(Dakar) – Some members of Guinea’s security forces used excessive lethal force, engaged in abusive conduct, and displayed a lack of political neutrality when responding to election-related opposition protests in April and May 2015, Human Rights Watch said. Members of the police force were most frequently implicated in the abuses, revealing an urgent need for accountability, better command responsibility, and training.
According to hospital records reviewed by Human Rights Watch, at least two protesters were killed and 146 people wounded during the violence in the capital, Conakry, including at least 37 who were shot. Doctors who treated the wounded said the vast majority of the wounded were opposition supporters. The security forces said that at least 77 policemen and gendarmes were wounded, 28 seriously, as they responded to the often violent protests. Security force members implicated in serious crimes and demonstrators who carry out violent attacks should be brought to justice, Human Rights Watch said.
“Given the present level of ethnic and political tension, and the potential for ongoing election-related violence, the government simply must take steps to address these abuses,” said Corinne Dufka, West Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The government needs to act swiftly to improve discipline within the ranks and ensure that anyone responsible for violations is held to account.”
Over 10 days in May and June, Human Rights Watch conducted research into the violence that occurred within the capital, Conakry. This included conducting research in six neighborhoods, visiting and reviewing records from seven clinics and hospitals that had treated the wounded, and speaking with 111 Guineans from various ethnic groups and political parties who were either victims or witnesses to the violence. Additional interviews were conducted with political party and community leaders, diplomats, and government representatives.
The demonstrations were sparked by a dispute over the sequencing of local and presidential elections. Local elections, which last took place in 2005 and were planned for 2014, were postponed because of the Ebola crisis. When the Electoral Commission announced in March 2015 that the presidential elections would take place before local elections, the opposition accused the government of trying to give the ruling party an unfair advantage, since the majority of local officials represent the ruling party and could be in a position to influence the vote.
On numerous occasions, policemen, and to a lesser extent gendarmes, used excessive force, beat people who posed no apparent threat, and destroyed property. They also engaged in unprofessional conduct, including theft and banditry. Witnesses and victims said members of the security forces stole cell phones and cash, carted off merchandise from small businesses, smashed windshields, cut community water spigots, and threw food, trash, and belongings into wells.
In numerous cases, family members of people detained during the demonstrations said they bribed police, gendarmes, and to a lesser extent, judicial authorities, to free them. Several said the detentions appeared to have turned into a “business opportunity” for the security forces.
Some members of the security forces also demonstrated a partisan response to protests by using ethnic slurs against opposition supporters – the majority of whom are ethnic Peuhl. On at least two occasions, policemen stood by and watched or collaborated with civilian mobs from ethnic groups that largely supported the ruling party as they looted property from people believed to support the opposition.
Human Rights Watch also found that many protesters engaged in criminal conduct during the demonstrations, including theft and banditry. They also erected roadblocks and robbed passers-by, threw rocks at public transport vehicles, and attacked people wearing ruling party t-shirts or those believed to support the ruling party, resulting in several injuries.
During the demonstrations, they launched rocks and small pieces of metal from slingshots at police and occasionally, passers-by. Opposition leaders said those involved were not part of their movement, but they appeared to take inadequate steps to ensure discipline by their supporters. Witnesses said that many children took part in the demonstrations, and that many of them were wounded.
Judicial authorities interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that few victims of violence by any side filed police reports or reported the crime to the competent judicial authorities, indicating a lack of faith in the judicial system.
The number of abuses committed by the gendarmes appeared to have markedly decreased compared with similar incidents in 2010 and 2013. They were nevertheless implicated in the killing of one man, the gang rape of one woman, and numerous incidents of criminality.
Human Rights Watch met with the police inspector general and nine commanders of the Mobile Intervention and Security Force (Compagnie mobile d’intervention et de sécurité, CMIS), the police unit charged with ensuring public order, in May 2015. In the meeting, the police leadership acknowledged some incidents of indiscipline but detailed several recent actions to improve discipline and said they lack adequate equipment and training for officers.
Human Rights Watch urged the government to bring to justice those responsible for the abuses documented in this report, ensure member of the security forces abide by the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, and establish an independent civilian oversight board for the Guinean National Police.
