Human Rights Watch strongly condemned the Guinean government for inciting armed attacks against Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees.
Human Rights Watch today released the first on-the-ground testimonies from more than 40 victims, including ten women who were raped, seven of whom were gang-raped. Excerpts of testimony as well as fuller testimonies are available below.
"Many of these women were raped and sexually assaulted in Sierra Leone, and they fled to Guinea seeking safety," said Rachael Reilly, Refugee Policy Director at Human Rights Watch. "It is unacceptable that they should fall victim to similar atrocities in their place of refuge."
Human Rights Watch called on the Guinean government to immediately cease the round-ups and attacks against the refugees, and to investigate those responsible. The organization also called on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to investigate the attacks and protect refugees in Guinea. On September 12 UNHCR released a public statement acknowledging "unconfirmed" reports of rape.
On Saturday, September 9, President Lansana Conté of Guinea made a public plea on radio and television to protect the country from rebel attacks from Sierra Leone and Liberia. Thousands of refugees in the capital, Conakry, were then attacked and rounded up by police, soldiers and armed civilian militias in response to Conté's address.
According to Human Rights Watch interviews, the mobs drove refugees out of their houses, frequently beating, raping, and sexually abusing them. The attackers wielded sticks, rocks, iron bars, electric cords and knives.
Police also arbitrarily detained an unknown number of refugees. UNHCR estimated that some 3,000 people were rounded up and taken into detention over the weekend. Most of them were taken initially to police stations and then moved to local district communes or schools in Conakry. Hundreds fled with their belongings to the Sierra Leonean embassy in Conakry for safety.
Human Rights Watch has confirmed at least one case of a man who died while in detention. Among the ten rape victims interviewed were a 14-year-old girl and a mother with a three-month-old baby.
Most of the refugees' houses were looted and their property stolen. Some refugees were strip-searched for money, including an elderly grandmother and a young mother with a ten-month-old baby. Victims and witnesses said Guinean police and army officers were present during some of the attacks, and sometimes participated. Most of the refugees Human Rights Watch interviewed were from Sierra Leone; seven were from Liberia.
UNHCR, the international refugee agency charged with providing protection to refugees, told Human Rights Watch it had not investigated any cases of rape so far, and said that it could not confirm the reports. Guinean officials interviewed by Human Rights Watch also denied that such abuses had taken place. Human Rights Watch made a strong plea to both UNHCR and the Guinean authorities to immediately investigate these abuses.
President Conté's statement accused the refugees of harboring rebels responsible for recent cross-border attacks into Guinea from Liberia and Sierra Leone, and declared that the refugees "should go home." "I am giving orders that we bring together all foreigners in [Guinean] neighborhoods, so that we know what they are doing, and that we search and arrest suspects," he said. "Civilians and soldiers, let's defend our country together. Crush the invaders."
Guinean authorities have reported three cross-border incursions into Guinea over the past week, the most serious occurring in the Guinean border town of Massadou where 47 people were killed after an incursion from Liberia on September 1. On September 8 the Guinean authorities reported that the border town of Pamelap was attacked by Sierra Leonean insurgents and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) confirmed that between 20-40 soldiers and civilians had been injured. The attacks have resulted in rising hostility against Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees in camps along the two borders.
Guinea hosts one of the largest refugee populations in Africa. UNHCR estimates that there are 125,000 Liberian and 330,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea who have fled the brutal civil wars and gross human rights violations in both countries. An estimated 10,000 refugees have fled Sierra Leone since May 2000 when the fighting and atrocities by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) intensified once again. In the past, Guinea has been praised by the international community for its generous policies of sheltering refugees.
In recent months, however, Guinea has intermittently closed its border with Sierra Leone, in violation of its international commitments. Fearful of incursions by Sierra Leonean rebels, the Guinean authorities closed the border at the beginning of August, later agreeing to allow access only to "vulnerable" refugees (including pregnant and lactating women; children below the age of 14 (later raised to 18); and the elderly). At the beginning of September UNHCR confirmed that at least 10,000 civilians were waiting to cross the border and one pregnant women and at least ten children had died due to the poor conditions.
The UNHCR representative in Guinea, Chrysantus Ache, told Human Rights Watch on Monday, September 11 that the government had issued instructions to release all the refugees and to stop the round-ups and harassment. Nevertheless, Human Rights Watch has documented that significant numbers of refugees remain in detention and that the rapes, attacks and harassment have not ended.
