The unreported massacre and rape of Muslims in Guinea

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Fahad Ansari

Shawwal 22, 1431 2010-10-01

News & Analysis

by Fahad Ansari (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 39, No. 8, Shawwal, 1431)

There is no clearer example of this than the deafening silence and paralysis inflicting the Muslims of the world when it comes to defending oppressed Muslims of Africa, and in particular Sub-Saharan Africa, or “Black Africa”.

“All mankind is from Adam and Adam is from dust, there is no preference for an Arab over a non-Arab, nor for a non-Arab over an Arab, nor for a white man over a black man, and nor for a black man over a white man except in [the level of] taqwa and good action.”

These were part of the final words of the final Messenger of Allah (pbuh) before he left this world. As with all messages, the most important issues are emphasised toward the end to stress their significance. In these few lines, the Prophet (pbuh) unequivocally prohibited all forms of racism and nationalism in Islam.

There is no clearer example of this than the deafening silence and paralysis inflicting the Muslims of the world when it comes to defending oppressed Muslims of Africa, and in particular Sub-Saharan Africa, or “Black Africa”.

Nevertheless, both illnesses continue to fester in the Ummah today to the extent that even where Muslims of a certain colour or ethnicity or those who live in a certain part of the world, are being oppressed and brutalised, barely a murmur is raised from other parts of the Muslim world. A common complaint of Pakistani Muslims is that the Arabs fail to support Muslims in Indian occupied Kashmir while they always mention the occupation of Palestine and Iraq. Within the Arab world, there are many examples of discrimination and oppression against migrant workers from South Asia, as well as the local beduins. As for Muslims suffering in seemingly far-off lands such as the Uighurs in China, our hearts begin to beat and our tongues may start to clamour only when the media choose to afford it coverage. For while racism is prohibited in Islam, many in the Ummah practice it every day when they pay little attention to causes worth caring about, let alone actively striving for.

There is no clearer example of this than the deafening silence and paralysis inflicting the Muslims of the world when it comes to defending oppressed Muslims of Africa, and in particular Sub-Saharan Africa, or “Black Africa”. This year marks the 50th anniversary of independence for no less than 17 African states. Almost all continue to suffer war, conflict, tyranny, poverty, disease and exploitation. Many countries have sizeable if not majority Muslim populations. Islam is actually the largest religion in Africa, followed by Christianity. Most Muslims will not even be aware that Muslims exist in these countries, let alone be concerned about their plight. This is a shameful reflection of the ignorance and underlying racism that permeate our thoughts, words and actions.

So when atrocities take place against Muslims in some African country, the rest of the Ummah fails to make even du‘a for them. When certain Muslims courageously defend their brothers and sisters against the oppressors and are blessed with martyrdom, we do not even know their names to celebrate them. Many Muslims have a general knowledge of the history or politics of places like Chechnya, Kashmir, and Palestine. Why? Maybe it is because Muslims there are white, Asian, and Arab respectively. But when it comes to Eritrea, Mali, Niger, and Senegal, few realise the problems faced by Muslims in those countries. Even difficulties occurring in places given widespread media coverage like Somalia and Sudan are often passively dismissed as an “African problem”.

One such African problem we should all try and become aware of is the massacre and rape of hundreds of Muslims that took place more than a year ago on September, 28, 2009 in Guinea Conakry (French Guinea), with a population of 10 million, which due to a history of colonialism and autocratic rulers, has become one of the poorest countries in the world. A staggering 85% of its people are Muslims. It is currently in the midst of presidential elections as a result of widespread condemnations following the September 28 massacre.

On that fateful day, which shares its anniversary with the beginning of the Aqsa Intifada in Palestine, tens of thousands of civilians attended a peaceful rally in the national football stadium protesting the continuing brutal military rule of Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, who had seized power almost a year earlier. The stands in the stadium, with a capacity of 35,000, were full with demonstrators and overflowing onto the pitch. Just as the rally started, government forces stormed the stadium, marking the beginning of the bloody massacre. Independent investigations by Human Rights Watch and the United Nations in subsequent months confirmed the following.

