Human Rights Watch (Washington, DC)

Guinea: Intensify Attention to Human Rights Challenges - Some Progress in Condé's First Year, but Serious Problems Remain

press release

Photo: IRIN
A victim of the 2009 repression (file photo).

President Alpha Condé of Guinea should intensify efforts to confront chronic rule of law problems that sustained decades of abuse, Human Rights Watch said today. Condé completes a year in office on December 21, 2011.

In particular, Condé should confront impunity by the security services for past and ongoing abuses, the denial of the right to assembly, inadequate support for the chronically neglected judiciary, and delays in organizing long-overdue parliamentary elections, Human Rights Watch said.

"President Condé has made some progress in confronting the serious governance and human rights problems he inherited, but there is much work left to be done," said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. "President Condé's election raised hopes for a new day, for an end to the country's long legacy of abuse, and he should not let Guineans down."

The largely free and fair election that brought Condé to power in 2010 was widely viewed in Guinea as having the potential to end over 50 years of authoritarianism, human rights abuse, and corruption. But over the past year, there have been new security force abuses, including killings, a concentration of power in the executive, weak implementation of the rule of law, and a worrying rise in ethnic tensions, Human Rights Watch said.

Condé's government has made some effort to rein in and professionalize the chronically abusive security forces. But at least five men have been killed and over 100 people injured in several incidents of excessive use of lethal force, looting, and criminality by security forces over the past year. None of these incidents were investigated, nor were charges brought.

The government has shown greater respect for due process rights, Human Rights Watch said. But support for the judiciary has been inadequate and there has been a lack of progress in ensuring accountability for the massacres of demonstrators by security forces in 2007 and 2009.

Ethnic and political tensions remain high, notably between Guineans from Condé's Malinké ethnic group and the Peuls, many of whom supported his opponent in the 2010 election, raising concern for violence between members of the two groups. National and international observers maintain that actions or inaction by Condé's government have significantly exacerbated this tension. These include the failure by the government to discipline members of security services for ethnic slurs against the Peul; discriminatory appointment practices which has resulted in the appointment by the president of a disproportionate number of individuals from the Malinké ethnic group; and the, at times, partisan use of the security services and judiciary to restrict and punish members of the political opposition for exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

To his credit, Condé recently created a "Reflection Committee" to promote reconciliation. Guinea urgently needs a truth-telling and reconciliation mechanism with the capacity to explore the root causes of enduring communal conflicts and successive repressive regimes, Human Rights Watch said. This should not however, mean any amnesty, in law or in fact, for those who committed serious international crimes, such as crimes against humanity.

"President Condé has both an opportunity and the responsibility to lead a government that will benefit all Guineans, regardless of their region of origin, ethnicity, or political affiliation," Dufka said. "President Condé must step up his efforts to ensure Guinea's successful transformation from an abusive state into one that guarantees the rights of all its people."

The Issues in Guinea

Parliamentary Elections and Governance

Instead of moving forward with legislative elections by the end of 2011 as he had promised, Condé insisted for much of the year on redoing the electoral register, a demand he has since dropped. Parliamentary elections have not been held since 2002, denying Guineans political representation.

Condé made progress on improving financial governance and addressing corruption by eliminating discretionary funds within various ministries, passing a new mining code to improve management of Guinea's extensive natural resources, and establishing a hotline to report graft and corruption. However, several international partners interviewed by Human Rights Watch said negotiations for several mining and infrastructure contracts, which were managed by the presidency, lacked oversight and transparency.

Judiciary and Detention Conditions

Decades of neglect and manipulation of the judiciary by successive administrations have created striking deficiencies in the system, resulting in impunity for all classes of crimes. Allocations for the judiciary for several years, including 2011, have been less than 0.5 percent of the national budget (a regional expert on justice sector reform told Human Rights Watch that an acceptable budget allocation should be at least 5 percent.) The government has yet to establish the 17-member Superior Council of Judges (Conseil supérieur de la Magistrature) tasked with the discipline, selection, and promotion of judges.