Excerpted Testimonies from Sierra Leonean Refugees in Conakry, Guinea Documented September 11 and 12, 2000
A 19-year-old woman told Human Rights Watch that three armed soldiers in camouflage and with red berets and a crowd of civilians broke into her house where she lived with her mother and nine brothers and sisters on Saturday night. She was carrying her three-month-old baby on her back when the soldiers entered the house. One of the soldiers pushed her hard and she fell on the TV, another soldier grabbed her baby from her back. The first soldier pushed her down and raped her. She cried, "But I'm a brand new mother. I've just had a baby." When the soldier was finished, one of the civilians then raped her. Once they had raped her they beat her, scratched her arm and kicked her, calling her a "bastard child." Then one of the soldiers gave a command to take everything from the house. They took the TV, the clothes, and the beds and loaded everything onto carts waiting outside. They took the baby as well. The woman's mother was hiding under one of the beds and they forced her at gunpoint to hand over her money. The mob stayed for more than three hours. "All I could think of was my baby," the woman told Human Rights Watch. "After they'd left I gave my uncle a picture of my baby and they went from place to place until they found him. The soldiers had left him at one of the detention centers. They even stole his little clothes."
A mother told Human Rights Watch how her 14-year-old daughter - a twin - was raped in front of her. At 5 a.m. on Saturday. Five soldiers and many civilians banged on their door, crying "Police, police... if you don't open we'll shoot you all." Afraid that they would be killed, the family opened the door and the mob rushed in. The soldiers pointed their guns at the family and shouted, "You have dollars, pull the dollars or we'll kill you all." They stole all their possessions - fans, chairs, the freezer, audiotapes, clothes and shoes. One civilian from the neighborhood grabbed the woman's daughter shouting, "You're the rebels, you're bringing the fighting to our country. We'll kill you." The woman tried to throw herself in front of the soldiers, but they kicked her aside, pulled her daughter away and started raping her. Another soldier grabbed the mother by her hair and forced her to watch as her daughter was raped by two soldiers and a civilian. The mother struggled to stop them but they beat her and pushed her six-year-old son aside - he fell and broke his tooth. "After the rape my daughter was bleeding," the mother told Human Rights Watch. "We don't have anything. We're just trying to make ends meet here in Guinea. We've been here five years... we fled the violence in Kambia district (Sierra Leone). They even stole 350,000 francs guinea [about $200 US] - all I had saved for a long time."
A 19-year-old woman told Human Rights Watch how she was raped in her home on Monday night by four soldiers. She lived in Kobaya, a suburb five to six miles away from the center of Conakry, with four other family members. At 10 a.m. a crowd arrived at her house, some of them in uniform with green caps, and one police officer with a blue uniform and black cap. The gate was locked, so they jumped it and entered. There were 10 youths with them, who carried sticks, axes and machetes and used them to break into the house. As the woman was trying to run a soldier grabbed hold of her and slapped her once on the face; a few civilian youths held her by the shirt at her neck. The men found her two cousins and her sister and pushed them into a blue truck. They took their clothes, suitcases and other things and left the woman alone in the house. At 8 p.m. the mob came back. They banged at the door. The woman hid under the bed, but they got in and four of them - all in military dress - entered. She told Human Rights Watch, "They pulled me out from under the bed and then used me just there one after the other. I begged them but they said they'd kill me. One of them sat on a chair with his gun and the other one used me - then they took their turn." When they had left she escaped to the Sierra Leonean embassy for safety.
A 24-year-old woman described to Human Rights Watch how she was raped by four soldiers in Seratay police station on September 10. The soldiers and gangs of youths came to her neighborhood on Sunday night. They were shouting, "All Sierra Leoneans must come out." Her husband was away that night, so she came out with her two small children. The crowd searched her house and carried their fridge, suitcases, clothes and other things and loaded them onto a green military van. Then they took her and her children to Seratay police station where they were put in a cell with up to one hundred people. After a few hours the soldiers came and called a woman - they took her into a room and when she came back she was limping and said that they'd raped her. The woman explained to Human Rights Watch, "Then they came for me. I said I can't go, I have my children, but one of the soldier men grabbed my 10-month-old baby out of my arms, flung him [aside] and ordered me inside a room. They used me on the ground. All four of them did it. They were all soldiers men in uniforms and two had two stripes - like they were the big men there. After they left me they took a few other women as well. I begged them but they said, "Shut up... we'll kill you... our president has announced that all you people must leave. You're all rebels."
