Some days, I am reminded just how easy it is to take my life for granted.
On September 28th, I was back in my hometown, celebrating my Mom’s birthday with family. That evening, I sat at my computer only to find an email explaining what had happened earlier that day, halfway across the globe, in the West African country of Guinea.
While I happily ate cake and chatted with my Mom, grandmother and aunts in our little Pennsylvania town, Guinean soldiers were targeting women pro-democracy demonstrators in what proved to be one of the most savage public attacks against women in modern times. In broad daylight, soldiers stormed a local stadium and proceeded to brutally beat and rape women demonstrators. Soldiers stripped women naked, drove gun barrels and knives into their female organs, and raped them. Later, dozens of rape victims were taken from health centers by armed guards, drugged, and driven to remote camps where they were forcibly held and gang-raped for days. Because the attacks were in public, witnesses captured graphic images and video, which have since circulated across the world. In total, 157 people were slaughtered. While the total number of raped women and beating victims remains unknown, estimates believe it to be over 1,000.
In 2008, the UN Security Council finally classified rape as a weapon of war. Historically, rape was utilized either as a method of genocide, a means to destroy families and sever communities, or a way to crush political uprisings. For example, genocidal rape was used in Serbian camps during the Bosnia-Herzegovina Conflict (60,000 rapes) and was an effective way to systematically spread AIDS throughout villages during the Rwandan Genocide (500,000 rapes). In Guinea, all accounts point to systematic political rape, as all victims were pro-democracy demonstrators.
Sadly, what makes this particular story “new,” is that the rapes were publicly committed in a country that is generally more peaceful and conservative than neighbors Liberia and Sierra Leone. However, in light of the Guinean government’s recent turmoil concerning the legitimacy of Captain Moussa Dadis Camara’s military rule, this attack should not be considered a complete surprise.
In response to human rights abuses such as this, most nations’ leaders do little more than denounce the actions. In my estimation, verbal condemnation is simply not enough. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton thought the same and took near-immediate action. In addition to calling for Camara’s removal and appropriate punishments for his military command, Clinton chaired a September 30th UN Security Council meeting that resulted in the unanimous adoption of a US-sponsored resolution, condemning sexual violence in war zones. Certainly, Clinton should be applauded for keeping her promise to place women’s human rights at the forefront of her diplomatic agenda. Likewise, the African Union deserves praise for making good on its threat to sanction Camara’s regime, as travel bans and military asset freezes will be imposed on the Guinean government this week. In light of these tangible measures, one may dare to hope that other international leaders will follow suit and do more to punish such egregious human rights abuses.
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