Hillary Clinton: Violence Against Guinea Women "Criminality Of The Greatest Degree"S

On September 28th, citizens who gathered peacefully to protest Guinea's Junta leader Moussa Dadis Camara were greeted with gunfire. The military massacred approximately 157 people, and many of the soldiers participated in the public rapes and assaults of female demonstrators.

So, how did this start? According the BBC's country profile of Guinea, Camara rose to power in a "bloodless coup" after the death of President Lansana Conte at the end of last year. Initially, Camara was popular with the people, promising democracy and a more transparent society.

However, in an article published post-massacre, the BBC reports that Camara's behavior had grown increasingly contradictory in the months leading up to the protest:

Following the coup, he said he had not come to power by chance, listing a patriotic spirit and generosity among his leadership qualities.

His popularity has now dwindled, as he appears to be reneging on his promises of a transition to democracy and has shown signs of wanting to hold onto power.

After shooting at the protesters, the soldiers in the square decided to take their domestic terrorism one step further - they began to rape and sexually assault women in the streets. The New York Times reports:

Cellphone snapshots, ugly and hard to refute, are circulating here and feeding rage: they show that women were the particular targets of the Guinean soldiers who suppressed a political demonstration at a stadium here last week, with victims and witnesses describing rapes, beatings and acts of intentional humiliation. [...]

One photograph shows a naked woman lying on muddy ground, her legs up in the air, a man in military fatigues in front of her. In a second picture a soldier in a red beret is pulling the clothes off a distraught-looking woman half-lying, half-sitting on muddy ground. In a third a mostly nude woman lying on the ground is pulling on her trousers.

Rape is a fairly common tool of military repression in Africa, but large-scale violence against women has not been a previous government tactic here. "This time, a new stage has been reached," said Sidya Touré, a former prime minister who was also beaten at the stadium and said he had witnessed brutalities there. "Women as battlefield targets. We could never have imagined that."

"Where could people get the idea to start raping women in broad daylight?" Mr. Touré asked, in an interview at his home here. "It's so contrary to our culture. To molest women using rifle barrels. ... "

In response to this dire situation, the international community has called for an intervention. France, the former colonial ruler of Guinea - located on the west coast of Africa and bordering Senegal, the Ivory Coast, Mali, Liberia and Sierra Leone - has threatened to cease all business with the country; Camara has responded that Guinea is a sovereign nation and will deal with its own "internal matters."

Amid these tensions, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has stepped to the forefront of crisis. In keeping with her pledge to make women the cornerstone of her national security strategy, she has already released a statement condemning the actions.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called for "appropriate actions" against a military government that she said "cannot remain in power."

"It was criminality of the greatest degree, and those who committed such acts should not be given any reason to expect that they will escape justice," Mrs. Clinton told reporters in Washington. She said that the nation's leader, Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara, and his government "must turn back to the people the right to choose their own leaders."

But will these efforts be enough? The position of the US is a major influence on international policy, but will it work in nations like Guinea, who have tenuous ties, at best, to the United States?

"In America's view, Moussa Dadis Camara can't be president, and we are going to hold him to that," [William Fitzgerald, deputy assistant secretary of state] said.

He acknowledged that "America's leverage is not as strong here as it is in many parts of Africa," but he said that sanctions, a visa ban and an asset freeze were all possibilities.

In the meantime, the women of Guinea are waiting for a resolution.

In A Guinea Seized by Violence, Women Are Prey [NY Times]
Country Profile: Guinea [BBC]
Guinea's Erratic Military Ruler [BBC]
In A Guinea Seized by Violence, Women Are Prey [NY Times]
U.S. Envoy Protests Violence in Guinea [NY Times]