Condé's government removed several judges and other judicial personnel implicated in corruption and swore in 38 new judges for the Conakry Court of Appeals in July. In May, the government released numerous detainees who had been held in extended pretrial detention for minor offenses and, with few exceptions, the detention and due process rights of the some 50 individuals arrested after a July assassination attempt against the president appear to have been respected.

But there are severe shortages of judicial personnel and insufficient infrastructure and resources for the justice system, contributing to abuses, including prolonged pretrial detention and poor prison conditions. Prison and detention centers are severely overcrowded, with inadequate nutrition, sanitation, and medical care for detainees. The largest detention facility, designed for 300 prisoners, accommodates over 1,000. Between 80 and 90 percent of detainees in Guinea are being held in prolonged pretrial detention.

On several occasions, the government appeared to use the security forces and judiciary for partisan ends. On at least three occasions, members of opposition parties and human rights groups were denied permission to assemble. In April, the government banned a gathering to welcome back to Guinea the opposition leader Cellou Dalein Diallo; several opposition supporters were later put on trial and convicted for participating in the gathering. In September the government refused permission for a ceremony by human rights groups and a march by the political opposition to commemorate the 2009 massacre, and in December the security forces broke up a peaceful meeting of supporters of former Prime Mminister Lansana Kouyaté in Kankan. Dozens of opposition members have been arbitrarily detained, although most were later released or pardoned by the president.

Accountability for the September 28, 2009 Massacre and Other Crimes

There has been insufficient progress in holding to account members of the security forces implicated in the September 2009 massacre of some 150 people and the rape of over 100 women at a peaceful demonstration at the main stadium in the capital to protest the continued military rule of Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara, then the country's leader. Members of the Presidential Guard, gendarmes, anti-riot police, and militia in civilian clothes opened fire on the crowds in the packed stadium and on people struggling to escape and brutally attacked women sexually. A 2009 report by the United Nations-led International Commission of Inquiry concluded that the abuses probably constituted crimes against humanity. In 2010 the government at the time promised to bring those responsible to justice and appointed three investigating judges.

However, during Condé's first year as president, there was little public evidence of progress in the investigation and no evidence of government efforts to locate the over 100 bodies believed to have been disposed of secretly by the security forces. The government's refusal for much of the year to provide security to the investigating judges, coupled with Condé's appointment of two men implicated in the massacre to high-level positions, brought into question his commitment to ensure justice for the crimes. The authorities have not investigated, much less held accountable, any of the members of the security forces responsible for the 2007 killing of some 130 demonstrators.

Conduct of the Security Forces

The government has made some efforts to reduce the number of security force member from the estimated 45,000 at the beginning of Condé's term, to limit the presence of soldiers on the streets, and ensure more discipline by security forces responding to demonstrations. But there have been new abuses and no change in impunity for the forces.

Human Rights Watch documented the deaths of at least five men and wounding of at least 100 in two incidents of excessive force by police and gendarmes who responded to opposition gatherings on April 3 and September 27-28. During both incidents the security forces assaulted numerous demonstrators and stole cell phones, watches, money, cameras, and other items during sweeps of neighborhoods largely populated by members of the political opposition. They also used ethnic slurs against members of the Peul ethnic group. During the September violence they blocked the wounded from receiving treatment, including intimidating medical personnel at Donka General Hospital. Also in September, gendarmes gang raped a 14-year-old girl.

Throughout the year, members of the security services were credibly implicated in numerous acts of criminality, including extortion at checkpoints and the solicitation of bribes to liberate traders and opposition members, some of whom had been arbitrarily detained. In one incident in early October, armed and uniformed men aboard two army pick-ups looted at least 12 small stores and killed one trader who attempted to resist. There were no attempts to investigate, discipline, or prosecute those implicated in any of these abuses.

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