry was set up to investigate the matter. Its study found there was reason to conclude that crimes against humanity had occurred.
Slow legal action undermines democracy
Conde’s government has addressed the events, condemning them and calling for accountability on behalf of those responsible for the attacks.
However, that justice has yet to be seen. To this date, pre-trial investigations have not been completed. Charges have been filed, although the process has been painstakingly slow, as the crimes occurred three years ago. Seven suspects had been detained, although one was released. The process has brought little relief to a country awaiting accountability.
“Despite these advances, the investigation that has taken place has progressed very slowly, and several key steps are needed to bring it to a close,” the HRW report states. “Some 100 or more victims are still waiting to give statements to the judges, who have also yet to interview key suspects.”
While the government has at least acknowledged the events, its actions have been to not indicate swift response or regard. Judges have yet to address mass graves in the same country victims’ friends and families dwell.
Following the initial reports of massacre, France cut off military ties with the country. Yet just one year later, the U.S. was showing its support for a burgeoning democracy. The U.N. also condemned the attacks, urging leaders to halt the violence.
As noted in the HRW report, small steps have been taken toward justice, but they’ve mirrored lip service more than actual justice. More than 100 victims have yet to tell their stories to a judge — for them, three years in waiting has undoubtedly inhibited confidence in the new era of “democracy” the U.S. claims there to be.
HRW has pinpointed four factors that have “undermined momentum in the judicial investigation.” They include: an insecure political landscape; lack of judicial independence; limited government support for the investigation; and legal and obstacles, including little protection for the accused and accusing.
It also looked at the political turmoil in the region as a factor in its inability to successfully move the legal process forward. These concerns include strength of the military and no parliamentary elections, something promised when Conde took office.
These are the issues the U.S. has an obligation to address, especially in light of its recent appointment to the U.N. Human Rights Council, which is directly responsible for strengthening and promoting the protection of human rights around the world, regardless of potential economic gain.
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