At an 8 October gathering of Guinean women beaten or raped during the recent military attack on demonstrators, all wept as one young woman presented torn clothes soldiers had ripped off of her.
“We all collapsed in tears. It is unspeakably painful what happened here in Guinea,” Aïssata Daffe of the Union des Forces Républicaines political party told IRIN.
The gathering was part of an ongoing effort by local NGOs and civil society organizations to collect information about the sexual violence during the 28 September military crackdown in order to appeal for assistance and justice.
NGOs are still trying to determine how many women and girls were raped. For now 33 cases have been documented, according to local and international aid agencies.
The data search requires neighbourhood visits, people involved in the efforts told IRIN. Many women are simply staying home, afraid to seek help. Added to the usual stigma attached to rape is fear. Rumours have been rife – and doctors have recounted – that soldiers have entered hospitals and taken away women who said they were raped.
“What I know for sure is that soldiers came into a health centre and took the women who were there with rape injuries,” said one of two doctors who told IRIN this happened.
Human rights workers and residents of Conakry say a climate of fear has overcome the population, and many civil servants are afraid to talk. Two other doctors told IRIN they do not think rapes occurred.
“I know people are saying that on the radio and internet, but I do not believe that rapes happened during the events of 28 September,” a public hospital doctor told IRIN.
“They are afraid to talk,” said Mamadi Kaba, president of the Guinea office of the human rights group RADDHO. “Whether or not they have received specific instructions from the junta, they are afraid to give any information [about the events of 28 September].”
An aid worker who requested anonymity told IRIN: “It is very difficult for health professionals who are divided between their ethical and medical responsibilities and the risk they take treating these victims.”
NGOs and political associations will appeal for ongoing medical and psychological assistance to rape victims. They will also urge women to go after their perpetrators.
“This absolutely must not stand,” said Nanfadima Magassouba, president of the National Coalition of Guinea for the Rights and Citizenship of Women (CONAG-DCF).
Junta leader Moussa Dadis Camara on 7 October announced the creation of a national commission of inquiry into the events of 28 September. But a coalition of political parties and civil society organizations has rejected this, calling for an international investigation.
CONAG-DCF plans to observe a national day – possibly to coincide with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women 25 November – “to draw attention to the magnitude of the damage”, Magassouba told IRIN.
Even in Guinea, which since independence in 1958 has regularly seen military repression of civilians, the sexual violence that took place on 28 September was a shock.
“We did not know Guineans could do this to Guineans,” Magassouba said.
One activist told IRIN in her neighbourhood is a 15-year-old girl who was gang-raped during the violence. “Soldiers raped her, one after another. When we saw her she could not even sit.”
Political party UFR’s Daffe said moving past the fear and repression is essential. She said she and her colleagues are visiting families of victims in an effort to repair a crushed collective morale.
“We must get past this; we must catch people before they get so discouraged that they stop contributing to the fight,” she said. “We need them for the fight.”