Political Context and Violence
Political and election-related violence has claimed hundreds of Guinean lives in the last decade – most recently in 2012-2013, when at least 50 demonstrators and two law enforcement officers were killed in advance of parliamentary elections
Political violence in Guinea is underscored by deep ethnic divisions. In recent years, the violence has led to violence between members of the largest opposition party, the Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (Union des forces démocratiques de Guinée, UFDG), the vast majority of whose members are ethnic Peuhl, and the ruling party, the Rally of the Guinean People Party (Rassemblement du peuple de Guinée, RPG), dominated by the ethnic Malinke.
On March 10, 2015, the National Electoral Commission (CENI) announced that the first round of presidential elections would be on October 11, and that elections of local officials would be pushed back to sometime in 2016. Most of Guinea’s local and regional councils are currently governed by executive-appointed special delegations. The opposition maintains that if they remain in place, they could be in a position to influence voters in the presidential election.
In response to the CENI announcement, the opposition withdrew their 49 representatives from the National Assembly on March 18, 2015, announced they would no longer recognize the CENI, and called for a series of protests, which took place in April and May.
Dozens of witnesses said that on the days the demonstrations were held, the security forces deployed to neighborhoods inhabited largely by opposition party supporters to prevent demonstrators from coming together in large numbers. On several occasions, the security forces used teargas to keep opposition leaders from leaving their homes or their party headquarters.
Throughout the days the protests took place, protesters and security services engaged in pitched battles in which demonstrators set up barricades of burning tires and threw stones at the security forces. In response, witnesses said, the security services fired teargas, fired live rounds into the air and, on several occasions, at demonstrators, and chased them back into the neighborhoods.
The opposition had refused to notify local authorities in advance of the planned marches. Opposition leaders told Human Rights Watch that Guinean laws stipulate that instead of seeking permission, they need only to inform local authorities of their plans, but that they did not because they consider the local authorities, whose mandate has expired, illegitimate. They claimed the security force actions to keep their supporters and leaders from marching violated their freedoms of assembly and movement.
Government authorities said the state has the right and the responsibility to authorize marches because, as one official said, “even the most peaceful march can turn violent.” They said the opposition’s failure to notify the authorities violated the legal procedure stipulated in the penal code, and that the disruption the protests caused undermined the ordinary Guineans’ freedom of movement.
Articles 106-108 of the penal code define the process for seeking approval for a demonstration, and consequences if denied. It specifies that “There must be a prior declaration with intended date, route, and itinerary, and permission from the government” for public meetings and demonstrations, presented in writing between 3 and 15 days before the planned event. The administrative authority may prohibit meetings if they suspect the public order will be disturbed. Participants in unauthorized events can be fined and sentenced to two to five years in prison.
International standards on freedom of assembly suggest that prior notification requirements that are reasonable and proportionate do not violate this right, but, that requiring prior permission of the authorities to hold demonstrations is likely to be a violation of this right.
In early June, the opposition and ruling party agreed to talks aimed at resolving the election sequencing dispute. In late June, the opposition suspended its participation in the talks, citing the lack of progress.
Human Rights Watch visited and reviewed the medical records from three hospitals and four smaller clinics in Conakry. Accounting for patients treated in more than one hospital, the records suggest that at least 146 people were wounded. Hospital officials confirmed that the vast majority were Peuhl opposition party supporters or Peuhl citizens living in neighborhoods that largely supported the opposition.
Thirty-seven people were wounded by bullets, two of whom died. Doctors said at least three of those they treated had been hit by stray bullets.
Medical personnel, human rights investigators, and political party representatives said that the majority of those wounded by bullets in 2015 had been hit in the legs and feet, and that the number of those killed is considerably smaller, compared with previous episodes of political violence in 2007, 2009, and 2013.
Wounded Police and Gendarmes
Medical personnel from the military told Human Rights Watch that, in the course of responding to the demonstrations in Conakry, 77 members of the police and gendarmerie were wounded, 28 seriously.
Police officials and an army official said the majority had been wounded by rocks and small pieces of iron or marbles lobbed from slingshots or buildings, resulting in fractures, deep gashes, broken teeth, severed ears, and head wounds. “These were far from peaceful marches,” said an army doctor who treated the wounded. “I’ve seen policemen wearing helmets have their heads split open after it was cracked by a piece of metal or a flying rock.”
A police official said one of his men had lost an eye; another had broken his foot; three others were wounded by fragments fired from a hunting rifle; and a few others were beaten by protesters.
