Guineans in New York Push for Justice in Homeland
(Audio available further in this article)
Tucked behind a Bronx mosque is the headquarters of an advocacy group for immigrants from Guinea, the West African homeland of the hotel housekeeper who accused the French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault in May. In a corner of the office sit stacks of hand-lettered placards that were made for a rally to protest violence against Guinean women.
(To listen to this article, click on the player below)
“We don’t ask for revenge,” explained Mamadou Maladho Diallo, a staff member of the organization. “We ask for justice.”
But Mr. Diallo was not talking about Mr. Strauss-Kahn.
Well before that case made headlines across the world, Guineans in New York City suffered another trauma that has also weighed heavily on their small diaspora. Nearly two years ago, security forces in Guinea went on a rampage at an opposition rally in the country’s capital, raping and killing scores of protesters.
Most of the victims were from the Fulani ethnic group, Guinea’s largest. Since then, Fulanis have been calling — so far, without success — for the arrest and prosecution of the attackers. A group of Fulanis in the New York region are now organizing a nationwide campaign in the United States to draw attention to their quest for justice.
The campaign is scheduled to begin on Thursday with a news conference at the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building in Harlem. A rally in front of the United Nations is planned for Sept. 28.
The government’s case against Mr. Strauss-Kahn was dismissed last month amid prosecutors’ doubts about the credibility of the accuser, Nafissatou Diallo. (She is not related to Mamadou Maladho Diallo. They share a very common Guinean last name.)
Ms. Diallo, 33, who has made her identity public, has a civil suit pending against Mr. Strauss-Kahn seeking monetary damages. But Fulani advocates now hope to shift the conversation about their population away from that case and toward what they regard as a more pressing and vital matter for their ethnic group.
The 2009 massacre — and, more broadly, the question of Fulani persecution by other ethnic groups in Guinea — is never far from the conversation in New York’s Guinean diaspora, which is mostly clustered in the Bronx.
These matters are passionately discussed over lunches of rice and stew in Guinean restaurants and cafes, and on the sidewalks outside Guinean-led mosques. Hosts and listeners often debate the causes of ethnic tensions on the handful of Guinean call-in radio programs that are broadcast over the Internet from New York. About 4,000 immigrants from Guinea live in the city, according to the Census Bureau.
The Guinean advocacy organization, Pottal Fii Bhantal Fouta Djallon, has sponsored two rallies in front of the United Nations where protesters carried the homemade placards, some of which have gruesome photographs taken during the massacre in 2009. One shows a battered woman dressing herself after being sexually assaulted, another shows a row of corpses laying in the dirt.
In an interview at the organization’s office, in the Morrisania section of the Bronx, Mr. Diallo pointed to the placards. “We keep them here so that when there’s another massacre in Guinea, we don’t have to make new ones,” he said.
The International Criminal Court in the Hague is examining the killings and rapes, which occurred on Sept. 28, 2009, but Fulani leaders in the city say they are frustrated with the pace of the investigation and worried about renewed violence. They intend to hold forums at colleges and universities around the country in the hope of mobilizing pressure on the court.
Norman Siegel, former executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, who is helping the Fulani advocates, said the evidence that crimes against humanity were committed in the Guinean capital, Conakry, is “crystal clear.”
“If you can’t get accountability on the rapes that happened on that day, when are you going to get accountability?” Mr. Siegel said.
The ethnic tensions in Guinea have also cleaved New York City’s Guinean population. Guineans who were once friends no longer talk to each other, simply because they are from different ethnic groups. Many Fulanis hold members of the rival Mandinka ethnicity, Guinea’s second largest, partly responsible for the stadium massacre and for other acts of persecution in Guinea.
As a result, Fulanis in the city are refusing to shop in stores owned by Mandinkas. Mandinkas will no longer eat in Fulani-operated cafes.
Explaining his recent aversion to Mandinka food, Mr. Diallo, the staff member at the advocacy group, said: “I could not be sure that they would not poison me.”
Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s accuser, Ms. Diallo, is Fulani, so the accusations of sexual assault reopened the community’s wounds: After the case made headlines, New York’s Fulani population rallied behind Ms. Diallo, while Mandinkas were quick to doubt her claims.
Fulani leaders in New York, who postponed the start of their campaign amid the furor surrounding the accusations, say they can no longer delay their pursuit of justice for victims in the 2009 massacre.
“There may be doubt about what happened in that room,” said Mr. Diallo, speaking about the encounter between Ms. Diallo and Mr. Strauss-Kahn, “but there is no doubt what happened in that stadium.”
By KIRK SEMPLE
Source: New York Times