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Guinea: Witnesses Describe Security Force Excesses

New President Needs to Rein in Security Personnel, Ensure Political Neutrality

(Dakar) - Security forces in Guinea used excessive force and displayed a lack of political neutrality when responding to election-related violence, Human Rights Watch said today. The violence, between supporters of presidential candidates Alpha Condé and Cellou Dalein Diallo, and between protesters and security services, took place in Conakry, the capital, and other cities between November 15 and 19, 2010. At least seven people died, and 220 were wounded.

Human Rights Watch conducted interviews in Guinea with over 80 victims and witnesses. The interviews confirmed that the security forces, dominated by ethnic groups that largely supported Condé's party, used lethal force to suppress violence by members of the Peuhl ethnic group, who were protesting electoral irregularities against Diallo, their candidate. Guinea's Supreme Court is expected to announce this week the final results of the contested, second-round election, which, despite some irregularities, was considered by international observers to be the freest in Guinea in 50 years. On November 15, election officials declared Condé the winner of the November 7 run-off election.

"The grim accounts regarding how security forces acted and the rising inter-communal violence show just how challenging the new president's job will be," said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. "To end Guinea's long history of violence, the incoming government will need to rein in and ensure the neutrality of the security forces, and urgently address the causes of lingering ethnic tensions."

The Human Rights Watch investigation in Guinea showed that members of the security forces used ethnic slurs against members of the Peuhl ethnic group, collaborated with civilian mobs from ethnic groups that largely supported Condé, and in several cases looted and stole property from people who were perceived to have supported Diallo. Although the security forces may have sought to quell the violence that seized the cities of Conakry, Dalaba, and Labé, they failed to provide equal protection to all Guineans, Human Rights Watch said.

Behaving more as predators than protectors, security force members in Guinea have for decades been allowed to get away with abuses including extortion, banditry, theft, kidnapping, racketeering, and excessive use of lethal force, with no apparent fear of being held accountable. Successive authoritarian heads of state have used the security services for partisan ends to repress political opponents, influence the outcome of elections, and intimidate the judiciary.

To end this cycle of state-sponsored abuse, Human Rights Watch urged Guinea's new government to:

  • Issue clear rules to the security forces to ensure the equal protection of all Guineans, and to adhere to international standards governing the use of force and firearms when dealing with protests and unrest;
  • Bring to justice those responsible for the gross abuses, both in connection with election-related violence, and the killings of more than 150 opposition supporters and rapes of 100 women by security forces in September 2009; and
  • Rein in, professionalize, and reform the security forces and ensure that the disciplinary structures to investigate, prosecute, and punish abusers are properly staffed, secured, and supported.

To address growing ethnic tension, the new president should:

  • Take concrete steps to ensure members of the security forces desist from targeting Guineans on the basis of their ethnicity;
  • Establish a truth-telling mechanism to uncover the roots of ethnic violence, investigate the historical persecution of particular ethnic groups, explore the dynamics that gave rise to and sustained cycles of successive authoritarian and abusive regimes, and make recommendations to ensure better governance and prevent a repetition of past violations;
  • Urge all political party leaders to call on their supporters to end violent attacks against others on the basis of their ethnicity or political affiliation; and
  • Ensure that those responsible for inciting and carrying out violence are investigated and held accountable, including members of both political parties.

"Dismantling the architecture of impunity that has characterized Guinea's history and building a society based on the rule of law should be at the top of the agenda for both the incoming administration and Guinea's international partners," Dufka said. "Failure to ensure accountability will only embolden those who might contemplate using violence and intimidation in the future."

The presidential elections in June and November were envisioned to bring an end to over 50 years of authoritarian and abusive rule. However, irregularities in both the June first-round and November 7 run-off, several spates of political and ethnic violence, and incidents of excessive force by security forces responding to the violence have marred the election's credibility and Guinea's transition to civilian rule. The run-off pitted Diallo, of the Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (Union des forces démocratiques de Guinée, UFDG), against Condé, of the Rally of the Guinean People Party (Rassemblement du peuple de Guinée, RPG).

