For Immediate Release
Guinea: September 28 Massacre Was Premeditated
In-Depth Investigation Also Documents Widespread Rape
NEW YORK - An in-depth investigation into the September 28, 2009 killings and
rapes at a peaceful rally in Conakry, Guinea, has uncovered new
evidence that the massacre and widespread sexual violence were
organized and were committed largely by the elite Presidential Guard,
commonly known as the "red berets," Human Rights Watch said today.
Following a 10-day research mission in Guinea, Human Rights Watch also
found that the armed forces attempted to hide evidence of the crimes by
seizing bodies from the stadium and the city's morgues and burying them
in mass graves.
Human Rights Watch found that members of the Presidential Guard
carried out a premeditated massacre of at least 150 people on September
28 and brutally raped dozens of women. Red berets shot at opposition
supporters until they ran out of bullets, then continued to kill with
bayonets and knives.
"There is no way the government can continue to imply the deaths
were somehow accidental," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at
Human Rights Watch. "This was clearly a premeditated attempt to silence
"Security forces surrounded and blockaded the stadium, then stormed
in and fired at protesters in cold blood until they ran out of
bullets," added Gagnon. "They carried out grisly gang rapes and murders
of women in full sight of the commanders. That's no accident."
A group of Guinean military officers calling themselves the National Council for Democracy and Development (Conseil national pour la démocratie et le développement,
CNDD) seized power hours after the death on December 22, 2008, of
Lansana Conté, Guinea's president for 24 years. The CNDD is headed by a
self-proclaimed president, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara.
Human Rights Watch reiterated its call for full support for, and
speedy implementation of, the international commission of inquiry into
the violence as proposed by the Economic Community of West African
States (ECOWAS), to be led by the United Nations and with involvement
from the African Union. Criminal investigation leading to fair and
effective prosecutions of the crimes - through domestic efforts, but
failing that, international efforts - is essential, Human Rights Watch
A four-member team of Human Rights Watch investigators interviewed
more than 150 victims and witnesses in Guinea from October 12 to 22.
Among those interviewed were victims wounded during the attack,
witnesses present in the stadium, relatives of missing people, military
officers who participated in the crackdown and the cover-up, medical
staff, humanitarian officials, diplomats, and opposition leaders.
Killings at the Stadium on September 28
According to the accounts of numerous witnesses, a combined force of
a few hundred Presidential Guard troops known as "red berets,"
gendarmes working with the Anti-Drug and Anti-Organized Crime unit,
some members of the Anti-Riot Police, and dozens of civilian-clothed
irregular militias entered the stadium around 11:30 a.m. on September
28, sealing off most exits, following the firing of tear gas into the
stadium by Anti-Riot Police. The stadium was packed with tens of
thousands of peaceful pro-democracy supporters protesting the military
regime and Camara's presumed candidacy in the upcoming presidential
There had been limited violence between opposition supporters and
security forces during the course of the morning. In several deadly
incidents, security forces fired at opposition members in an attempt to
stop them from reaching the stadium. In response to one such lethal
shooting, enraged opposition supporters set fire to the Bellevue police
However, witness accounts and video evidence obtained by Human
Rights Watch showing the stadium crowd just before the shooting shows a
peaceful and celebratory atmosphere with opposition supporters singing,
dancing, marching around the stadium with posters and the Guinean flag,
and even praying. Human Rights Watch has not seen any evidence that any
opposition supporters were armed, and no security officials were
wounded by opposition supporters at the stadium, suggesting that there
was no legitimate threat posed by the opposition supporters that
required the violence that followed.
Witnesses said that as soon as the Presidential Guard entered the
stadium, its members began firing point-blank directly into the massive
crowd of protesters, killing dozens and sowing panic. The attackers,
particularly members of the Presidential Guard but also gendarmes
attached to the Anti-Drug and Anti-Organized Crime unit, continued to
fire into the crowd until they had emptied the two clips of AK-47
ammunition many of them carried. Since most of the exits had been
blocked and the stadium was surrounded by the attackers, escape for the
trapped protesters was extremely difficult, and many were crushed to
death by the panicked crowd.
