Incumbent president Alpha Conde, leader of Rassemblement du Peuple de Guinea political party, waves as he leaves the polling station during a presidential election in Conakry, Guinea on October 11, 2015.

© 2015 Reuters

(Dakar) – President Alpha Condé of Guinea should use his second term to intensify the fight against impunity, strengthen the judiciary, and promote equal respect for the rights of all Guineans. Condé is being sworn in on December 14, 2015, after winning re-election in October. 

The presidential election, while deemed largely free and fair by international observers, was plagued by serious logistical problems. Ethnic and political violence marred the campaign period and led to several deaths, including some caused by the security forces, as well as extensive property damage. The violence further deepened ethnic tension between the Malinké, who largely supported Condé, and the Peuhl, who primarily backed the opposition.

“President Condé has taken steps to break Guinea’s painful cycle of violence and abuse, but there is a long way to go,” said Corinne Dufka, West Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “During his second term, Condé should redouble efforts to fight impunity and strengthen the institutions that underpin rule of law and development.” 

Condé was first elected in 2010. Those elections, recognized as largely free and fair, were a major step forward after 50 years of authoritarian rule. However, he inherited deeply entrenched human rights problems. These included an army with a history of serious abuses and impunity, striking deficiencies in the judicial system, crushing poverty, and endemic corruption that deprived Guineans of key social and economic rights. For over a decade, Human Rights Watch has conducted extensive research into many of these problems.

President Condé has taken steps to break Guinea’s painful cycle of violence and abuse, but there is a long way to go. During his second term, Condé should redouble efforts to fight impunity and strengthen the institutions that underpin rule of law and development.

Corinne Dufka

West Africa director, Human Rights Watch

During Condé’s first term, his government made slow but meaningful progress in accountability for past human rights abuses by security forces, most significantly with the investigation into the 2009 stadium massacre and rapes of unarmed demonstrators. Fourteen men, including the coup leader at the time, Moussa Dadis Camara, and other security force members, have been charged. The authorities have also opened investigations into other egregious abuses such as the 2007 killing of about 130 demonstrators during nationwide strikes. Despite this recent progress in investigations, so far no member of the security forces has been convicted for a serious human rights crime.

Security sector reform has been a priority for Condé’s government, and it appears to have made progress in professionalizing forces that were long steeped in a culture of indiscipline, intimidation, and partisanship. A focus on preventing abuses through human rights training, improving discipline, and increased civilian control over the security forces has appeared to lead to a reduction in abuses. 

However, there was scant effort to investigate and hold to account security forces credibly implicated in numerous cases of abuses during Condé’s first term, when the alleged excessive use of lethal force by security forces resulted in at least 60 deaths, the vast majority in the period leading up to the 2013 parliamentary elections. Several protesters were killed in demonstrations in the months leading up to the October 2015 presidential elections. 

These crimes by the security forces have elicited next to no judicial response, even when credibly reported by human rights organizations and the press, or when victims have filed judicial complaints. 

During times of political unrest, the security forces have also been implicated in numerous acts of abusive conduct, mistreatment of detainees, arbitrary arrest, extortion, bribe-taking, outright theft, and – to a lesser extent – torture and rape. 

“The judicial progress on the stadium massacre is good news, but the progress on one case can’t bear the entire burden of fighting impunity,” Dufka said. “For the rule of law to take hold, the judiciary needs to actively initiate investigations into the numerous cases of alleged abuse by security forces.” 

President Condé inherited a judicial system that had striking deficiencies, which successive governments had neglected for decades. The system remains extremely weak despite the efforts of justice officials to train and deploy dozens of new judges, establish a disciplinary board for judges, and revise key legal texts. 

The judiciary’s budget has remained at less than 0.5 percent of the national budget, contributing to the inadequacy of personnel, infrastructure, and the ability to adequately dispense justice. The failure of the Cour d’Assises – Guinea’s court for the most serious crimes – to meet regularly, as well as inadequate legal representation for the accused, contributed to extended pre-trial detention and overcrowded prisons. 

Since 2010, there have been several deadly episodes of communal violence, mostly in the southeastern Forest region, as well as rising ethno-political tensions between the Malinké and Peuhl communities across the country, particularly around the elections. 