A police commander, who had been wounded by a rock, said the windshields of several police vehicles, including his own, were cracked by rocks and, in one case, a firearm: “Sometimes it feels like urban warfare with hostile people building barricades – then coming at you from all directions – like an ambush, from side streets, and from above. It wasn’t like this in 2007; demonstrations are definitely getting more violent.”
Police officials said they needed more protection equipment for their men and their vehicles.
Lethal Force by Security Forces
In statements and in interviews with Human Rights Watch, the government insisted that police and gendarmes are strictly forbidden from carrying or using firearms when responding to street demonstrations.
The inspector general of police, Mohammed Gare, explained the instructions given to his men: “Each time before intervening in a public disturbance, very clear instructions, both written and oral, are given: they must not use arms, or any other lethal means. If any police officer is found with a weapon, he will be punished; we don’t joke about this.” In an interview with Human Rights Watch in 2014, the gendarmerie spokesman said similar instructions are given to gendarmes. Several policemen and gendarmes said that before they left their base to respond to violent demonstrations, their commanders searched their vehicles to ensure there were no weapons.
However, medical records and dozens of witnesses who describe members of the police and, to a lesser extent, gendarmes, holding and using firearms, including AK-47’s, G-3’s and pistols, contradict the official position. One witness said he saw a CMIS commander distributing what he thought were G3’s to several policemen in early May 2015.
When asked about this discrepancy, police officials said the injuries could result from gunfire between protesters or, as a result of demonstrations that threaten police or gendarmes who are authorized to use weapons, including those guarding their bases, banks, or government buildings.
Many witnesses said security forces used teargas and shot in the air before, or at the same time as, they shot at protesters, suggesting they might have, on some occasions, been overwhelmed by the demonstrators.
Human Rights Watch interviewed five victims of gunshot wounds, a few of whom admitted they had engaged in violence and thrown rocks at the security forces. They and several other witnesses described seeing security force members either shooting directly at or near demonstrators. Three people wounded by bullets told Human Rights Watch they had been shot as they fled the unrest. A 15-year-old student who was shot in his lower leg said:
It was very tense; people from the neighborhood were throwing rocks at the police; I saw a truck of policemen arrive, several had long rifles – we only had rocks. They jumped down and fired in the air … after running a bit, I stopped and saw them firing at us ... it was then I was hit.
Three witnesses described the April 13 killing in the Hamdallaye neighborhood of 30-year-old Thierno Souleymane Bah by a gendarme armed with a pistol. The witnesses said the gendarme was one of several in charge of security of a local headquarters of the ruling RPG located up the street. One said:
It was very tense between the population and gendarmes all day. We were headed to the commune of Ratoma but were blocked by the gendarmes up the street. At around 16:00 I heard “fire, fire, help” and many of us ran to see a few stores set alight by the security forces. As we ran back and forth with water to put out the fire, one of the gendarmes took aim with a pistol – from around 20 or 30 meters away – and fired … Souleymane fell. At that point, we weren’t throwing rocks, rather, trying to put the fire out. He was hit in the chest … blood came out his mouth. I called his name twice … as we carried him, he suddenly felt heavier….
The Guinean authorities should at all times abide by UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, which sets standards justifying the use of firearms and intentional lethal force, Human Rights Watch said. Article 9 says that lethal force should only be used in cases of “self-defence or defence of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury,” and “only when less extreme means are insufficient to achieve these objectives.” Article 10 calls for law enforcement officials to give a clear warning of their intent to use firearms, and article 11 urges the establishment of clear guidelines that call for firearms to be used in a manner likely to decrease the risk of unnecessary harm; that provide for warnings to be given when firearms are to be discharged, and to provide for a system of reporting whenever law enforcement officials use firearms in the performance of their duty, among others.
Physical Assault and Sexual Violence by Security Forces
Over 30 people told Human Rights Watch that they were slapped, kicked, whipped, clubbed, and beaten with rifle butts, rocks, and batons; and, in one case, cut with a knife by security force members on the street or in neighborhoods heavily affected by the violence. Some said security forces threw rocks at demonstrators, a few times after appearing to have run out of teargas.
Witnesses said that many of the injured were opposition party supporters from the UFDG or a smaller opposition party, the Union of Republican Forces (Union des Forces Républicaines, UFR), taking part in protests, while others were targeted in their homes or while going or returning from work, the market, or school. Others were beaten in detention. Judicial personnel described seeing many of those referred for trial covered in blood or with visible wounds.
