Political Will Needed to Reverse Legacy of Abuse, Impunity
May 24, 2011
Guinea’s future hangs in the balance. President Condé’s actions – or inactions – will either create a positive new human rights trajectory or trap Guinea in the excesses and abuses of the past.
Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch

(Conakry) - President Alpha Condé, who took power in December 2010, should address the profound human rights and governance problems that have underscored decades of abuse in Guinea, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The report identifies the main factors that have contributed to years of impunity and recommends steps Guinea should take to promote good governance and to end the history of abuse.

The 68-page report, "We Have Lived in Darkness: A Human Rights Agenda for Guinea's New Government," calls on the government to bring to justice those responsible for massacres in 2007 and 2009. It says that the government should strengthen the judiciary and provide it with adequate resources, rein in and reform the security sector, and ensure that Guinea's population can benefit from the country's abundant natural resources. Human Rights Watch also recommended establishing a truth commission to uncover the causes of Guinea's violent past and an anti-corruption commission to end the misuse of its wealth.

"Guinea's future hangs in the balance," said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. "President Condé's actions - or inactions - will either create a positive new human rights trajectory or trap Guinea in the excesses and abuses of the past."

The report is based on over 200 interviews with Guinean lawyers, judges, and Justice Ministry personnel; victims of and witnesses to human rights crimes; detained and convicted prisoners; members of the army, gendarmerie, and police force; Finance Ministry personnel and businesspeople; members of civil society and others. One man interviewed for the report summed up the urgency for improving human rights as follows:

For 52 long years, the people of Guinea have really suffered from the effects of impunity and corruption. We have lived in darkness - no electricity, no water, no opportunities for our children. Those in power have ruined the lives of generation after generation. The families who lost their sons and daughters during the Sékou Touré time, then in 2007, and again in 2009, have yet to finish crying. Those who have done this to us, to our country, must know that they can't continue on as before.

A History of State-Sponsored Abuses
Since independence from France in 1958, Guinea's rulers - Ahmed Sékou Touré (1958-1984), Lansana Conté (1984-2008), and Captain Moussa Dadis Camara (2008-2009) - have relied on ruling party militias and security forces to intimidate and violently repress independent voices. Thousands of Guineans who dared to oppose the government have been tortured, starved, beaten to death by state security forces, or executed in police custody and military barracks. All three leaders failed to investigate and bring to justice members of the security forces implicated in serious crimes.

"Guinea's history of impunity for very serious crimes has emboldened successive generations of human rights abusers," Dufka said. "Dismantling this architecture and culture of impunity and building a society based on the rule of law is the single biggest and most important challenge facing President Condé's new administration."

Strengthen the Judiciary
President Condé's new administration should take immediate steps to reform Guinea's chronically underfunded judiciary and to give it the support it needs, Human Rights Watch said. The marginalization, neglect, and manipulation of the judiciary have led to striking deficiencies in the sector.

Judges, lawyers, legal clerks, and correction workers interviewed for this report said the funding they have to conduct judicial investigations, or even to staff, supply, and run their offices is grossly inadequate. Some said they did not have enough funding to feed and provide basic care for prisoners, or to transport them to court. An estimated 80 to 90 percent of inmates in detention in Guinea's largest prison have not been brought before a judge or convicted. Many have been held for more than five years without trial.

Create a Truth-Telling Mechanism
Human Rights Watch urges the government to establish a truth-telling mechanism to illuminate underexposed atrocities, notably those committed during the reign of Sékou Touré, to explore the dynamics that gave rise to and sustained successive repressive regimes, and to make recommendations to prevent their recurrence.

Reform the Security System
Condé has inherited a security sector steeped in a culture of unprofessionalism and indiscipline. Soldiers and policemen implicated in extortion, banditry, theft, kidnapping, racketeering, and excessive use of lethal force have enjoyed near-complete impunity. The rapid growth of the army in combination with the lack of political will to ensure discipline and accountability have contributed to the years of abuses by the security forces

"Behaving more as predators than protectors, men in uniform have been allowed to get away with abuses ranging from isolated criminal acts to crimes against humanity," said Dufka.

Human Rights Watch calls on the government to adopt a zero-tolerance policy for abuses; to investigate, prosecute, and punish abusers; and to implement a credible road map to reform formulated by the UN and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

Root Out Corruption
Human Rights Watch also calls on the new government to combat endemic corruption, which has for decades impeded Guineans' rights to basic health care, education, and other socio-economic rights. Despite hosting one of the world's largest reserves of bauxite, and other valuable minerals, Guinea remains one of the world's poorest countries - ranked 156th out of 169 on the UN Human Development Index. Guineans also suffer some of the world's worst quality-of-life indicators, including adult literacy and infant mortality.

To remedy these deficiencies, Human Rights Watch urges the government, with strong donor agency support, to provide stringent, transparent oversight over the state budgetary process and natural resource contracts, and establish an independent anti-corruption commission empowered to investigate, subpoena, and indict those who siphon off public resources.

Sustaining Legitimacy
Lastly, in order to ensure effective oversight of the executive and provide for political representation of the Guinean people, Human Rights Watch pressed Condé to set out a concrete timetable for legislative elections and ensure that the elections are conducted in a free, fair, and transparent manner. He must also take concrete steps to address the lack of political neutrality and unprofessional conduct demonstrated by the security forces during the elections which brought him to power.

"Guinea's profound human rights problems - endemic corruption, a culture of impunity, weak rule of law and crushing poverty - have blighted the lives and livelihoods of countless Guineans," Dufka said. "In order to break this cycle of abuse and sustain the momentum generated by the elections, the government must take immediate, practical steps to confront these challenges."