The most recent incidents of violence, killings, and other abuses followed the declaration of victory for Condé on November 15. Diallo declared on November 14 that he would not accept the outcome of the vote, largely because the electoral commission had refused to throw out ballots from two contested prefectures, Kouroussa and Siguiri. Minority Peuhls were unable to vote there because of ethnically motivated attacks against them in October that killed one person and caused Peuhl residents to flee en masse.

On November 15, Condé suggested at a news conference that he was the victor, which was confirmed by the electoral commission later that evening. However, Diallo challenged the results in Guinea's Supreme Court. On November 17, following two days of violence, the army imposed a state of emergency and a dusk-to-dawn curfew. Subsequently, the violence appears to have lessened.

Inter-Communal Violence
In most cases, the violence began around the November 15 announcement of the run-off results. A Malinké man from Hamdalaye, a suburb of Conakry, whose home was attacked four times that evening, lamented, "They are the youth from our very own neighborhood. We watch football with them, drink tea with them, pray with them. We don't know why they attacked us in this way."

Scores of victims and witnesses who live in the teeming Conakry suburbs of Hamdalaye, Bambeto, Cosa, Dar es Salam, Kakimbo, and Lambanyi described disturbing scenes of violence between Diallo's Peuhl supporters and supporters of Condé, who are largely Malinké, Soussou, and from the Forestier region. The violence was committed by mobs of youth and men armed with rocks, sticks, iron bars, knives, machetes, and, in a few cases, small swords and hammers.

Communal violence affected supporters, or perceived supporters, of both sides of the ethnic-political divide. However, in Conakry, Human Rights Watch documented considerably more attacks by Peuhl youths on members of communities they believed supported Condé than the reverse. Many Peuhl youths interviewed by Human Rights Watch perceived acts of celebration and, in many cases, verbal insults, as license to engage in violence.

Conakry residents described being attacked in their homes, dragged out of their cars and beaten, singled out for abuse on account of their ethnicity at informal checkpoints, and in at least three cases, raped. People living in houses or compounds with metal security bars told Human Rights Watch they were pelted with rocks by wave after wave of youths, while those in less secure compounds where the aggressors gained entry described being beaten and robbed. Witnesses described how the mobs stole phones, clothing, money, refrigerators, televisions, sewing machines, food, furniture, and other items. In some cases, houses, cars, or furniture were set on fire.

Those who suffered the most serious violence were from ethnic groups that were a clear minority within a given neighborhood. In several neighborhoods, nearly every minority family Human Rights Watch interviewed had been attacked. The victims were clearly told they were being attacked for their support, or perceived support, of the other party and were often warned by the mobs to move out of the neighborhood or risk further assault - or even death. Many families fled their neighborhoods, and others sent small children and female family members to live elsewhere. In many cases, older men and women of the attackers' ethnicity tried to stop the violence, often unsuccessfully.

A Malinké man described how Peuhl youths had blocked the road near his house in Cosa and stopped everyone as they walked into the neighborhood.

"They beat everyone who wasn't a Peuhl," he said.

Another Malinké man described being attacked by groups of Peuhl youth seven times, eventually causing him to send his younger children to seek refuge with an older Peuhl neighbor. A 61-year-old Soussou man who suffered serious head injuries and a broken jaw after being dragged from his car and beaten by about 10 Peuhl youths manning an informal checkpoint in the Cosa neighborhood described his ordeal:

"They asked me if I was a Soussou or a Malinké. I told them we are all Guineans and hearing that they started to beat me inside the car, with rocks, sticks, and their hands. They dragged me out of the car and beat me more, then started breaking all the windows of the car. While beating me they said, "You're RPG's you who supported Alpha Condé ... you will see what will happen to you!" I lost consciousness ... I was alone. There were no police there, no one there to help me."

About five Peuhl families living in a compound in the Dabony Rai neighborhood were attacked by a Soussou mob, which eventually gained entry, robbed all the families of their money and possessions, including the window frames of their houses, and burned several of their cars. The Peuhl are a small minority there.