Numerous witnesses showed Human Rights Watch physical signs of the abuses they said they had suffered, including bruises, cuts, stiches, hematomas, and swollen eyes. Several still had casts and bandages covering the injury. Most assaults, they said, were accompanied by ethnic slurs or insults about the victims’ membership in an opposition party, and many by theft.
Several people said security forces fired teargas into houses, crowded neighborhoods, and in one case, the courtyard of a mosque. Doctors and medical records indicated that numerous infants and children were treated for asphyxia from teargas.
Several members of an extended family said that in April, about seven members of the CMIS, several of whom had firearms, broke into the family’s compound and dragged out and later arrested an 18-year-old man and his sister, beating both severely. The man’s hand was broken as he tried to protect his head from a club. As their mother and an aunt tried to intervene, they were shoved to the ground and hit several times with a club. Both were still limping when interviewed.
A 19-year-old student said a gendarme stopped her as she went to pick up her brother at school and slapped and robbed her, and then cut an “x” on her forearm. A doctor, who is a UFR member, said many of the 28 wounded UFR supporters he had treated during the demonstrations in Kaloum or Matam had been injured by policemen.
A female UFR leader said a policeman threw her down, and then stomped on her left hand, breaking it. An older man’s arm was fractured, while a 60-year-old woman suffered two hematomas on her side, still visible to a researcher: “I know some marches are violent, but that day, we were peaceful,” the woman said. “As a party leader, I was in front. The police teargassed us, then set upon us for no reason! One kicked my legs out from under me, and then hit me severely on my side. I have to go to the hospital every two weeks to get blood removed.”
One case of excessive force, against a journalist who was severely beaten up by several policemen in the Coza neighborhood, resulted in disciplinary actions against two captains.
Human Rights Watch documented the rape of a Peuhl woman detained by a group of gendarmes. After being forced onto their vehicle on April 14, the 26-year-old victim was taken to a building, blindfolded, stripped, and raped by at least two men. “First they shoved a baton into me, really hard, then two of them used me,” she said. Before being let go several hours later, and on at least four occasions since (via telephone), she was threatened with death if she reported the rape. The victim was visibly in pain six weeks after the assault.
Property Destruction by Security Forces
Numerous victims and witnesses said they saw members of the security forces set fire to or destroy market stalls and small businesses; destroy sewing machines, cell phone call centers, and water spigots; break windows; and put food and household items into wells.
In several neighborhoods, Human Rights Watch observed bullet holes in walls, smashed glass, burned metal sheeting, and other damage, and was shown photographs of the damage taken by victims on their cell phones.
Witnesses described and Human Rights Watch observed the destruction of two community water spigots by security forces as they responded to unrest – one in Hamdallaye by the gendarmes, and another in Bambéto by the police. “They rampaged – breaking lightbulbs, windows – and here, at the end of the street – they cut through and destroyed the water pump,” a witness said. “Thousands of people get water every day; why would they do this?”
Police authorities told Human Rights Watch that, since 2013, policemen have been under strict instructions not to pursue demonstrators into their neighborhoods. However, multiple witnesses said that most cases of property destruction within the neighborhoods were by policemen.
Numerous residents of Bambéto, Wanindra, and Koloma said policemen forced their way into houses, broke windows, kicked over food cooking on fires, and, in several cases, threw food, trash, bags of rice, pots, clothing, charcoal, buckets, and other items into small wells located on their property. A woman from Koloma said, “They burst in, threatened us with knives … we ran to hide…. I heard them saying, ‘We’ll kill you, you bastards, you’ll not eat today, nor will you ever have power.’ After they left, we found three buckets, pans, trash, spoons, even our clothing, inside the well.”
Residents from Koloma and Wanindra described seeing policemen urinating into cooked food, and, in one case, putting a baby’s dirty diaper into a pot of rice. In Cimenterie-Sonfonia, policemen set alight and robbed eight small stalls selling food. Residents of Bambéto and Koloma said policemen smashed car windshields with rocks as they pursued protesters from the main roads into the neighborhoods. The owners of two small auto-repair shops showed a researcher the destruction. In one shop, six windshields were smashed. The owner of the second shop said:
A group of boys who’d been throwing rocks at the police ran through my shop and jumped over the wall, and seconds later, the police arrived in hot pursuit. After seeing the youths had escaped, they picked up big rocks and started crashing the windshields of my clients’ cars, one after the other, seven in total, like it was my fault….
Similarly, in early May, police pelted the kiosk of a man in Matam: “As the police entered, I barricaded myself in the kiosk. I heard them saying, ‘uh huh ... it’s places like this where they hide.’ They pelted it with rocks … things started crashing … my thermos, my TV … all broken.”
A seamstress from Wanindra said that police set her mannequin and fabric on fire, and then destroyed several sewing machines. Several young men said that their small phone-charging businesses were set alight.
The owner of a kiosk in Hamdallaye said that several gendarmes responding to unrest set his kiosk ablaze and stole his merchandise. He said his was one of several small businesses destroyed by the gendarmes that day: “As they entered, I ran for cover, but saw them spraying petrol from small plastic coke bottles and then setting it alight. I worked really hard for this business. I lost 15 million FG (US$2,067) in merchandise.”
Abusive Behavior by the Security Forces
Many witnesses said security forces, particularly members of the CMIS, stole mobile telephones, money, merchandise, and household items during many operations. The crimes documented took place in Cimenterie-Sonfonia, Matam, Wanindra, Hamdallaye, and Koloma neighborhoods on the days of street protests.
A 62-year-old widow with disabilities living in a one-room shack in Koloma said that in April, police rampaging through the neighborhood kicked over the rice she was cooking, then broke down her door, threw her off the bed, and found “all the money I had in the world, about 4.8 million FG (US$661) I’d hidden in the mattress.” She begged for them to leave the money, “as they left they bent my crutch, and yelled at me for not educating my children to stay off the street.”
Two victims said that on May 4, seven elderly men drinking tea in front of a store in the Wanindra neighborhood were detained by CMIS policemen, who then robbed the men as they drove through the neighborhood. Those who did not have, or whose family member could not bring the required sum, were taken to a police station.
Two witnesses said that three gendarmes in an official vehicle and armed with a pistol held up a store owner and stole his two phones and 2 million FG (US$275) in cash. “As they left, they stole juice and put the few Gloria’s (condensed milk) they could fit in their pockets,” one witness said. A journalist said that policemen stole his phone, professional video camera, and 135,000 FG (US$18.60).
In Cimenterie-Sonfonia, six witnesses said that policemen broke into, then robbed and set on fire, eight stalls selling food, all owned by Peuhl businessmen. The destruction was clearly visible to a researcher. They said the policemen allowed ruling party supporters, who had earlier clashed with opposition supporters, to loot as well.
On May 4, a businesswomen and UFR supporter, who had lost consciousness when police beat her as they tried to detain her 20-year-old son at their home, accused the police of stealing 3.5 million FG (US$482) she was keeping to pay her workers.
Two witnesses said policemen responding to unrest around the UFR headquarters in Matam “took advantage of the violence” to steal from a store. One said:
As things started to heat up between us, three CMIS – I saw their patches – stormed my family’s store. We ran out but from a distance, saw them stealing sardines, meat, juice, soap – my mother had just bought stock worth 5 million FG (US$689). They fired in the air to disperse us, but we saw them putting our stuff in CMIS trucks. At same time, they robbed a man who’d come to deliver Cristal bottled water; I saw them steal his sack with money.
A 35-year-old musician was robbed on April 4 while in police detention:
I had 840,000FG (US$115.75) in my pocket to pay for a production later that day. Because of the way I look (with dreadlocks), they thought I was a protester. They hit me on the head and threw me in their truck. At the station, they asked if I wanted to wash the blood off my face. As I was doing this in the bathroom, they jumped me saying, ‘Hey, he’s a drug dealer … search him.’ It was a pretext to steal the money they must’ve seen in my pocket.
“Detention as Business”
Fourteen people said that members of the security services, and to a lesser extent, judiciary, demanded bribes in return for freeing them or a family member. In most cases, the detention did not exceed the 72-hour local limit as defined by Guinean law. Most bribes were paid to police officers, while others were paid to gendarmes and judicial authorities.
Detainees, political party leaders, and community elders told Human Rights Watch they believed many people were detained less to sanction those taking part in violence than to make money for corrupt members of the security services and judiciary. The amount paid per person ranged from 100,000 FG (US$13.79 USD) to 1 million FG (US$137.80).
A father said he paid policemen first to bring food and medicine for his son who had been badly beaten by policemen and was then detained in a CMIS headquarters. Three days later, he had to pay 500,000 FG (US$68.90) to secure his son’s release. “I was so afraid he would die … he was bleeding and bruised all over his back … I had to get him out of there.”
