Captain Moussa Dadis Camara
President, National Council for Democracy and Development
Republic of Guinea-Conakry

Dear Sir,

Human Rights Watch is a leading independent international human rights organization. We write today to urge you to take concrete and meaningful steps to resolve the acute constitutional crisis generated by the recent death of former President Lansana Conté, and to address some of the chronic human rights problems and attendant weaknesses in rule of law that characterized his 24-year administration.

In your capacity as president of the National Council for Democracy and Development (CNDD), we believe that improving Guinea's human rights record should be among the top priorities of your government. We therefore urge you to exercise bold leadership to address several very pressing issues. With respect to the constitutional crisis, we call on you to:

  • Uphold the right of all Guineans to choose their representatives by holding free, fair, and transparent parliamentary and presidential elections as quickly as possible.
  • Immediately repeal the ban on political and union activity imposed by the CNDD on December 23, 2008.
  • Accept adequate international monitoring of the polls.

With regard to the longstanding crisis of impunity and rule of law, we call on you to make an unambiguous commitment to respect the fundamental human rights of all Guineans, and to:

  • Ensure that the Independent Commission of Inquiry, created to investigate the killing of at least 137 unarmed protesters by security forces during the January and February 2007 strike is funded and operational as soon as possible.
  • Ensure that the National Observatory for Democracy and Human Rights, mandated to investigate human rights abuses and conduct human rights education, is fully operational and funded, and allowed to function independently.
  • Ensure that all members of the CNDD and newly appointed government are thoroughly vetted for any past involvement in human rights abuses, corruption, or other serious crimes, and held accountable in accordance with international fair trial standards for any crimes they allegedly committed.

Parliamentary and Presidential Elections

Human Rights Watch welcomes your commitment to hold elections before the end of 2009, and urges you and your government to take concrete steps to ensure this happens as quickly as possible. The right of all Guineans to take part in the conduct of public affairs and freely elect their representatives is guaranteed by the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Guinea on January 24, 1978. As you are well aware, the postponement of parliamentary elections - originally scheduled for June 2007 - constitutes a serious breach of this right. Taking concrete steps to organize both the long overdue parliamentary and pivotal presidential elections would go a long way to restore the donor confidence and funding needed to ensure adequate preparations for the polls. We also implore you to lift the ban on political and union activity imposed by the CNDD shortly after seizing power on December 23, 2008.

National and international elections observers have consistently expressed concern over the conduct of past polls in Guinea, noting that the elections of 1993, 1998, and 2003 were marred by postponements, boycotts by opposition parties, accusations of fraud, intimidation, and state-sponsored violence. Your government must take concrete and dramatic steps to ensure that any upcoming elections make a sharp departure from the problems that have marred past polls. The last several decades of political life in Guinea have been characterized by an inappropriately important influence by the military in matters of the state, and the passing of former President Conté provides an opportunity to return to civilian rule that is accountable to the people of Guinea. We welcome your stated commitment to relinquish power to a fairly elected civilian government, and urge you to assure the fairness of the polls, including by accepting international elections monitors.

Weak Rule of Law and Impunity for Abuses

Since 2006 Human Rights Watch has done extensive research into patterns of human rights abuses in Guinea, including torture, extrajudicial executions, widespread extortion from citizens, and other serious abuses against ordinary Guineans committed primarily by members of the security forces. The perpetrators of these abuses have enjoyed near-complete impunity. Coupled with these abuses, a judiciary plagued with deficiencies - including lack of independence from the executive branch, inadequate resources, corruption, and poorly trained judges and other personnel - has left ordinary Guineans with scant hope for redress. We urge your government to begin to address this crisis in the following ways.

1.    Commission of Inquiry for 2007 Strike-Related Abuses

Nearly two years after the 2007 crackdown by the security forces of a nationwide strike against deteriorating economic conditions and bad governance that left at least 137 dead and over 1,700 wounded, there has been no meaningful progress in investigating, much less holding accountable those responsible for the abuses.

In April 2007 Human Rights Watch published a report concerning the human rights violations committed during the January-February 2007 strike, entitled Dying for Change: Brutality and Repression by Guinean Security Forces in Response to a Nationwide Strike. The report provides detailed accounts of widespread human rights abuses committed by members of the security forces - particularly the presidential guard - who fired directly into crowds of unarmed demonstrators and perpetrated other serious abuses, including rape, assault, and theft.