A 37-year-old Peuhl woman and her husband were attacked as they walked home from the market in the Koloma Rai neighborhood by a mob of about 50 men speaking Malinké. The woman, who was attacked with a knife and hammer, suffered lacerations in the face and lost several teeth in the attack. The husband told Human Rights Watch:

"When they saw us they said, "Look at them, they are Peuhl!" As we ran, my wife tripped and fell. I yelled at them to leave her. They beat her with sticks, iron bars. I saw her being stabbed in the chin with a knife, and hit in the mouth with a hammer. When I yelled at them to leave her, they set upon me. We were saved by an older Malinké man who yelled at them to stop, and by a truck of policemen, who dispersed the mob with tear gas."

Excessive Use of Lethal Force by Security Forces
On November 15, angry Peuhl youths took to the streets to protest against the perceived lack of neutrality of the electoral commission. Many burned tires, blocked roads, threw rocks at security forces that responded, and attacked residents who had or were perceived to have supported Condé.

Human Rights Watch's investigation found that security forces - policemen, soldiers (some of whom were wearing red berets, suggesting their affiliation with one of several elite military units), and members of the Special Force for a Safe Electoral Process (Force spéciale de sécurisation du processus électoral, FOSSEPEL), a 16,000-strong unit comprising police and gendarmes assigned to ensure security during the elections - used excessive force, often against the Peuhl.

Human Rights Watch took in-depth statements from 16 victims of gunshot wounds, 12 of whom, all Peuhl, described seeing security force members either shooting directly at them, or near them. The other four victims were wounded by stray bullets fired by the security forces. Some of the wounded and other witnesses described in detail the killing of three men by security forces during unprovoked attacks.

The local hospital, where the vast majority of victims were treated, stated they had treated 84 individuals for gunshot wounds. Both Human Rights Watch and hospital officials confirmed that the vast majority were Peuhl.

A few of the wounded admitted they had engaged in violence and thrown rocks at the security forces, but they said they had been shot as they ran away, and, in a few cases, even before tear gas was fired. The majority, however, denied any involvement in violence and said they had been shot in or near their homes by members of the security forces who stormed houses and compounds looking for youths who had fled after being dispersed by tear gas. Some of the youths also described being shot by security forces conducting foot or vehicular patrols after the violence had calmed down. Several men were shot, including two who died, during periods of relative calm when the men had ventured out to buy water or supplies or to visit family members.

A 17-year-old student who was shot in the knee just outside his house on November 15 described how he and another man were injured and a third man was killed in the same incident:

"I was preparing tea with friends at my house. I heard the sound of people running, then minutes later, saw two pick-ups of FOSSEPEL and CMIS [police], advancing on foot into the neighborhood. That morning the UFDG youths had burned tires, but I wasn't among them. I thought they were going after those youths, but suddenly I heard them saying, "They're Peuhl ... kill them," and realized it was us they were after. As one of my friends dashed across the street, I saw a policeman shoot at him ... he fell. I ran, looking back quickly, and saw a policeman aiming at me ... I saw it clearly from three meters away. It was then that I was hit. A few minutes later, they [the police] shot a third man ... just meters away. The police were moving through the area like they were in a war. As I dragged myself toward my house, they kicked me in the gut and hit me with their rifles until I fell into the gutter. I think they behave like this because they don't have any children. I can see why they'd go after people burning tires, but I had nothing to do with it."

Human Rights Watch also spoke with an 18-year-old taxi driver who was shot by the police as he ran home from a mosque after afternoon prayers: "I'd done my ablution, but then saw the police arrive and got frightened. I put on my shoes and ran, and saw them fire at me ... I had no warning, no [tear] gas, no warning shots."

A 22-year-old mechanic, who has a physical disability, was shot by members of FOSSEPEL from some four meters away when he tried to flee from his workplace with his father.

"They didn't tell us to stop. They didn't fire tear gas. They just fired," he told Human Rights Watch. "I fell down, terrified as the military walked up to me. I thought they would shoot me again, but two of them kicked me hard in the stomach, saying insults about my people, the Peuhls."