These clashes, which killed hundreds, demonstrated the urgent need for a truth-and-reconciliation mechanism with the capacity to make recommendations to address the root causes of communal tension, and for effective guarantees of equality and non-discrimination. Condé established the Provisional Commission for Reflection on National Reconciliation in 2011, but it has made little progress in fulfilling its crucial mandate.

“If President Condé wants to be remembered as the president who consolidated respect for the rights of all Guineans, regardless of origin, ethnicity, or political affiliation, he needs to put strengthening the rule of law at the very top of his second-term agenda,” Dufka said. “President Condé’s actions could usher in greater respect for human rights for all Guineans, or a slow backsliding in the problems that characterized Guinea’s painful past.”

Ongoing Human Rights Challenges in Guinea

Accountability and the Fight Against Impunity
From Guinea’s independence from France in 1958 to the 2010 election, successive authoritarian governments allowed a climate of impunity to flourish. The failure to ensure accountability for serious crimes emboldened generations of rights abusers. Security forces committed the vast majority of these abuses.

During Condé’s first term, the judiciary opened several investigations into serious violations by security forces including the 2007 killing of about 130 unarmed demonstrators; the 2010 torture of members of the political opposition; the 2012 killing of six men in a village in southeastern Guinea; and the 2013 killing of 12 people demonstrating against delays in the parliamentary elections.

The most significant progress has been in the investigation into the September 2009 stadium massacre, in which the Presidential Guard and others massacred over 150 opposition supporters and raped some 100 women at a peaceful demonstration at the main stadium in Conakry. The panel of judges appointed in early 2010 to investigate the abuses has interviewed more than 400 victims and charged 14 suspects, including the coup leader at that time, Moussa Dadis Camara, his then-vice president, Mamadouba Toto Camara, and several other high-level members of the security forces.

Progress on many of these investigations was stymied, however, by insufficient government backing and support for the judiciary, including the government’s failure to place high-level suspects on leave from their government posts pending investigation or to ensure that security force members respond to judicial summonses. Furthermore, none of these cases have yet advanced to the trial phase.

Human rights progress in the legislative and institutional framework was evident in the 2012 creation of a Ministry for Human Rights and Civil Liberties, whose Minister has proactively pushed for better respect for human rights, and the January 2015 establishment of an independent human rights institution as mandated by Guinea’s 2010 constitution, albeit not in line with the Paris Principles.

To accelerate progress on accountability, the government should:

  • Ensure that all security force members respond to judicial summonses;
  • Ensure that the relevant authorities open and conduct adequate investigations into cases alleging state-sponsored crimes when they receive credible evidence from victims and other complainants, national and international organizations, and other sources;
  • Ensure that judicial personnel working on sensitive cases have adequate security.

Strengthening the Justice System and Improving Prison Conditions
President Condé inherited a judiciary that had been neglected for decades and manipulated by successive regimes, resulting in salient deficiencies in the system and allowing a dangerous culture of impunity to take hold. While his government has taken some meaningful steps to reform and strengthen the judiciary, it remains extremely weak.

Meaningful progress during Condé’s first term included adoption of a comprehensive 2015-2019 judicial reform plan; the recruitment and deployment in dozens of new judges, including 50 throughout the country in 2015; the establishment of the Superior Council of Judges (Conseil Supérieur de la Magistrature) to select, promote and discipline judges; imposition of some sanctions against judges for corruption and unprofessional conduct; extensive training of judicial personnel; and the revision of key legal texts—including the Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, and the Code of Military Justice— to bring them in line with international standards. Also, the 2014 adoption of a new statute for judges resulted in improved conditions and payment for chronically underpaid judges.

However, the operational budget for the judiciary has for at least seven years stood at around 0.5 percent of the national budget. This has resulted in severe shortages of judicial personnel and insufficient infrastructure and resources. Coupled with unprofessional conduct, including corrupt practices, failing to show up in court, and poor record-keeping, the lack of adequate financing contributes to a justice that too often violates, rather than protects, Guineans’ rights.

