(Dakar) - Guinean authorities should investigate, discipline, and prosecute any members of the security forces responsible for the October 23, 2010 attack on Dr. Mamadou Aliou Barry, a prominent human rights defender, Human Rights Watch said today. Barry was one of scores apparently severely beaten that day by security forces, amid heightened ethnic and political tensions following the postponement of run-off presidential elections.
Barry, president of the National Observatory for Democracy and Human Rights (ONDH), an independent national institution, has frequently and publicly denounced acts of criminality and excessive use of force by members of the security services. He was assaulted while trying to stop members of the security forces from attacking a group of youths in the Hamdalaye neighborhood.
"The Guinean security forces need to make good on their recent promises to instill more discipline in their ranks," said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Ensuring accountability for the attack on Dr. Barry and others is a very good place to start."
In a phone interview with Human Rights Watch from his hospital bed in Conakry, Barry said that he arrived at the roundabout in Hamdalaye, a heavily populated suburb of Conakry, at about 1:30 p.m. on October 23 to investigate reports of attacks against local residents. He saw men he believed to be gendarmes and members of the presidential guard beating up residents and ransacking homes and stores.
After he tried to intervene on behalf of a few young men who were being severely beaten, he was himself attacked, beaten, and detained by the attackers in one of five pick-up trucks with about 75 other men. In the course of the operation, he saw the security forces fire at two youths who had jumped off the trucks and tried to run away. He later saw both lying on the ground, but could not tell whether they were dead.
The detainees, including Barry, were beaten again after they reached a local gendarme headquarters. He was released about an hour later after a gendarme officer recognized him. He suffered a broken arm and numerous contusions, and he said his mobile phone, along with those of many other detainees, was stolen by the security forces. Officials interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that numerous other men arrested at the same time remain in detention.
Barry said the security forces apparently targeted him and the others for detention and abuse because of their Peuhl ethnicity. He said the soldiers explicitly told the men: "You, the Peuhl, will not be allowed to vote. We will detain you and keep you here ... you will not be in power, we will crush you."
The first round of Guinea's presidential elections took place in June in relative calm, but tension has steadily risen amid allegations of fraud against electoral commission officials and two postponements of the second round. The attack on Barry and the others occurred during a week of violent clashes in Conakry between members of the two parties set to participate in the run-off election, ethnically motivated attacks against citizens of different communities, and incidents of excessive use of force by the security forces. Members of Guinea's two largest ethnic groups - the Peuhl and the Malinké - have largely supported the candidate who represents their ethnic group: Cellou Dalein Diallo, a Peuhl, and Alpha Condé, a Malinké. Very few Peuhls are members of the security services.
During some incidents, demonstrators erected roadblocks, burned tires, and threw stones at the security forces, wounding some. The mission of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that at least one person had been killed and 62 injured by the security forces, in what it called excessive use of force in their clashes with demonstrators.
Human Rights Watch also called on the Guinean security forces to abide by the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials in policing demonstrations. The principles require law enforcement officials, in carrying out their duty, to use nonviolent means as far as possible before resorting to force. Whenever the lawful use of force is unavoidable, law enforcement officials must use restraint, minimize at all times damage and injury, and respect and preserve human life.
The UN Principles state that law enforcement agencies shall ensure that superior officers are held responsible if they know, or should have known, that law enforcement officials under their command resorted to the unlawful use of force and firearms, and if they did not take all measures in their power to prevent, suppress, or report such use.