Three witnesses to the killing of a 20-year-old student, Mamadou Abdoulaye Bah, by a member of FOSSEPEL on Wednesday, November 17, said he was shot through the neck from some 40 meters away while visiting with friends along the railway tracks in the Cosa neighborhood. As one witness described:

"He came to a group of friends sitting on the railway tracks to give one of them money to buy some bread. It had been tense - between the security forces and the youths - but had quieted down a bit, so he ventured out. His mother cried later that she told him not to be long; he was her only child. At that moment we saw two FOSSEPEL agents about 50 meters away - they'd been guarding a Malinké family house that Peuhl youths had attacked when the trouble began. Suddenly, they shot in the air, and Abdoulaye and his friends got up to run, but then one of them [the agents] just shot in our direction. He [Abdoulaye] fell down right there - half on the tracks and half off."

Physical and Detention-Related Abuses, Criminal Behavior by Security Forces
About 30 people who spoke to Human Rights Watch described being slapped, kicked, whipped, burned, and beaten with batons and rifle butts as they were being detained by security force members on the street or at their homes or jobs, or while in detention in one of several gendarme and police facilities. Human Rights Watch also documented the rape of six young women by soldiers in the town of Labé.

Many of these abuses were committed against young men who had taken part in the protests, or against men and women whom the security forces encountered while patrolling. Numerous witnesses showed Human Rights Watch physical signs of the abuses, including bruises, cuts, and burns. Witnesses also described how the security forces kicked over the food their wives and mothers were preparing in their homes including on November 16, the holy Muslim holiday of Eid.

Some of those interviewed told Human Rights Watch that security forces urinated in their houses and, in one case, kicked over the entire library of a Quranic teacher. Another man, detained in Cosa by several FOSSEPEL agents, described being severely burned:

"A group of FOSSEPEL came inside my house and stole my phone and two pairs of shoes. They dragged me and two others to the crossroads, where they beat us, and then one of them picked up a piece of a chair which the youths had burned [along with tires] during the trouble earlier that day and burned my back in two places. They kept us there, beating us, for several more hours."

Numerous witnesses described how security forces stole mobile telephones, money, shoes, and household items during the operations. Several victims detained near or in their homes were asked for money to avoid being taken into the local police station, gendarme camp, or prison, or, once there, to secure their freedom. One man detained after being found hiding in a house was taken to the police headquarters in Bellevue and was told that he would be sent to the central prison unless he paid 400,000 Guinean francs (US$57).

Three other young men who were detained on November 15 by FOSSEPEL officers spent five days in the judicial police (Department of Judicial Police, DPJ) headquarters. They and two family members told Human Rights Watch that the family paid the police to ensure the men had decent jail conditions and to secure their release. A total of 52 men were held there. One of the three said:

"They broke down the door, found my brothers and me hiding, and forced us onto the FOSSEPEL truck, beating us as we went until we bled. When my mother tried to stop them, they slapped her hard on her face. They took us to the police headquarters in Bellvue, but the officer there said he wouldn't accept anyone who was wounded. Then FOSSEPEL took us to the DPJ. In the mornings they'd stuff over 30 of us in a very small room and close the door. Once, five people fainted from the heat. Every morning our family members had to pay to free us from that room; then they had to pay to get us out of the DPJ. Our family paid a total of 500,000 Guinean francs ($71) for the whole affair. While there, they took out a pile of machetes, knives, and other weapons, and made the 52 of us, who were all Peuhl, stand behind them and filmed us for the television."

One of the rape victims in Labé, 400 kilometers from Conakry, was interviewed by phone in the hospital where she was receiving treatment. She said that on November 19 she was forced at gunpoint to enter a truck full of soldiers, taken to a house under construction, and held against her will for two days. She was detained with two other young women and found another three women there. The victim and two others eventually escaped through a window. Diplomatic sources interviewed by Human Rights Watch said local doctors had confirmed the rapes.

On November 21, twenty-two members of the security forces were arrested and charged for criminal acts committed against the civilian population in Conakry after the late-November 17 imposition of the state of emergency. However, no arrests of security force members implicated in violations committed from November 15 through 17 have been made.

Lack of Neutrality by Security Forces
Human Rights Watch's research suggests that the security forces demonstrated a lack of neutrality in responding to the political and ethnic violence, and for targeting members of the Peuhl ethnic group.

