The killing of pro-democracy demonstrators by Guinean troops in September appears to have been premeditated, then covered up in organized fashion, and was not the work of rogue soldiers, Human Rights Watch said in a report released Thursday.
The killings and rapes likely amount to crimes against humanity, the watchdog group concluded after an on-the-ground investigation.
A 108-page report on the Sept. 28 massacre in a sports stadium provides a description of how the it unfolded and detailed accounts of particularly gruesome forms of rape and other sexual abuse.
The report concludes that members of the elite Presidential Guard headed by Lt. Abubakar "Toumba" Diakite, top aide to the military junta's president, were responsible for the massacre, as has been widely reported. Among others considered responsible by Human Rights Watch are elite gendarmes under the command of Capt. Moussa Tiegboro Camara.
Junta chief Moussa "Dadis" Camara was rushed to Morocco for medical treatment after being shot by Toumba in a Dec. 3 dispute. The former presidential guard admitted from his hiding place to shooting the head of the junta in an interview Wednesday with Radio France Internationale, claiming that there was a "betrayal of democracy" by the president who tried to blame him for the massacre.
The non-governmental organization said the gendarme chief also is being treated in Morocco after being wounded in a separate incident of military infighting. That information could not be independently confirmed.
"The serious abuses carried out in Guinea on Sept. 28 were clearly not the actions of a group of rogue, undisciplined soldiers, as the Guinean government contends," Human Rights Watch's emergencies director, Peter Bouckaert, said in a statement. "They were premeditated and top-level leaders must at the very least have been aware of what was being planned, our investigation shows."
Human Rights Watch says it interviewed about 240 victims, witnesses, military, medical staff, diplomats and others.
The report said that shortly before 11:30 a.m. on the day of the massacre, several hundred troops from the Presidential Guard along with gendarmes on the anti-drug and organized crime squad, some anti-riot police and dozens of militiamen in civilian dress entered the stadium and took posts on the edge and near exits.
Tear gas was fired, causing panic, and security forces then stormed the stadium, firing into the crowd. The report said numerous witnesses spoke of "spraying the crowd from left to right."
Groups of soldiers covered the area, some heading down the playing field, some into stands while others blocked exits.
"Witnesses described how the panicked demonstrators were gunned down as they attempted to scale the stadium wall; shot point blank after being caught hiding in tunnels, bathrooms, and under seats; and mowed down after being baited by disingenuous soldiers offering safe passage." the report said.
The organization estimated the number of deaths at 150 to 200, compared to an official figure of 57. It said that hospital and other records confirm more than 1,400 wounded.
"Human Rights Watch has not found any evidence that any member of the security forces was wounded or killed inside the stadium or sports complex, demonstrating the one-sided nature of the violence" against an unarmed population, the report said.
The report described particularly gruesome accounts of rapes, gang rapes and sexual assaults "with objects such as sticks, rifle butts and bayonets." Researchers interviewed 28 victims of such violence, the organization said. Women were "cornered or chased down" as they fled gunfire. At least four victims were murdered during or after being raped, it said.
Heavily armed soldiers committed scores of abuses, including torture, in the following days, both in neighborhoods and military camps, the report said.
Finally, investigators found "strong evidence ... that the military engaged in a systematic effort to hide the evidence of their crimes and misrepresent the number killed," the organization said. Among evidence were witness accounts of the removal of bodies from city morgues and a military camp for burial elsewhere, in some cases allegedly in mass graves.
Human Rights Watch recommended that Guinean officials fully cooperate with an international commission of inquiry set up by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, suspend from their duties security officials believed most responsible, and investigate, prosecute and punish them. It also urges the exhumation and identification of bodies disposed of in mass graves with their return to family members.