Just before 11:30am, a combined force of several hundred Presidential Guard troops, together with gendarmes working for the Anti-Drug and Anti-Organized Crime Unit, some members of the anti-riot police, and dozens of civilian-clothed irregular militiamen arrived at the stadium, blocked the exits and began firing tear gas into the stadium. Minutes later, the security forces, led by the Presidential Guard, stormed through the stadium entrance firing directly into the packed and terrified crowd. Some of the shots were fired from point blank range. Witnesses described how demonstrators were gunned down as they attempted to scale the stadium walls, shot after being caught hiding in tunnels, bathrooms and under seats, and mowed down after being baited by disingenuous soldiers offering safe passage. The bodies of the dead and injured piled up in the stands and on the pitch.

By late afternoon, at least 150 Guineans lay dead or dying in and around the stadium. Bodies were strewn around the field, crushed against half-opened gates, draped over walls, and piled outside locker rooms. Hospitals confirmed that over 1,400 persons were wounded in the attack.

Sexual assaults began minutes after the security forces stormed the stadium. Large numbers of women were stripped, humiliated and raped; some were sexually assaulted with gun barrels, rifle butts, bayonets and other implements. Many others were taken away and held in extra-judicial detention location and subjected to repeated gang rape over a number of days, while being forced to consume alcohol and drugs.

Victims and witnesses described how women trying to climb walls or scale over fences to escape were pulled down or forced to descend under threat of being shot. Those found under stadium chairs or tables were violently pulled out. After overpowering their victims, the perpetrators then ripped or cut off their clothes with a knife, often cutting victims in the process. After pinning their victims to the ground or across the stadium seats, the perpetrators then took turns raping them in quick succession.

Numerous witnesses described groups of up to 10 victims being raped simultaneously in close proximity to each other by individuals or groups of perpetrators. The rapes took place inside the stadium and in several areas around the stadium grounds, including the nearby bathroom and shower area, the basketball courts, and the annex stadium. The sexual violence was most often accompanied by degrading insults and death threats made all the more terrifying by the indiscriminate killing of demonstrators going on around them. Many victims described the sheer terror that they experienced as the perpetrators argued over whether or not to kill them, or pledged to kill them after they were done with raping. In several cases, witnesses saw these threats being carried out, including one woman who was shot through her vagina while lying face up on the stadium field, begging for her life.

Girls as young as 17 endured horrific and brutal gang rape as well as women in their 60s. No mercy was shown on that day. A 57-year-old woman, who revealed black and blue marks on numerous parts of her body and scars on her right arm, chest, and buttocks to Human Rights Watch, described the attack during which she was also raped by a soldier:

“I tried to escape but I’m old and cannot run very fast. I am really suffering. One soldier cut off my clothes with a knife until I was completely naked. He stabbed me in the buttocks and then raped me, while others beat me with the butt of their guns and kicked me. I pleaded with the one violating me and said, “No, don’t do this, I am your mother.” But he said, “You think you’re my mother? Hah!’ Then he beat me some more. I am a Hadjji and even I was left completely naked. I don’t know why they did this.”

Civilians in residential areas who began to protest the killing were in turn assaulted and shot at by the army. Homes were looted, residents detained, and property destroyed. For several days, additional abuses — murder, rape, pillage — were committed by members of the security forces.

Investigations by both Human Rights Watch and the UN concluded that “the massacre and sexual violence committed on September 28 at the stadium appeared to be both organized and pre-planned.” Both investigations further revealed the extensive efforts by the government to cover up the scale of the killings, with troops visiting hospital morgues to take away and dispose of the bodies of the dead before they could be properly registered.

The full extent of this atrocity may never be known but it has been confirmed that at least 150 to 200 people were killed and scores of women raped.

Even Human Rights Watch, a secular NGO, could not deny the fact that the overwhelming majority of victims were Muslims and most of the oppressors were non-Muslims. It found that: “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.”

The 28 September 2009 massacre is yet another humiliating stain on the conscience of the Ummah, but one it does not even know about. How many more incidents such as this take place every day in this enormous continent that fail to register in our hearts because of our subconscious racism? Until such time as we honour our black African Muslims in the same way we proudly boast of how Islam liberated the Abyssinian slave Bilal, we will all remain guilty of complicity in genocidal racism.

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