One woman said she negotiated with the local CMIS commander for the release of her children, and that he agreed to accept a lower sum for each because there were two of them. Two other family members said their lawyers negotiated with “agents of the state” within the judiciary to free their children who had been convicted of a crime and sent to prison.
Three opposition party officials, designated by their parties to negotiate between the families of the detained and members of the security services, said they paid bribes to ensure the detainees’ release. A UFDG youth leader said:
Ah yes, arrests have turned into a nice little business for these people … the police arrest my boys, then I come to negotiate their freedom. After the April and May disturbances, I did this for 15 of my youths who’d been detained in three places. Sometimes, I go straight to the top to negotiate – I pay between 300,000 (US$41.34) and 500,000 (US$68.90) a head. Sometimes I yell at them, but they say, “Ok then, send them to jail, it’s up to you.” I give the money hand to hand; then they free them at night. It’s mostly the police, but not always, some of the police CO’s are very straight, and a few gendarmes are in it as well.
Lack of Political Neutrality by Security Forces and Use of Racial Slurs
Human Rights Watch found that on numerous occasions the security forces demonstrated a lack of neutrality in responding to the political violence.
Peuhl victims of abuses by the security forces were, with few exceptions, subjected to ethnic slurs, insults that referred to their ethnicity, and, often, threats to kill them on the basis of their ethnic group. Other members of the political opposition, notably those belonging to the UFR, were insulted over their party affiliation.
Insults included, “You, the Peuhl, will never take power in this country;” “You Peuhl bastards, dogs, we’ll beat you good;” and “You, the Peuhl, are ruining Guinea.” Middle-aged and elder Peuhls were told, “This is what you get for not educating your children, for letting them throw stones in the street.” When a Peuhl schoolgirl pleaded with a gendarme not to hurt her, saying, “I could be your sister,” he responded, “but my sister, a Guerze, is at home, but you Peuhl are in the streets!”
As one man was being beaten with a club by a gendarme, he was told, “Ah, you want power? Then it is my power you will have…. Your father is Cellou Dalein Diallo (UFDG Leader), isn’t it? We’ll eliminate all of you.”
A Peuhl woman gang raped in gendarme custody said that as she was being raped, she was told, “We’ve seen you marching; this is for refusing to stay out of trouble; because Cellou is your father.”
UFR supporters were also insulted, primarily by policemen making negative comments about the party’s president, Sidya Toure. The wives of two UFR leaders described how policemen beat them or fired teargas at or near their homes, they believed, to punish their husbands for their political activity. One woman said a policeman specifically asked if her infant was named Sidya: “They knew that my baby had in fact been named after our leader.”
In Wanindra, during two days of violence involving the police and supporters of the ruling party on one side, and the opposition on the other, witnesses said policemen and ruling party supporters jointly looted merchandise from several Peuhl-owned businesses and set the businesses on fire. Witnesses said the mobs were armed with rocks, sticks, and, at times, machetes and knives, but that the police failed to disperse them with teargas, or disarm or arrest them. The owner of one of the businesses said:
I saw the police had broken the lock to my store and were putting my corned beef, sugar, mayonnaise, juice into two trucks – I yelled, ‘That’s my stuff’ and they said, ‘Approach and we’ll kill you.’ The Malinke mobs were all around – stealing from other stores. Women tried to put out the fire, but the policemen threatened them and instead called the mobs to continue setting fires and stealing.
The violence appeared to be in retaliation for an earlier attack by a mob of opposition supporters on the house and business of a well-known businessman from an ethnic group perceived to support the ruling party.
Another shop owner heard a policeman encouraging a ruling party demonstrator, “Well done, take away what you cannot burn.” Another said she yelled at the police for failing to help her put out the fires, and was told, “But, it is we who set it on fire!” She said that “When you see those you expect to protect you either harming you or protecting criminals, you don’t know what to think.”
The next day, as the violence continued, witnesses said, policemen stood by while a mob of ruling party supporters robbed a store owned by a local UFDG leader. “To my surprise, they teargassed the community members who’d mobilized to stop the pillage, not the ones doing the pillage,” one woman commented.
Later, the same mob attacked the family of a Peuhl imam. “They stole six phones, broke windows, stole money, tore the veil off the Imam’s two wives, dragged them outside, then beat them with a chain, and then tried to burn the Imam’s library,” a family member said. In both cases, the police failed to detain those implicated despite being in the area while the crimes were being committed.
