(Washington, DC) - Guinea's new leader should put the country's chronic human rights problems at the top of his agenda, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to Prime Minister Ahmed Tidiane Souaré made public today.

Human Rights Watch identified impunity for unlawful killings, torture, prison conditions, child labor, and child trafficking as among the key issues requiring the Guinean government's immediate attention.

"The government's continuing inaction in the face of gross human rights abuses really hurts ordinary Guineans," said Dustin Sharp, researcher for Francophone West Africa at Human Rights Watch. "If Prime Minister Souaré is to break with the past, he needs to insist that security forces responsible for murder, rape, and torture are brought to justice."

In recent years, Guinea has been rocked by civil unrest that has typically been met with brutal and excessive use of force by government security forces. In January and February 2007, security forces violently repressed a nationwide strike called to protest corruption, bad governance and deteriorating economic conditions, resulting in the deaths of more than 130 protesters. Eighteen months later, an Independent Commission of Inquiry established to investigate the deaths is not yet operational.

Chronic forms of state-sponsored violence continue unabated. Human Rights Watch has documented the regular police torture of detainees in order to extract confessions, and grossly inadequate conditions within Guinea's dilapidated and abuse-ridden prison system. Many detainees, including children, are left to languish for years in cramped cells where they face hunger, disease, and sometimes death before being granted a trial or freed.

"For too long, successive leaders in Guinea have stood back and done nothing in the face of ongoing and well-known human rights abuses," said Sharp. "The message being sent to security forces is that violence and indiscipline are acceptable, and that's a very dangerous thing."

Human Rights Watch also criticized the government for its continuing failure to create adequate safeguards against child labor, child trafficking, and child abuse. Tens of thousands of child domestic workers in Guinea work up to 18 hours a day without pay, and endure frequent beatings, sexual harassment, and abuse at the hands of their employers. Living in conditions akin to slavery, some are trafficked from neighboring countries or within Guinea. There is no child protection system in place to ensure regular monitoring of the well-being of children, and if necessary, to facilitate their removal from abusive homes.

Souaré was appointed prime minister in May 2008 after Lansana Kouyaté was sacked by Guinea's ailing and authoritarian president, Lansana Conté. Souaré has made a gesture toward improving the country's disastrous human rights record by supporting the creation of an independent National Observatory for Human Rights charged with promoting human rights. But there have been no concrete measures yet to bring to justice members of Guinea's security services who have committed serious human rights violations.