One opposition supporter, a 32-year-old man, described to Human
Rights Watch how the red berets entered the stadium and began firing
directly at the protesters, and how the killings continued as he tried
"They first began to fire tear gas from outside the
stadium - many canisters of tear gas were fired into the stadium. Just
then, the red berets entered from the big gate to the stadium. As soon
as they entered, they began to fire directly at the crowd. I heard a
soldier yell, ‘We've come to clean!' I decided to run to the gate at
the far end. As I looked back, I could see many bodies on the grass. I
decided to try and run out of the stadium. At the far gate, one of the
doors was open but there were so many people trying to flee, I decided
to climb over the closed door...
"I ran toward the perimeter wall. Near the basketball court, a
group of red berets and gendarmes from Tiégboro [Captain Moussa
Tiégboro Camara, secretary of state in charge of the fight against drug
trafficking and serious crime - no relation to the CNDD president,
Dadis Camara] were chasing us. They fired on a group of eight of us,
and only three of us were able to get away alive. Five of us were
killed, shot down near the wall facing the [Gamal Abdel Nasser]
"We couldn't get out there, so we ran back to the broken wall near
Donka road. A group of red berets was there waiting for us, two trucks
of them. They were armed with bayonets. I saw one red beret kill three
people right in front of us [with a bayonet], so I wanted to run back.
But my friend said, ‘There are lots of us, let's try and push through,'
and that is how we escaped."
One of the opposition leaders described to Human Rights Watch how he
watched in disbelief from the podium as the killing unfolded below
"We went up to the podium and when the people knew the
leaders had arrived, many more people came into the stadium, filling it
up. We were just preparing to leave the stadium and tell people to go
home when we heard gunshots outside, and then tear gas was fired. The
soldiers put electric current on the metal doors by cutting down the
electric wires overhead and encircled the stadium.
"Then they entered the stadium firing. They began firing from the
big entry gate to the stadium. We were up on the podium and could see
people falling down; it was just unbelievable. When everyone ran away,
there were bodies everywhere and we remained on the podium."
Witnesses also described the killing of many more opposition supporters
by the Presidential Guard and other security forces on the grounds
surrounding the stadium, which is enclosed by a two-meter-high wall. As
protesters tried to scale the walls to escape, many were shot down by
the attackers. The opposition supporters said they were also attacked
by men in civilian dress and armed with knives, pangas (machetes), and sharpened sticks.
The evidence collected by Human Rights Watch strongly suggests that the
massacre and widespread rape (documented below) were organized and
premeditated. This conclusion is supported by the evidence, both from
witnesses and video, that the security forces began firing immediately
at the protesters on entering the stadium, and that the opposition
protest was peaceful and did not represent a threat requiring a violent
response. The manner in which the massacre appears to have been carried
out - the simultaneous arrival of the combined security force, the
sealing off of exits and escape routes, and the simultaneous and
sustained deadly firing by large numbers of the Presidential Guard -
suggests organization, planning, and premeditation.
During interviews, many Guineans expressed shock at the apparent
ethnic nature of the violence, which threatens to destabilize the
situation in Guinea further. The vast majority of the victims were from
the Peuhl ethnic group, which is almost exclusively Muslim, while most
of the commanders at the stadium - and indeed key members of the ruling
CNDD, including Camara, the coup leader - belong to ethnic groups from
the southeastern forest region, which are largely Christian or animist.
Witnesses said that many of the killers and rapists made ethnically
biased comments during the attacks, insulting and appearing to target
the Peuhl, the majority ethnicity of the opposition supporters, and
claiming that the Peuhl wanted to seize power and needed to be "taught
a lesson." Human Rights Watch also spoke with witnesses to the military
training of several thousand men from the southeast forest region at a
base near the southwestern town of Forécariah, apparently to form a
commando unit dominated by people from ethnic groups from the forest
Many of the Peuhl victims reported being threatened or abused on
account of their ethnicity. For example, one woman who was gang raped
by men in uniform wearing red berets described how her attackers
referred repeatedly to her ethnicity: "Today, we're going to teach you
a lesson. Yes, we're tired of your tricks... we're going to finish all
the Peuhl." A young man detained for several days in the Koundara
military camp described how a red beret put a pistol to his head and
said, "You say you don't want us, that you prefer Cellou [the leading
Peuhl opposition candidate, Cellou Dalein Diallo]... we're going to kill
all of you. We will stay in power."