Peuhl victims of abuses by the security forces were, with few exceptions, subjected to ethnic slurs, insults that referred to their ethnicity, and threats to kill them on the basis of their ethnic group. Victims interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they were consistently told, "You, the Peuhl, will never rule the country"; "You Peuhl bastards, we will kill you all"; and "You, the Peuhl, are the ones ruining Guinea." A high-ranking UFDG member who was detained for several hours by FOSSEPEL agents was told, "You are all good for the fire of the Nazis," while the young man who was burned with a smoldering chair was told by FOSSEPEL agents, "Your father is Cellou Dalein Diallo, isn't it? We'll eliminate all of you here."

Numerous victims described seeing members of the security forces and civilians armed with rocks, sticks, and, at times, machetes and knives appearing to work together as they pushed back mobs of Peuhl youths who were taking part in protests, clashing with mobs of youths from other ethnic groups, or engaging in attacks on perceived supporters of Condé. Peuhl residents of the Kakimbo and Cosa neighborhoods described how security forces, including police, red berets, and FOSSEPEL agents, opened fire in the direction of their community, while the civilians accompanying the agents threw rocks in the same direction.

A group of some 15 youths from the Malinké, Forestier, and Soussou ethnic groups interviewed by Human Rights Watch openly described taking part in what they described as a collaborative effort with the police and members of the red berets.

"We mobilized to defend our neighborhood, and the military helped us out," one said.

Another witness observed youths he believed to be Malinké armed with rocks and machetes marching toward the Bambeto neighborhood with a FOSSEPEL truck in front of them.

Many members of the security services appeared to take their duty to protect individuals from ethnic groups who had largely voted for Condé more seriously than they did those allied with Diallo, Human Rights Watch said. Numerous witnesses, including business people in the Hafia neighborhood, described how Peuhl who came under attack by armed Malinké and Soussou youths called FOSSEPEL for help. Their relief upon seeing the security forces arrive was dampened when the security forces instead used tear gas against the Peuhl. Similarly, instead of protecting several Peuhl families being attacked by a mob of youths from the majority Soussou ethnicity in the Dabony Rai neighborhood, FOSSEPEL agents called by Peuhl for protection participated in looting Peuhl houses, and beat and detained at least one of the Peuhl residents.

Human Rights Watch spoke with several Peuhl witnesses in Kakimbo, Dabony Rai, Cosa, and Hafia who described security force members standing by while civilians from other ethnic groups stole from them. At times the civilians and members of the security forces simultaneously robbed and stole money and items from them. In Cosa, a resident described how two red berets and three FOSSEPEL agents stood by while several Malinké residents broke into his restaurant and stole batteries, thermoses, his television, and other items. In Hafia, witnesses described how the security forces stood by while Malinké and Soussou residents broke into several residences, a tailor shop and a phone-call center, and then together proceeded to rob local Peuhl residents of money, phones, sewing machines, fans, and other items.

Numerous witnesses described supporters on both sides of the ethnic-political divide armed with knives, machetes, and other weapons and engaged in aggression and, in many cases, criminal acts against each other. But the people detained for criminal acts and wounded by the security services are overwhelmingly Peuhl. This pattern is substantiated by both hospital and prison records seen by Human Rights Watch and suggests a disproportionate and ethnically motivated response to the violence by security forces, very few of whom are Peuhl.

Regardless of ethnic background, the violence has indeed taken a toll on Conakry's residents. A Soussou woman married to a Malinké described how a group of some 40 Peuhl armed with knives, sticks, swords, and machetes broke into their home, attacked her teenage daughter and 10-year-old son, raped her 18 year-old sister-in-law (who was also interviewed by Human Rights Watch), and stole numerous items:

"On Monday, right after the announcement of the results, the mob came. One of them put a knife to my 10-year-old son's throat - I grabbed my son away and told them they would have to kill me first. They stole everything - clothes, sheets, sewing machines, fridges, our food, and even my children's school books! Some of our Peuhl neighbors have given us things to wear and eat; they've been kind. Two of the attackers raped my sister-in-law. Since Monday, we haven't slept in our house; we spent the day here but don't sleep here. We are too terrified."

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