Guinea Rapes Threaten to Destabilize Region

At least 30 women report being raped during protest in GuineaFrance 24
This woman was publicly stripped and sexually assaulted by security forces in Guinea during a protest on September 28,2009. The picture was taken by cell phone by one of the witnesses and obtained by news agency France 24. It published by the <a href="" target='external'>France 24 Observers web site</a>. At least 30 women have reported being raped during the crack-down.

The world was outraged when security forces in the small West African nation of Guinea brutalized pro-democracy protesters two weeks ago. There were reports that soldiers opened fire on thousands of Guineans taking part in a peace demonstration, killing nearly 200 people. Thousands were beaten as well.

But it was the graphic and public sexual violence committed by the soldiers that has caused the most fury. The shock waves from those allegations, experts fear, will be felt in neighboring countries and could help destabilize the region.

Stories of women and girls being publicly stripped and sexually assaulted, some by soldiers using the front end of a rifle, were rampant in Conakry, the capital city where the protests took place.

Cell phone pictures of the attacks were circulating throughout the city and began appearing on the Web. One witness posted his story on a Guinean current events online forum.

"There were 3 soldiers who caught a woman who was crying," he wrote. "One of them returned a gun in her sex, and they shot."

Jerome Basset head of the Doctors without Borders Switzerland mission is in Conakry. He told ABC News the organization has recorded six cases of rape. "We started a medical treatment and psychological support for some of these women," he said.

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More than 30 women have filed formal complaints according to local human rights groups. But it's likely the actual number of women and girls brutalized is much higher.

One doctor told a reporter from France 24, one of the only news organizations operating in the country, that victims are afraid to talk.

"Group rape, rape in broad daylight.…really that is unusual in Guinea… and that is worrying," said the doctor. "They are afraid to come and even we are not very comfortable talking about these rapes because we worry about the consequences of speaking out."

The public nature of the vicious assaults may have shocked the world, but Corrine Dufka of Human Rights Watch tells ABC News that human rights abuses are nothing new to this government, which came to power last December after a bloodless coup.

Hillary Clinton Joins Guinea Condemnation

"The abuses committed by the coup government began immediately after the coup government took over," says Dufka, the senior West Africa researcher for the organization. "We've seen severe abuses in the nine months they've been in power including unlawful detainment, beatings and rape."

The military leader in charge, Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara, came to power after former president Lasana Conte died in office.

Initially greeted as liberator from Conte's 25-year authoritarian rule, Camara has now become hated in his own right. He promised to stay in power only through elections to be held early next year. Now he is publicly said he is considering a candidacy. It's a move that sparked last month's protests and crackdown, as well as subsequent widespread international condemnation.

Last week Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that U.S. government was "appalled and outraged" by the violence in Guinea and warned that the current junta government must recognize that "they can't remain in power."

The African Union has given Camara until Oct. 18 to formally declare whether he will be a candidate for the presidency. If he does decide to run, the AU warns it will place sanctions on the country.

Patience with Camara is clearly running out. Today a group of African and European countries called the the Economic Community of West African States called for an arms embargo of Guinea if those responsible for the massacre and rapes were not brought to justice.

Camara claims he bears no responsibility for the actions of a few "rogue" soldiers and he has pledged that the government will open up an independent investigation into the protest massacre and rapes, something that many Guineans are highly skeptical of, says Dufka.

"Guinea does not have a good record of holding members of the security forces responsible for serious crimes of murder and rape," she said. "I don't want to say it can't happen, but there needs to be international involvement in the investigation and pressure from international partners to insure that justice is done."

The president of Burkina Faso travelled to Conakry to try and ease tensions between Camara and opposition groups last week.

There are currently talks being held by the Economic Community of West African States, known as ECOWAS, in Nigeria. The president of Senegal has also weighed in on the situation. Guinea is a small nation, but a total disintegration of the country could be disastrous for the region. Guinea shares borders with Liberia and Sierra Leone, two countries that are still recovering from their own bloody civil wars.

Foreign Strain in Guinea Rape Crisis

Several of the soldiers taking part in the crackdown were reportedly from Liberia. Liberians have been fighting in the Guinea military for more than five years, but there is a worry that as tensions increase Camara could recruit more soldiers from the border region he hails from as a way of beefing up his support. That would turn Guinea's conflict into a regional one.

"The international community has spent several billion dollars reconstructing these two failed states," says Dufka. "Insecurity in Guinea would seriously undermine two incipient democracies that are in the process of rebuilding."

Christophe Schpoliansky contributed to the reporting of this story.