Death Toll and the Government Cover-Up
Human Rights Watch's research confirms that the death toll of the
September 28 massacre was much higher than the government's official
toll of 57 dead, and is more likely to be about 150 to 200 dead.
According to hospital records, interviews with witnesses and medical
personnel, and the records collected by opposition political parties
and local human rights organizations, at least 1,000 people were
wounded during the attack on the stadium. Human Rights Watch found
strong evidence that the government engaged in a systematic attempt to
hide the evidence of the crimes. During the afternoon of September 28,
members of the Presidential Guard seized control of the two main
morgues in Conakry and prevented families from recovering the bodies of
SCROLL TO CONTINUE WITH CONTENT
Get our best delivered to your inbox.
In the hours that followed, witnesses and family members said,
soldiers, most wearing red berets, removed bodies from the city morgues
and collected bodies from the stadium, then took them to military bases
and concealed them. Human Rights Watch investigated more than 50 cases
of confirmed deaths from the massacre and found that half of those
bodies had been taken away by the military, including at least six that
had initially been taken to the main Donka Hospital morgue.
For example, the body of Mamadou "Mama" Bah, a 20-year-old student
killed on September 28, was transported to Donka morgue by the local
Red Cross. The body disappeared and has not been recovered. Bah's
father described what he experienced to Human Rights Watch:
"The Red Cross took the body to Donka Hospital morgue,
and I followed them myself. At the hospital, I spoke to the doctors and
they told me I should come back the next day to collect the body. But
the next day, the morgue was encircled by red berets who refused anyone
access. We tried to negotiate with them, but they refused. On Friday, I
went to the Grand Fayçal Mosque when they displayed the bodies from
Donka morgue, but his body wasn't there. It had disappeared."
Hamidou Diallo, a 26-year-old shoe salesman, was shot in the head and
killed at the stadium. A close friend, who was wounded, watched the red
berets remove Diallo's body from the stadium and take it away to an
unknown location. Despite an extensive search of the morgue and the
military bases, the family was unable to find Diallo's body.
One witness inside the Almamy Samory Touré military camp described
to Human Rights Watch how in the hours after the massacre, the military
brought 47 bodies from the stadium to the camp, and then later that
evening went to the morgue that he was told was at the Ignace Deen
Hospital and collected an additional 18 bodies. The witness further
stated that the 65 bodies were taken from the military base in the
middle of the night, allegedly to be buried in mass graves.
Widespread Rape and Sexual Violence
The Presidential Guard, and to a lesser extent gendarmes, carried out
widespread rape and sexual violence against dozens of girls and women
at the stadium, often with such extreme brutality that their victims
died from the wounds inflicted.
Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed 27 victims of sexual
violence, the majority of whom were raped by more than one person.
Witnesses described seeing at least four women murdered by members of
the Presidential Guard after being raped, including women who were shot
or bayoneted in the vagina. Some victims were penetrated with gun
barrels, shoes, and wooden sticks.
Victims and witnesses have described how rapes took place publicly
inside the stadium, as well as in several areas around the stadium
grounds, including the nearby bathroom area, the basketball courts, and
the annex stadium. In addition to the rapes committed at the stadium,
many women described how they were taken by the Presidential Guard from
the stadium and from a medical clinic where they had sought treatment
to private residences, where they endured days and nights of brutal
gang rape. The level, frequency, and brutality of sexual violence that
took place at and after the protests strongly suggests that it was part
of a systematic attempt to terrorize and humiliate the opposition, not
just random acts by rogue soldiers.
