10 August 2016

Guinea: Why Reconciliation Is Crucial

Photo: © Nancy Palus/IRIN
In 2009, hundreds of people were killed or wounded inside this stadium. Hundreds of women were also raped on the morning of September 28.

On June 29, 2016, the Provisional National Commission on Reconciliation (CPRN) co-chaired by Guinea's highest religious figures submitted its long awaited final report to President Alpha Condé. The report was the conclusion of a process that started on August 2011, when the president mandated the commission to listen to as many ordinary citizens and opinion leaders alike on how best to reconcile Guineans.

The country has had a tumultuous history since it gained independence in 1958 and political instability and violence during the 2010 presidential election further weakened national unity and deepened ethnic mistrust.

CPRN hired an international independent cabinet to conduct a thorough study on the kind of transitional justice mechanisms to set up for a successful national reconciliation procedure. The 300 page long report covers crimes and human rights violations committed from independence to 2015 of which the notorious are the gulag of Camp Boiro, the July 1985 events known as "Coup Diarra Traoré", and the event of September 28, 2009 which has drawn attention from the International Criminal Court.

The report also focused the discussions on the search for truth, justice, reparation and rehabilitation, institutional reforms, and the future of Guinea and it made dozens of recommendations on how best to reconcile Guineans including the creation of a Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission.

The Findings

The results of the study are interesting in many ways but not really surprising for who knows the traditional, cultural, and sociological landscape of the country. The report found that Guineans are overwhelmingly for reconciliation. Not only they are for it, they are also willing to forgive and look forward to a future living together in peace and harmony whereas seeing their differences as an asset rather than a source of division and/or tension.

However, the study shows that 75 percent of the respondents think that suspected perpetrators must be brought to justice.The majority of the respondents demand the right to justice and for the prosecution of suspected perpetrators of atrocities. As regards reparations, 62 percent demand compensation, 54 percent the return of property confiscated, 47 percent demand a public apology, 58 percent request perpetrators to ask for forgiveness, and another 51 percent want an apology from the State.

Looking forward, the majority of Guineans are confident about the country's future, however, they think reforms at institutional levels must be taken to combat "ethnocentrism and reconcile all ethnic groups". On the role of ethnicity in politics, almost 89 percent think politicians are using their ethnic groups for political purposes, thus it is not surprising that 68 percent of Guineans indicate that ethnicity has become a divisive factor. Notwithstanding these numbers, a thin majority (51 percent) of those consulted say that different ethnic groups live together peacefully.

The Recommendations

The Commission made 22 recommendations one of which being to institute through legislation a Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission which will continue the work started by CPRN namely implementing its recommendations.

On the need to render justice, the Commission recommends that exemplary sanctions be taken against judicial actors who violate the laws and that the criminal justice system be strengthened to restore confidence between citizens and the judiciary. When it comes to reparations, CPNR advices urgent actions to be taken for the victims whose situation of vulnerability is documented and requires medical and psychological care and as far as long term reparations, it advises on a program that will take into account individual, collective, material and symbolic reparations.

Other recommendations include instituting September 28 of each year as a Day of Remembrance and Forgiveness, the search for missing persons and bodies of those killed, the identification of mass graves, an official public apology from the State including recognition of the facts and acceptance of its responsibility, judicial reforms, restoration of victims in their rights, and a guaranty of non-repetition.

The President's Speech

While I agree with many journalists and commentators who commented about the fact that the President missed the opportunity to show a strong symbolic act of reconciliation when he left the room without shaking the hand of his opponent and main challenger during the last two presidential elections, I think that the President was by and large conciliatory.

In his speech during the ceremony, the President highlighted some issues in his view that would make the process run on a steep slope. Those following news from Guinea, know how much the president's opinion counts on the life of the country in general and his support and buy-in for any program is crucial for it to succeed. Therefore, brainstorming on ways to address his worries could only contribute to advance the pace of the process.

For instance, the president said that reconciliation is difficult because "many of the victims are also perpetrators". Though I agree with him on the face of his statement, this element should not however be used as an excuse for inaction. It happened that during the regime of Sekou Touré (1958 - 1984) public figures who were seen as executioners at the sinister Camp Boiro ended up themselves in the same concentration camp.

