Horrifying news out of Guinea this week, where military forces gunned down pro-democracy activists during a peaceful demonstration on Monday. Local human rights groups put the death toll at 157 people, and Human Rights Watch has reported eyewitness descriptions of soldiers raping female protesters in the streets.
Although a key player in the long running West African wars that devastated Liberia and Sierra Leone during the 1990s and early 2000s, Guinea largely avoided the large-scale violence suffered by its neighbors. The 24-year rule of strongman Lansana Conte instead left the country in a continual state heavy-handed political control and economic mismanagement, with widespread concerns about what might happen following his passing.
In December 2008, a military coup followed on the heels of his death. Elections originally set for 2009 were delayed until January 2010, and coup leader Captain Moussa Dadis Camara reversed an earlier pledge not to run for office, sparking this week’s protest.
The size of the protest, with some 50,000 people demonstrating, attests to the readiness of the Guinean people to dispense with despotism. The brutal response by the military is a tragic indication of how the coup’s leaders will respond. Let’s hope that the relatively strong statements by U.N. Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon, the U.N. Security Council, and regional organization ECOWAS will be followed by robust action on the part of diplomats in the region and around the globe, to ensure that the junta understands that they will be held accountable for these atrocities.
AlJazeera captured this footage: