MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block in California.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris in Washington.
The International Criminal Court is looking into whether crimes against humanity were committed during a deadly military crackdown in Guinea. Last month, troops opened fire on a pro-democracy rally. And what has shocked people most is that women were targeted in a wave of sexual violence by soldiers in broad daylight.
Now, a warning here, especially if you have young people within earshot: this story includes some graphic details and some very disturbing content.
Here's NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton.
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: The outrage over what happened September 28 has not died down. Security forces turned on demonstrators who had gathered in the national stadium in the capital, Conakry, to protest against Guinea's military leader, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara. The government says 57 people died. Human rights officials put the number of those killed to date at 157. But it was the soldiers' brutal assaults on women that have so shaken Guineans. They keep repeating: C'est du jamais vu - never before have we witnessed such acts. Researcher Corinne Dufka, from New York-based Human Rights Watch, says they've documented abuses by troops before, but this was different.
Ms. CORINNE DUFKA (Senior Researcher, Human Rights Watch's Africa Division): What was new about the sexual violence on September 28 and in the days after has been the public nature of it: the stripping of women, raping them, putting the barrels of guns inside their vaginas. This type of thing has been extremely shocking to Guineans - a very, very conservative society that have simply never seen this type of thing before.
QUIST-ARCTON: Graphic images of assaults that day have been circulating online and in emails and cell phone text messages. Human rights campaigners say dozens of women were victimized, though the true number may never be known, because many women in Guinea are afraid to come forward. Through an intermediary, I met with some women in a small room in an opposition safe house to talk about their ordeals. In most cases, they had been too ashamed to talk about such taboo subjects with their family in this predominantly Muslim country. This woman said she was at the stadium on that Monday morning.
Unidentified Woman #1: I don't want to give my name on the radio because they know us all. I am a teacher. I am in that place where they do us rough. And I saw the soldier men with the policemen beat the women, tear their clothes and their trousers, took a knife and dug it in the women. Even I, they do it. I'm so afraid.
QUIST-ARCTON: The woman who arranged the meetings for me, who was herself terrified that she'd be found out and punished, explained that this woman was, in fact, a victim. She was the one who had her clothes ripped off her and a knife dug into her. She said the woman was speaking in the third person because she didn't want the other half-dozen women in the small room to know that she'd been raped. Not all of them were rape victims.
Unidentified Woman #1: For five days, I did not sleep. What I saw people doing to the other women don't give me chance to sleep. I'm so afraid.
QUIST-ARCTON: You're frightened. You're afraid.
Unidentified Woman #1: Mm-hmm, because I saw so many rough things. Fear things they do to the women.
QUIST-ARCTON: Fearful things were happening to women.
Unidentified Woman #1: Yes, to the women. What I saw I received in my eyes, two eyes like film.
QUIST-ARCTON: So you say you can't eat, you can't sleep. And you keep reliving...
Unidentified Woman #1: Mm-hmm.
QUIST-ARCTON: …the ordeal.
Unidentified Woman #1: Mm-hmm, the reality. I saw women - they catch women in the field. And when they do them, they have them finished, they will have the women.
QUIST-ARCTON: You mean they raped the women.
Unidentified Woman #1: Yes. When they do that to the women, they took the gun again and fire the women inside its privates, she's privates.
QUIST-ARCTON: They shot guns into women's private parts, you're saying, Ma'am.
Unidentified Woman #1: Yes. Yes, I saw them. That is why I don't able to sleep.
QUIST-ARCTON: This doctor, who asked not to be named, said she treated a number of the raped women.
Unidentified Woman #2: (Through Translator) It is simply horrifying. Yes, women were raped, gang-raped in the open, in and around the stadium, in the cold light of day, after their clothes were ripped off with knives. I have never seen such violence in my life. I swear that this is the first time in Guinea that we have witnessed women's bodies being treated as if they were battlefields. It goes against our culture and traditions. I'm horrified. We're all horrified.
QUIST-ARCTON: The doctor said she believed many women had not come forward to seek treatment.
Unidentified Woman #2: (Through Translator) The women are frightened to consult us. They feel ashamed about these rapes. They feel guilty, and yet they are the victims. And because of possible retribution, we are also fearful about treating them, because no one knows what might happen if we're found out. But the real drama is that if these women aren't treated, they risk being infected by HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
QUIST-ARCTON: I talked next with a gently spoken professional who hopes she has not been infected with HIV or fallen pregnant. She has received medication but said she has not told her husband or any of her family or friends that she was raped because of the shame associated with such matters. Her rape wasn't confined to the stadium or even to that day, September 28. She said her hell started later, after being marched off from the stadium by armed troops.
Unidentified Woman #3: (Foreign language spoken)
QUIST-ARCTON: She said she and more than a dozen other women were driven to an unidentified villa. They were drugged and didn't know where they were when they woke up. She spent three nights there.
Unidentified Woman #3: (Foreign language spoken)
QUIST-ARCTON: Sobbing, she said she was repeatedly raped by men in uniform, some of them masked, who insulted and beat her. The soldiers said: A woman's place is in the home. If you want political rallies, we'll show you political rallies. We'll show you who's in command in this country. It was a good night when only two turned up, she said, to take turns to rape her. She only managed to escape when a soldier walked into the room, probably to join in, she says, only to realize that he knew her. He got her out.
Guinea's military leader said the brutality was at the hands of rogue soldiers, over whom he had no control. But there's mounting local and international pressure for accountability.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington was outraged.
Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): It will not surprise you to hear that I was particularly appalled by the violence against women. In broad daylight in a stadium, 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.
QUIST-ARCTON: The rape survivors say there must be no impunity in Guinea this time round. The International Criminal Court has initiated a preliminary probe to determine whether crimes perpetrated in Guinea fall under its jurisdiction. A senior European Union official has spoken of possible crimes against humanity, saying that, as commander-in-chief, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, the military leader, should be prosecuted.
Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News.
NORRIS: And as we just heard, Secretary Clinton has spoken out about the rapes in Guinea, and she's organized international efforts to end sexual violence.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.