A 35-year-old teacher described to Human Rights Watch how she was gang raped at the stadium:
"After the shooting began I tried to run, but the red
berets caught me and dragged me to the ground. One of them struck me
twice on the head with the butt of his rifle. After I fell down, three
set upon me. One whipped out his knife and tore my clothes off, cutting
me on the back in the process. I tried to fight but they were too
strong. Two held me down while the other raped me. They said they would
kill me if I didn't leave them to do what they wanted. Then the second
one raped me, then the third. They beat me all the while, and said
again and again they were going to kill all of us. And I believed them
- about three meters away another woman was being raped, and after they
had finished, one of them took his bayonet and stuck her in her vagina,
and then licked the blood from his knife. I saw this, just next to me...
I was so terrified they would also do this to me."
A 42-year-old professional woman who was held in a house and gang raped
for three days described her ordeal to Human Rights Watch:
"As I tried to run from the firing, I saw a few red
berets raping a young woman. One of them put his gun in her sex and
fired - she didn't move again. Oh God, every time I think of that girl
dying in that way... I can't bear it. As this happened, another red beret
grabbed me hard from behind and said, ‘Come with me, or I will do the
same thing to you.' He led me to a military truck with no windows. In
it were about 25 young men and about six women, including me. After
some distance they stopped and the soldiers told three or four women to
get out. Later they stopped at a second house where they told the women
who remained to get out. I was immediately led into a room and the door
was locked behind me.
"Some hours later three of them came into the room - all dressed in
military and with red berets. One of them had a little container of
white powder. He dipped his finger in it and forced it into my nose.
Then all three of them used me. They used me again the next day, but
after a while others came in, two by two. I didn't know how many or
who. I felt my vagina was burning and bruised. I was so tired and out
of my head. The first three of them were watching each other as they
"I was there for three days. They said, ‘You don't really think
you'll leave here alive, do you?' and at times argued among themselves,
‘Should we kill her now?' ‘No... let's get what we need and then kill
her.' At times I heard another woman crying out from a nearby room,
‘Please, please... oh my God, this is the end of my life.' On the last
day at 6 a.m., the soldiers put a cover over my head, drove for some
time, and then let me go on a street corner, completely naked."
Commanders at the scene clearly were aware of the widespread rapes, but
there is no evidence that they made any attempt to stop them. One
opposition leader told Human Rights Watch how he was led out of the
stadium by Lieutenant Abubakar "Toumba" Diakité, the commander of the
Presidential Guard, past at least a dozen women as they were being
sexually assaulted by red berets. He noted how Toumba did nothing to
stop the rapes:
"I saw lots of cases of rape. The opposition leaders
were taken slowly out of the stadium, so we saw a lot. As we came down
from the podium, I saw a woman naked on the ground surrounded by five
red berets who were raping her on the grass. I saw other naked women
there being taken away by the red berets [to be raped]. There were even
more rapes outside the stadium. Just outside the stadium, where the
showers are, there was a woman naked on the ground. There were three or
four red berets on top of her, and one had pushed his rifle into her
[vagina]. She was screaming so loudly in pain that we had to look and
see it. All along that passage, there were about a dozen women being
raped. Lieutenant Toumba was right next to us and saw it all, but he
didn't do anything to stop the rapes."
Responsibility for the Massacre, Sexual Violence, and Other Abuses
Based on the evidence gathered, Human Rights Watch found that the
massacre and sexual violence committed on September 28 at the stadium
appeared to be both organized and pre-planned. All those responsible,
including those who gave the orders, should be held criminally
accountable for their actions, as should anyone who tried to cover up
the crimes and dispose of any evidence. That the killings, sexual
violence, and persecution on the grounds of ethnicity appear to have
been systematic suggests that this may have been a crime against
humanity. As such, the principle of "command responsibility" applies.
Those in positions of responsibility, who should have known about the
crime (or its planning) and who failed to prevent it or prosecute those
responsible, should be held criminally responsible.