Witnesses said a mob of ruling party supporters in Matam, several armed with nail-studded pieces of wood, approached the UFR headquarters seemingly protected by several policemen. This witness was one of several who said that gendarmes worked to diffuse tension between the policeman, ruling party members, and the UFR supporters that day:
That day, we were headed out of the HQ when we saw about 200 contra-manifestants (ruling party supporters) gathered at the roundabout and protected by many policemen and three police vehicles. The ruling party was armed with wood; about 10 had nails – but the police didn’t disarm them. Thankfully, the gendarmes showed up including a captain who calmed the situation and engaged in mediation. He called two of us and two of them. The gendarmes spent all day with us, we were thankful for them.
Need for Accountability, Increased Training of Security Services
In 2009, Guinea began a long process of security sector reform envisioned to professionalize forces that had become chronically undisciplined and who, for decades, had benefited from impunity for all classes of abuses.
Security sector reform has made some progress, including elaboration and implementation of codes of conduct to improve the discipline of security forces, as well as training efforts. Diplomats, human rights activists, and police authorities said, though, that the training has disproportionately benefitted the army and gendarmes.
The inspector general of police told Human Rights Watch that he is committed to having a disciplined force and that, “Any agent implicated in abuses against the population will be punished.” He noted several recent actions to ensure discipline within the police. These include the removal of the CMIS commander of Dubreka for his men’s lack of neutrality while responding to demonstrations in May; disciplinary actions against two captains for physical aggression against a journalist; the identification (with numbers) on all CMIS vehicles to make them more easily identifiable; and, the establishment of a human rights liaison office within the police force.
Human Rights Watch remains concerned that officers from either the police or gendarmerie who commit abuses during demonstrations are seldom punished. The judiciary, gendarme, and police hierarchy should take concrete steps to improve command and control during the demonstrations, to investigate the many cases documented in this report, and to establish a police force public complaints board.
Protester’s Crimes, Behavior During Protests
Opposition leaders claimed their demonstrators were peaceful; but, as one leader put it, “They become violent when provoked by the security services.” People from across the political spectrum described violence on the days of and for a few days after the planned marches. Many speculated that some people took advantage of the chaos to commit crimes.
Several witnesses said that on the days of the planned marches, the protesters threw rocks at public transport vehicles, wounding schoolchildren and market women, among others. One man said he gave first aid to a woman after opposition members threw a large rock at the public transport vehicle:
During these marches, the population really suffers. So far this year, I’ve seen youths armed with slingshots, and once, firing at the police with a traditional rifle. Every time, the youths barricade the streets; they rob the cars passing by. In May, the youths threw a big rock at a taxi from a building – it fell on a woman in a taxi on her way from market splitting her mouth wide open … it was awful.
Another man said he was robbed twice at checkpoints set up by the protesters, “There were about 20 of them – like always, they barricaded the road with burning tires, stopping each car that approached. They were armed with pieces of wood and rocks and demanded our phones and money. But are they protesters or thugs taking advantage?”
Some victims appeared to have been deliberately targeted for their political affiliation, like a 17- year-old who said he was attacked by opposition supporters as he went out to buy bread because he was wearing a t-shirt with the image of President Alpha Condé. The injury resulted in the boy’s loss of vision in one eye.
Many people said the violence continued for a day or two after the marches. One student said, “My dad and I were attacked in May, in the evening, a day or so after the march – what saved us from further harm was that my dad spoke Peuhl. They held us up by knifepoint, took money from Dad, and took our phones.”
A businessman who lived in the Cimenterie-Sonfonia neighborhood, interviewed in the charred remains of his home, said that on May 7 a mob of hundreds of opposition supporters attacked his family home and adjacent businesses – a bar and a video center – looting and burning them to the ground:
I’ve lived here for many years; my seven children were raised here; I never caused problems. They were armed with rocks, knives … as the first rocks started pelting us, all I thought about were my children … I feared they would kill my boys so they fled first, over our back wall. As one of my daughters tried to flee, her leg was impaled on a piece of iron (on the fence) … they were speaking Pular … they stripped our place before setting it on fire ... stealing fridges, money, generators, TVs.... And in the fire, we lost all our family photos – the history of my family’s entire life. And for what ... what did we do to them?