In May 2007 the National Assembly adopted legislation creating an independent commission of inquiry into the violence; and in September 2007, 19 commission members were sworn in. Disappointingly, however, the commission never received adequate funding or logistical support from the government, and on January 7, 2009, the mandate for the commission expired without its having done a thorough investigation or producing a report.

Human Rights Watch is gravely concerned by what appears to be an utter lack of political will on the part of the previous government to hold perpetrators to account or otherwise provide justice for the victims of the very serious violations surrounding the January-February 2007 strike. This lack of political will also further contributes to a dangerous culture of impunity, which, in turn, has extremely adverse consequences for the Guinean population. The violent suppression of demonstrations in October and November 2008, during which at least five unarmed demonstrators were killed and 40 others were injured, provides further evidence of this concern.

Guinea has an obligation under international law to carry out a thorough and independent investigation into the human rights abuses perpetrated by security forces and others, followed by prosecution of those against whom evidence is found, in accordance with international standards. Such prosecutions should include those in positions of authority who gave orders or were in a position to prevent the abuses and failed to do so.

We urge you to immediately revive and extend the mandate of this commission of inquiry and ensure that is has sufficient independence, protection of commission members and witnesses, and guarantees of funding to immediately begin its work again and conclude it fairly and speedily.

If carried out independently and professionally, the process of bringing perpetrators for the January and February 2007 abuses to account could make a significant contribution to the fight against impunity. We urge you to act on this opportunity without delay.

2.    National Observatory for Democracy and Human Rights

In June 2008 then-Prime Minister Ahmed Tidiane Souaré created the National Observatory for Democracy and Human Rights (ONDH), envisioned to investigate and report on human rights abuses, conduct human rights education primarily within the security forces, and advise the government on issues related to human rights and humanitarian law. By the end of 2008, the ONDH had conducted a few investigations, but due to funding issues, had yet to become fully operational.

As Guinea traverses through this period of constitutional and political uncertainty, a national human rights institution dedicated to the monitoring and reporting of human rights violations - including those associated with the conduct of elections - will be indispensible. It will also be key in investigating and making recommendations to improve more chronic problems such as the mistreatment of criminal suspects, substandard prison conditions, and abuses associated with child labor, trafficking, and mistreatment. Such an institution should be set up in compliance with the international standards on such bodies, including the United Nations Paris Principles.

Human Rights Watch believes the ONDH can make an important contribution to addressing the acute and chronic rule of law challenges that Guinea faces today. We urge your government to ensure both financial and logistical support for the Observatory, and to allow it to function independently. Your stated and material support for the ONDH is one of the important means through which your government can demonstrate its support for the protection and promotion of respect for human rights.

3.    Vetting and Conduct of CNDD Members

Human Rights Watch has received credible reports of the presence within the CNDD of a few military officers who have been linked to serious past abuses and crimes, including torture. Due to these concerns, we urge you to rigorously scrutinize the records of those who currently hold positions within the CNDD and new government. Any individuals against whom there is evidence of involvement in past human rights abuses, corruption, or other serious crimes should be prosecuted in accordance with international fair trial standards.

We are also concerned about the detention of some 20 military and formerly high-ranking civilian officials who served under the previous administration. We understand the men, who were arrested on or around January 3, 2009, are being held at the Alpha Yaya Diallo military camp. Those who remain in detention should be formally investigated and charged, or released if no charges are to be made within a timeline that respects due process rights.

Conclusion

The Guinean government has legal obligations under several international and African human rights treaties - including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights - that require it to respect the rights to life, bodily integrity, and liberty and security of the person, and freedoms of expression, association, and assembly.

Human Rights Watch urges that you publicly reiterate your commitments to these legal obligations, and instruct your officials to conduct themselves accordingly. Finally, you must ensure that elections consistent with international standards are held as soon as possible, and that the results of those elections are honored.

The political future of Guinea hangs in the balance. We hope the actions that you and your government take will usher in direly needed improvements to the chronic human rights problems that have undermined the civil, political, social, and economic rights of the Guinean population for years. Human Rights Watch stands ready to support the efforts of your government to strengthen the rule of law and ensure accountability for human rights abuses.

Sincerely,

Corinne Dufka
West Africa Project Director
Human Rights Watch

CC:

  • Mr. Kabiné Komara, Prime Minister of the Republic of Guinea
  • Dr. Mohamed Ibn Chambas, President of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)
  • Mr. Ramtane Lamamra, Peace and Security Commissioner of the African Union
  • Mr. Said Djinnit, United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa