(New York) - Respect for human rights by the coup government that took power six months ago has been undermined by arbitrary arrests and detentions, restrictions on political activity, unpunished criminal acts by the military, calls for vigilante justice, and disappointing progress in organizing elections, Human Rights Watch said today.
"The new government has had six months to show that it was serious about improving respect for human rights in Guinea," said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. "There is no time to waste; they need to put a stop to human rights violations and organize free, fair, and transparent elections without any more delays."
A group of Guinean military officers calling themselves the National Council for Democracy and Development (CNDD) seized power hours after the death on December 22, 2008, of Lansana Conté, Guinea's president for 24 years.
Human Rights Watch research since the coup has found numerous instances in which the CNDD has violated its commitment to end human rights violations and taken little concrete action to organize elections promised before the end of the year.
At least 16 military personnel, including a former army commander, have been detained, and sources within the military have suggested that some of them have been abused in detention. All remain in detention, though none has been charged with any crime. Human Rights Watch calls on the Guinean authorities either to initiate formal trial proceedings against the men or order their release.
While the coup leaders initially agreed to a timetable for new elections, there has been little concrete action taken or funding committed to plan the elections. A ban on political activity has been reinstated, and there have been attacks on opposition parties. Human Rights Watch called on the Guinean authorities to repeal the ban on political activity immediately and to hold parliamentary and presidential elections as quickly as possible.
Human Rights Watch has documented a number of violent attacks by the military on ordinary Guineans, but no member of the military has been held to account for the attacks. Officials also appear to have condoned instances of vigilante justice. Human Rights Watch called on the coup government to retract the call for vigilante justice, and ensure that attacks on citizens by vigilantes end immediately and that those responsible are brought to justice.
Continued Arbitrary Detention of at Least 16 Military Personnel
In late December and early January 2009, the CNDD detained 12 military officers who had been assigned to provide security for the late President Conté. Military personnel interviewed by Human Rights Watch in Conakry said that the 12 were questioned by gendarmes only once, shortly after being taken into custody, but have yet to be allowed access to their lawyers or charged with a crime. The detained men were prevented from receiving family visits for a period of three months, and remain in custody in an unofficial detention center on the grounds of the CNDD's headquarters at the Alpha Yaya Diallo military camp in Conakry.
A second group of at least three military personnel was detained in late April following an alleged coup attempt against the CNDD president, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara. Sources within the military told Human Rights Watch that these men are being held in a military camp on Kassa Island - a few kilometers off the coast of Conakry. Military officers interviewed by Human Rights Watch suggested that this group had suffered repeated beatings.
In the afternoon of May 26, dozens of security forces personnel beat, tied up, and detained Kader Doumbouya, a former military commander under Conté, and then looted his residence in Conakry. He has since then been held without charge in the "PM3" gendarmes detention center in Conakry. Sources told Human Rights Watch that he is being treated for a cracked rib suffered during the incident.
This prolonged detention of the men without charge, access to a lawyer, or review by an independent judge constitutes arbitrary detention, in violation of Guinea's international law obligations. Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Guinea in 1978, states that anyone arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for his arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him. Human Rights Watch calls on the Guinean authorities either to initiate formal trial proceedings against the men in question and ensure that they are immediately brought before a judge, or order their immediate and unconditional release. In any case, the men should be compensated for their arbitrary detention.
Elections and Freedoms of Political Expression and Assembly
Little progress has been made toward the return to civilian rule through free and fair legislative and presidential elections, despite the CNDD's commitment to restore constitutional order by the end of 2009. In March, the Forces Vives of Guinea - an organization consisting of political parties, unions, and civil society leaders - presented the CNDD with a timetable for elections preparations, with a view toward holding legislative elections in October and presidential elections by December 2009. Though Camara agreed in March to this timetable, the CNDD has taken few concrete steps to organize elections, and has refused to provide funding for the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) - the government body charged with organizing and monitoring the elections - in May and June 2009.
A communiqué from Camara, read on Guinean public radio on June 26, reinstated a ban on all political and union activities. Prior to the official banning of political activity, rallies by three Guinean political parties planned in different towns across Guinea were cancelled by order of local authorities, presumably to comply with commands from authorities in the capital.
On June 18, the Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG) was forced to cancel its month-long nationwide campaign tour for its presidential candidate, Cellou Dalein Diallo, after local authorities and the military in the eastern town of Kérouané - 1,000 km from Conakry - ordered hundreds of supporters who had gathered for the rally to return to their homes, and then ordered the party's delegation to leave town. Shortly before reaching Kankan, 130 km away, the delegation was stopped by about 50 military personnel. Witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that the commander told the delegation that he had received orders that they would not be allowed into Kankan, where they had planned to hold a rally later that day.