It also happened that extra judiciary executions took place in July 1985 in the failed coup in the aftermath of the coup d'état by then Colonel Lansana Conté. But that should not exculpate the criminal responsibility of individuals who committed those horrendous crimes nor should it infringe on the rights of victims to justice.

There is also a need of a clear separation between the status of "being a victim" and "being a perpetrator" especially when the two happened at different times. Obligation for the state to do justice to a victim should not shield that victim from prosecution if s/he is accused or suspected of criminal behavior. Better yet, if a victim demands justice which is absolutely normal and a given right under the constitution then s/he should extend those same desires and urges of reparation to the one s/he has ill-treated under the sacrosanct rule of all citizens being equal and subject to the same treatment under the law.

The president also stated that Guinea is a "country of rumors" and that underlines the need to have a written history guided by facts not fantasies and as Pierre Beaumarchais put it, "facts are sacred, commentaries free". The need to narrate events as they happened is so essential that currently everyone has her/his "own" understanding of history regardless of factual based evidence. Lots of writings by journalists, ordinary citizens, and no-fiction writers, reports by international human rights institutions have been published.

Lots of survivors of Camp Boiro have published their memoires, biographies, and novels. Literary genres use emotions, exaggerations, and romanticizing of the story. As such, historical writing should and must be different. It should not just be a literary work well written grammatically and syntactically rather it should be objective and not be influenced by the writer's interpretation of historical facts nor his/her value judgements upon past events.

Consequently, novels and literary publications should not replace history books that must be led by fact, data, and objectivity. Unfortunately, the lack of written, non-interpreted, agenda-driven history books has boosted many biographies to the status of "history books" with some authors going as far as to claim their work to be "books of history".

Unscrupulous, the so called historians have used this void to advance their own agenda, bending the hand of history to their benefit, and falsifying in their communications recent events witnessed by thousands, recorded on cameras, and available on YouTube. In these circumstances, it is not surprising that everyone sees him/herself (or parents) as a victim based on who s/he believes in.

Citizens are not obliged to have one interpretation of historical facts or to agree with them but let's have historical events stripped off agenda-driven personal interests. Indeed, Dennis Patrick Moynihan is so right when he pointed out that "everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts."

The good news about the current situation is that lots of essential actors who played key roles in governing the country are still around. Though there is a tendency of not saying much on their part, they still could play a pivotal role in helping to write the history of the country. One must not be naïve to think that they would not have their own agenda to defend, their "credibility" to preserve, and their families to protect but at least there would be an opportunity to confront different narrations of events and draw objective conclusions.

Finally, the president stated that he has requested assistance from the United Nations to help with forensic teams to exhume mass graves and identify remains. Talk to any associations of victims or to their members, their primary concern is by far the identification of the remains of their loved ones so that they could proceed to give them a proper burial. Before the formalization of any such partnership, the Ministry of Justice could internally start the process by identifying known and suspected mass graves.

The base of Mont Kakoulima located 50 km north-east of Conakry has long been viewed as a prime burial site in the eyes of public opinion and by associations of victims. As you read this, the bodies of many of those who disappeared on September 28, 2009 are still to be found while those directly involved in the decision making process during the event are still high ranking public "servants".

The justice system will benefit greatly and assert its independence if for instance ministers of the republic or high ranking officials who have been formally charged by investigating judges in charge of the case could be discharged of any public responsibility so that they could prepare their defense guaranteed by their constitutional rights as citizens. The presumption of innocence should not have been stretched to the point of nominating one such public "servant" formally charged in the case to be Governor of Conakry.

Taking the moral responsibility as the president for all human right violations in the country is a first step, owning it by showing a political will and putting forth concrete actions to implement recommendations made by CPRN should be the natural second step on the long march to reconciliation. The Provisional National Commission on Reconciliation recommends the creation of a Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission, let's have a Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission. The citizens of Guinea want it and they deserve a second step.

By Mamadou Allareni Diallo, Guinea Program Coordinator at OSIWA

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