Human Rights Watch believes that independent criminal investigations
leading to the identification and prosecution of those responsible,
including those liable under command responsibility, are urgently
needed. Among those whose possible criminal responsibility for the
massacre and sexual violence should be investigated are:
- Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, president of
the CNDD: While Camara was not believed to have been present at the
stadium on September 28, he was involved in trying to prevent the
protest. All witness accounts said killings were carried out by members
of the Presidential Guard, which Camara ultimately commands, and that
the person in command of the red berets at the stadium was Camara's
personal aide de camp and head of his personal bodyguard, Lieutenant
Abubakar "Toumba" Diakité. Evidence suggests that the Presidential
Guard at the stadium came there from the Alpha Yaya Diallo military
camp where Camara is based. Further, there is no evidence that Camara
has initiated any proceedings to discipline or hold accountable any of
his subordinates directly implicated in the massacre and rapes.
- Lieutenant Abubakar "Toumba" Diakité: Many
witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch have stated that Toumba was
physically present at the stadium and in direct command of the
Presidential Guard that carried out the massacre and widespread sexual
violence there. There is no evidence that he made any attempt to stop
troops from carrying out the killings or the sexual violence.
- Lieutenant Marcel Kuvugi: Kuvugi is a deputy
to Diakité and sometimes serves as Camara's personal driver. Witnesses,
including several opposition leaders, have said he violently attacked
and repeatedly threatened to kill the political opposition leaders
present at the stadium. The political leaders said that when they were
taken from the stadium to a clinic for first-aid treatment, Kuvugi
threatened to shoot them if they got out of the car and to throw a
grenade at them, keeping them from getting medical treatment.
- Captain Claude "Coplan" Pivi, minister for
presidential security: There are conflicting reports about whether Pivi
was present at the stadium during the massacre. Witnesses have alleged
that he participated in attacks on the homes of opposition leaders on
the evening of September 28 and in the violent attacks on
opposition-dominated neighborhoods in the following days.
- Captain Moussa Tiégboro Camara: As secretary
of state in charge of the fight against drug trafficking and serious
crime, Tiégboro commands the elite gendarme unit that took part in the
massacre at the stadium. Witnesses have stated that Tiégboro was
present. Witnesses have also said the gendarmes made several attempts
to stop the protesters before they reached the stadium, in a few
instances firing into the crowds and killing at least three protesters.
Witnesses have stated that the gendarme unit then participated in the
massacre at the stadium, though its members were less frequently
implicated in murder and rape than were the Presidential Guard. At
least 72 protesters were detained in the custody of the gendarme unit
following the massacre, and those held by the unit said they were
Need for an International Commission of Inquiry and Criminal Accountability
Due to the serious nature of the crimes committed by Guinea's security
forces, particularly the Presidential Guard, on September 28 and on the
days that followed, there should be a strong response from the
international community. Human Rights Watch therefore calls upon the
African Union, ECOWAS, the European Union, and the United Nations to:
- Support fully the international commission of inquiry into
the events of September 28 proposed by ECOWAS and already established
by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, to ensure that it immediately has
the resources to carry out its investigation and promptly publish its
results, and urge Guinea's authorities to cooperate fully with this
- Strongly urge Guinean authorities to ensure that prompt,
independent, fair, and open criminal investigations take place into the
crimes and their cover-up, leading to the fair and effective
prosecution of those allegedly responsible in accordance with
international standards, including those who gave orders or who are
liable under command responsibility. Should the Guinean authorities
fail to ensure such investigations and prosecutions, the Guinean
government, the AU, ECOWAS, EU, and UN should fully support
international investigations and prosecutions, including by the
International Criminal Court (ICC) if the requirements of its statute
are met. Guinea is a state party to the ICC, which gives the court
jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes
committed on its territory. Following the violence on September 28, the
ICC prosecutor indicated that Guinea is under preliminary examination
by his office. Preliminary examination is a phase that may precede the
opening of an investigation.
Human Rights Watch plans to release a full-length report on its
findings. Human Rights Watch is now releasing a summary of its core
findings because of the gravity of the abuses committed and the need
for immediate international action to bring the perpetrators of the
abuses to justice.
This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.
Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Won't Exist.
Please select a donation method:
Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.