Similarly, rallies by the United Front for Democracy and Change (FUDEC) in the towns of Coyah and Boffa, north of Conakry, and by the Democratic Union of Guinea (UDG) on June 18 in Forécariah were forbidden by the local authorities.
Human Rights Watch also spoke with a witness who described a June 20 attack on the UDG party headquarters in Kagbélén, outside Conakry. He said that approximately 25 members of the military led by the minister in charge of presidential security, Claude Pivi, forced their way into the local headquarters. The witness said that the military told them that they were looking for the local party representative.
"The military were heavily armed and wearing red berets," the witness said. "Pivi was seated in his four-wheel-drive car, watching everything. He called me and asked me where the head of our party was. We said we didn't know. His men then forced their way into our offices looking for him, beat up a few of our people, and stole two of our mobile phones."
On July 4, there were media reports of a second raid on the UDG in Kagbélén by members of the military wearing red berets, in which several UDG activists were allegedly rounded up and detained at a nearby military camp.
Human Rights Watch called on the Guinean authorities to repeal the ban on political activity immediately and uphold the right of all Guineans to choose their representatives by holding free, fair, and transparent parliamentary and presidential elections as quickly as possible.
Criminality by Military Personnel with No Mechanism for Accountability
The CNDD promised in May to prevent acts of criminality by military personnel. However, little concrete action has been taken to improve the situation, Human Rights Watch said. While the security forces have made arrests of civilians alleged to have committed crimes, no member of the military has yet faced arrest, investigation, or prosecution for the types of criminal acts documented by Human Rights Watch in April.
Human Rights Watch has since then documented several incidents of theft and violence by members of the military against businesspeople and ordinary citizens, including thefts of goods and cars, and extortion by soldiers manning checkpoints in the Matoto and Bonfi neighborhoods of Conakry. In one egregious incident, a Guinean businessman who had recently returned from living abroad described how, on May 30, two armed soldiers threw him out of a third-story window after robbing him and spraying tear gas in his eyes. The soldiers then stole his car. The fall broke the man's back, both legs, and both arms.
Official Call for Vigilante Justice that Undermines the Rule of Law
A call from a CNDD top law enforcement official for vigilante justice to be meted out against suspected thieves has seriously undermined respect for the rule of law in Guinea. At least one person appears to have been murdered in a vigilante attack.
During a June 2 meeting with local government and community leaders, which was widely reported in national and international media, Captain Moussa Tiegboro Camara (no relation to the CNDD president, Dadis Camara), the minister charged with the fight against drug trafficking and serious crime, urged youths to set up surveillance brigades and to "burn all armed bandits who are caught red-handed committing an armed robbery," adding that there was no more room in Guinea's prisons to accommodate these criminals.
In the early morning hours of June 5, residents in the Yimbaya neighborhood of Conakry found a young man lying under a tree whose body was severely burned and whose face, fingers, and ears had been cut in multiple places. They informed Human Rights Watch that the man told them he had hours before been accused of theft by other local residents, who then burned him on his chest, back, and buttocks with a clothes iron, severely beat him, and cut him with a razor blade. The man died two hours after he was found by the residents.
Local residents further described to Human Rights Watch how, at around 5 p.m. the same day, Tiegboro visited the neighborhood to look at the corpse and address local residents. According to several residents who attended the meeting, Tiegboro told them: "You've done well to kill this man. He is a criminal and any time you see such a criminal, you should kill him. If you don't have the money to buy petrol, come to my office and I will give you money to buy it."
Another man attending the meeting said: "No one opposed what Captain Tiegboro said, but I think what happened to him [the victim] is wrong. In fact, it is the torturers who should be arrested and tried for what they did to him."
When interviewed by Human Rights Watch on June 24, Tiegboro asserted that he supported the rule of law and the right to a fair trial, but that his appeal for "popular justice had been intended as a preventive action to frighten would-be perpetrators." He denied offering money to local residents intending to burn criminals alive, but noted emphatically that the victim of the June 5 incident had a well-known criminal history and had been in and out of Conakry's main prison at least eight times.
While Human Rights Watch was unable to ascertain whether those who attacked the man were incited to action by Tiegboro's statement, it appears that he endorsed the killing after the fact. Human Rights Watch called on the Guinean authorities to retract the minister's call for the formation of vigilante groups and any calls to kill suspected criminals. Those who carry out vigilante attacks, including the murder in Yimbaya, should be investigated and prosecuted.