Other women also described sexual abuse and humiliation by soldiers and police officers. A 29-year-old woman told Human Rights Watch that she was arrested at 6 p.m. on Friday night by three soldiers and taken to Hamdalai police station and then to Rotoma commune. The soldiers called each one of them and wrote down their names. At noon on Saturday they called her into a small room. She told Human Rights Watch, "I had my little baby in my arms. There were five or six of them. Then they grabbed my baby and flung him in the corner. He started screaming but they ordered me to strip off all my clothes. Then they told me to spread my legs and bend over and four of them put their fingers inside me saying that they were looking for money. After the fourth one I couldn't bear it and I said no more. So they kicked me with their soldier boots and hit me hard with the butts of their rifles."
Cases of rape, sexual assault and humiliation
Woman, 19, raped and baby kidnapped:
"Late on Saturday night, three armed soldiers... in camouflage and with red berets, and a lot of civilians broke into our house in two directions; some from the back and some through the front... I lived there with my mother and 9 brothers and sister. I just had a little baby which I had on my back when the soldiers entered. One of the soldiers pushed me hard and I fell onto the TV then another soldiers grabbed my baby off my back.
"Then the first soldier pushed me down and raped me... I cried, but I'm a brand new mother. I've just had a baby. Then one of the civilians raped me. They roughed me up and scraped me on my arm. They called me a bastard child and kicked me hard after using me...they said you people only like your Sierra Leones for boyfriends, don't you? Then I heard one of the soldiers give a command to take everything... so they started taking the TV, clothes and as they were taking apart one of the beds they found my mother hiding there... so they pushed her and forced her at gunpoint to give them money... she had about 250 US dollars hidden on her. They stayed there for about three hours... as they stole our things they loaded them onto carts that were waiting out front. But all I could think of was my baby. After they'd left I gave my uncle a picture of my baby and they went from place to place until they found him. The soldiers had left him at one of the detention centers. They even stole all his little clothes." (Testimony taken Monday, September 11, Conakry)
Woman, 45, witnessed rape of 14 year old daughter:
"On Saturday at 5:00 am five soldiers and many civilians knocked at the door saying; police, police... if you don't open we'll shoot you all. When we heard them cock their guns we felt we had to open. Then they all rushed in and one of the soldiers says, you're all rebels, and you have dollars, pull out the dollars or we'll kill you all... the soldiers had their guns pointed at us. The civilians were with iron bars, knives, sticks... they started looting, they took the fans, chairs, freezers, tape, clothes, they opened all the boxes looking for the best of everything. They took all the new clothes and the kids' good shoes and clothes and left a few rags for us. Then one of those civilians who knew my daughter from the neighborhood grabbed her saying ‘you're the rebels, you're bringing the fight to our country. We'll kill you.' Fearing they were going to rape her I fell down at the foot of one of the soldiers but he just kicked me and I fell at the feet of another one. Then they pulled my daughter away and started raping. One of them grabbed me by the hair and said I should watch... two soldiers and one civilians raped her. I struggled to stop them but they beat me and pushed my little 6-year-old son in the process. He fell and broke his front tooth. We don't have anything. We're just trying to make ends meet here in Guinea. We're been here for five years... we fled the violence in Kambia district. After the rape my daughter was bleeding. They even stole 350,000 Guinea francs [about 200 US dollars]... all I had saved for a long time. After they left our landlord came and said we had to leave... then we fled to the Sierra Leonean embassy." (Testimony taken Monday, September 11, Conakry)
Woman, 19, gang raped:
"I've been living in Guinea since 1998... I live with four other family members. We'd been able to avoid this trouble till last night (Monday) when at around 10 AM people came... some in uniforms with those green caps and one escuadron with a blue uniform and black cap. Our gate was locked so they jumped over the gate and came in. There were about 10 youths with them; they had sticks, axes and machetes and used them to break into our house. As I was trying to run a soldier grabbed hold of me and slapped me once, hard on the face... then a few civilian youths held me by my shirt at the neck. Then they started looking for the others... they found my two cousins and my sister and pushed them into a blue truck... as they were doing this others started loading our possessions into a van... they took our clothes, suitcases and other things. They left me saying it was the others they were after. Now alone in the house... they came back at 8:00 pm last night. They banged at the door... I went and hid under the bed but they got in and four of them - all in military dress - entered. They pulled me out from under the bed and then used me just there one after the other. I begged them but they said they'd kill me. One of them sat on a chair with his gun pointed at me while two others held my legs and the other one used me... Then they took their turn. After they left I waited till the morning and borrowed money for transport then ran to the embassy." (Testimony taken Tuesday, September 12, Conakry)
Woman, 24, gang raped at Seratay police station (one of two rape reports from this station):
"They came for us on Sunday night. Soldiers and gangs of youths came to our neighborhood and all started shouting... ‘all Sierra Leoneans must come out.' My husband was away that night so I came out with my two small children. Then they started looking; they carried out our fridge, suitcases clothes and other things and loaded them in a green military van. Then they took us to the Seratay police station where me and my kids were put into a cell with up to 100 people. After a few hours soldiers came and called a woman... they took her into a room and then she came back. She was limping and she said they'd raped her. Then they came for me. I said I can't go I have my children but one of the soldier men grabbed my 10 month baby out of my arms, flung him and ordered me inside a room. Then they used me on the ground. All four of them did it. They were all soldier men in uniforms and two had two stripes... like they were the big men there. After they left me they took a few other women as well. I begged them but they said ‘Shut up... we'll kill you... our president has announced that all you people must leave. You're all rebels.'" (Testimony taken Tuesday, September 12, Conakry)
Woman, 18, gang raped at Seratay police station:
"At 11 pm on Sunday, several police in blue uniforms came... they all had guns and there were civilians among them... they had sticks and machetes. My brother had hidden money in our mattress and they started searching and found it. Then they pushed me and my neighbors into a blue van... it was full up with people. Then they took us to Hamdalai police station and then on to Seratay police station. I saw them take one lady form our group and she came back limping... I knew what happened so when they came to get me I really fought them. But they slapped me and took me to a room. There were five police there... then one of them said, ‘If you have money, we'll leave you,' but how could I pay them? They'd taken all the money we had from that mattress. So they told put me on the ground and one of them used me while the others watched. When he was done I got up but they said, ‘You think we're finished?' and one of them hit me hard on the hip with the butt of his gun. I fell down and then the second and third and then other others used me. I said, ‘leave me, leave me now' but they threatened to kill me. One was an older pa with buttons on his uniform... they said if we didn't leave the country they'd kill me... I was finally released from the prison on Monday at 2 pm... then I came to the embassy." (Testimony taken Tuesday, September 12, Conakry)
Woman, 26, sexually abused:
"I was apprehended at 6 pm on Friday by three soldiers and carried to Hamdalai police station. From there many of us were taken to Rotoma commune. They called us out and wrote all our names down. Then around noon on Saturday, they called me to a small room. I had my little baby in my arms. There were 5 or 6 of them. Then they grabbed my baby (10 months old) and flung him in the corner. He started screaming but they ordered me to strip off all my clothes. Then they told me to spread my legs and bend over and four of them put their fingers inside me saying they were looking for money....after the fourth one I couldn't bear it and I said no more so they kicked me with their soldier boots and hit me hard with the butt of their rifle. What interrogation... they hardly asked me any questions. How can they do that? We're not rebels." (Testimony taken Tuesday, September 12, Conakry)
Woman, 27 years old, beaten and witnessed attempted rape of 16 year old niece:
"On late Saturday night the landlord came and said he'd heard the government announcement on the TV... and that we'd have leave. Then at 12:15 on Sunday morning a two soldiers and so many civilians, it was a huge gang, came to our place. The men in my family had jumped over the gate because we thought they were going to kill them. They screamed at us to show them our papers... we all have the proper papers. So we showed them and then they screamed... we don't care what papers you have just get out of our country. They said the chief of the section has authorized all of you to leave. Some of the civilians, who we recognized as being the street boys from our neighborhood, started carrying our things out of the house. They took furniture and clothes and our money... after they were finished they'd taken more than what they left there. Then two of the civilians from the gang grabbed my 16-year-old niece and tried pulling her into the parlor. I think they were going to rape her. But I fought with them and said you'll have to kill me first. One of them bit me but I screamed ‘you're not taking her.' They said ‘The government has given us this order... go back to your rebels.'" (Testimony taken Monday, September 11, Conakry)
Elderly grandmother forced to strip in front of soldiers:
A 25-year-old woman told Human Rights Watch how the local district officer accompanied by civilians searched the house where she lives with her elderly grandmother and 6 other family members early Saturday morning. At 1 am on Sunday, 15 heavily armed soldiers came back to the house. They demanded money. When they didn't find any, they accused the grandmother of hiding money and of lying. They asked her, "what would you prefer - your money or your life?" She replied, "my life". Then they forced her to undress in front of them and under her clothes she was hiding 300,000 francs guinea [about 175 US dollars]. The soldiers threatened to rape the other women in the house, but the landlord pleaded on their behalf. After this the gang handcuffed the landlord and beat the nine-year-old boy in the house. The family escaped to the Sierra Leonean embassy." (Testimony taken Monday, September 11, Conakry)
Death in detention
Man, 27, arrested, witnessed death of refugee in detention:
"I live in Rotoma... on Saturday night after the speech we're sitting with friends around my house when we heard a knock and five soldiers with AK-47's in blue police uniforms came in asking for our papers. They said we're refugees and they have to search our place. They started searching but in the process took my watch, 300 US dollars and other valuables... I didn't see them searching for any arms. I don't have guns hidden in my pocket. Then they loaded three of us... my my brother and a friend to Rotoma commune. At the station we saw about 35 more Sierra Leones. We were put in a tiny, tiny little cubicle. Then on Sunday at around 3:00 am they took us to a place called Hamdalai Station... there were hundreds of us in there. Some were inside the cells and others were being kept outside but we were everywhere and packed in like sardines. Then sometime later from inside one of the rooms I heard people shouting... 'someone's dying, someone is dying.' They were screaming for minutes... they they yelled... ‘oh my god, he's died, he's dead.' Then around 4:00, about an hour or a little less after they'd been yelling, two police in civilian dress - I knew they were police because they'd been interrogating us - went in and came out carrying the body of a young 18-year-old boy... as they passed in front of us people started crying and a few shouted, ‘we're dying in here.'" (Testimony taken Monday, September 11, Conakry)
Denial of medical care
Woman, 21, forced to leave hospital (Human Rights Watch researcher found her lying on Sierra Leonean Embassy grounds):
"I'd been in hospital for over two weeks. I'm from Rotoma area of Conakry... On Saturday night about 8 soldiers in combat and many youths - I don't know how many - came into the hospital and said, ‘all those Sierra Leoneans should go die in your own land.' This was about 9:00. They stayed for about half an hour. The nurses and doctor came to me and said they couldn't guarantee my protection so I had to go. Then they removed my drip and by this time my brother had arrived so he carried me away. We couldn't go home because my brother told me another group were attacking our house, so we spent the night on the ground in an unfinished house. Then he carried me to the Sierra Leonean embassy. I feel very weak... I haven't had any medicine since I left." (Testimony taken Monday, September 11, Conakry)
House raids, round-ups, looting and beating following government announcement to halt attacks
Man, 26, family robbed and forced from home:
"My whole family, all of us 27 in number, headed back to our house in the Hamdalai neighborhood. When we arrived, by car, we were met by two soldier men - one in combats and the other in a black suit, and about 20 civilians armed with sticks with nails in them, and iron clubs. Even our landlord was there among them. They said ‘you go no, you're not coming here, all Sierra Leoneans are rebels... they physically stopped our car from proceeding. My auntie, she's the eldest among us, got out to try to talk with them but they pushed her and grabbed her purse. One of them cut the strap and then grabbed it from her... and hit her. She had $450 in her purse. We'd heard it was safe to go back and didn't expect this." (Testimony taken Tuesday, September 12, Conakry)
50-year-old victim, forced from home:
"At around 7:15 this morning, my cousin and I went to our house at Petit Simbaya... we were walking towards our house, almost at the entrance by our gate when we were approached by 4 civilians and two soldiers in combats and red berets. They said we aren't allowed in... one of the civilians threatened us with one of those sticks with nails in it. One of the soldiers told us to halt; pointing his weapon at us. He said he'd kill us if we moved. But I took off running and was able to get away. I didn't look back. I don't know where my cousin is. I ran straight back to the Sierra Leonean embassy. They said it was ok to go now; that they weren't going to harass us anymore but it's not true." (Testimony taken Tuesday September 12, Conakry)