Efforts in 2015 to ensure justice for mob and communal violence had been clouded by allegations of a lack of judicial independence. In April, a court sentenced 11 people to life in prison for the mob killing of eight health workers, local officials, and journalists responding to the Ebola outbreak in the village of Womey, in the southern Forest region. However, human rights groups said the judiciary failed to investigate and hold to account members of the security forces implicated in rape, pillage, and other abuses in the aftermath of the Womey killings.

Similarly, although the judiciary convicted 13 men for their role in a deadly spate of 2013 communal violence in the southeastern region of N'Zérékoré that left an estimated 200 people dead, they failed to investigate the role of several politicians perceived to be close to the ruling party in the violence. Moreover, judicial bailiffs, responsible for carrying out many judicial decisions, said there had been frequent political interference with their work.

Prisons are severely overcrowded and inmates and detainees lack adequate nutrition, sanitation, and medical care. Guinea’s largest detention facility, designed for 300 detainees, has, according to national human rights groups, regularly accommodated more than 1,200. The overcrowding is a result of the systematic use of pretrial detention—including 60 percent of prisoners in Conakry—as well as weak case management and failure of the Cour d’Assises to meet regularly.

However, since 2010, national and international prison monitoring groups have noted a reduction in malnutrition and mortality rates among inmates, and improvement in health care and prison administration, including creation of a prison guard service. Construction is also underway on a new prison, in an effort to reduce overcrowding.

To strengthen the judiciary and improve prison conditions, the government should: 

  • Make building a justice system that respects and protects rights a priority for the president’s second term, including by ensuring the justice system has sufficient resources;
  • Finalize and submit to the National Assembly the codes and laws essential to rule of law reform that have been revised during President Condé’s first term, ensuring that they meet international law standards;
  • Eliminate the death penalty, and include the crime of torture in the new penal code;
  • Set and adhere to benchmarks for the completion of the Judicial Reform Plan;
  • Ensure that all accused in criminal cases have access to adequate legal representation;
  • Ensure that international law is implemented so that pre-trial detention is the exception, not the rule, and that every detainee is brought promptly before a judge, and if detained, receives regular judicial review of the necessity for detention. Anyone in pre-trial detention should be entitled to a trial within a reasonable time or be released.

Conduct of the Security Forces
In 2009, Guinea began a long process of reforming the chronically undisciplined security forces, which had become more a vector of instability than a guarantor of national security. For decades, successive presidents used the security forces for partisan ends to consolidate their political control and allowed them impunity for abuses.

Condé made clear during his first term that security sector reform was a priority for his administration. The United Nations, African Union, and Economic Community of West African States are supporting this reform, with input from nongovernmental groups.

Since 2010, there have been efforts to reform the sector, train its members in human rights, and ensure greater discipline and command responsibility within the security forces and civilian control over them. The military hierarchy has progressively ensured that the army and presidential guard remained in barracks, and those mandated to respond to civil unrest—the police and gendarmerie—did so proportionally and subject to civilian control.

Research by Human Rights Watch suggests that since 2010, the number of state-sponsored violations in general, and excessive use of force by security forces in response to political demonstrations in particular, has appeared to decline, compared with past periods of political tension.

In June 2015, parliament passed the Public Order Bill, which significantly strengthened civilian control over the security services by mandating that they deploy only with civilian approval. The law also defined clear rules of engagement on the basis of those spelled out in the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.

Progress is also evident in the elaboration and implementation of codes of conduct and ethics, the revision of disciplinary codes, the establishment of a human rights liaison office within the police force, and significant efforts to train the security forces in human rights.

However, training has disproportionately benefitted gendarmes and soldiers over the police. Security sector reform experts told Human Rights Watch that some 70 percent of police officers have not received basic training, and that the police force lacks the equipment necessary to fulfil their mandate.

The government, however, has done too little to investigate the security force abuses that occurred during Condé’s first term. The vast majority of reported abuses took place during often-violent protests and clashes between militants of opposing political parties. The abuses included the excessive use of lethal force, resulting in the deaths of numerous protesters; abusive conduct and mistreatment of detainees; torture; and to a much lesser extent, rape. Security forces were also implicated in numerous acts of extortion, outright theft and banditry, and bribe-taking, including from opposition members who had been arbitrarily detained.

Security forces have also at times responded in a partisan manner to demonstrations, using ethnic slurs and failing to treat with equal professionalism members of all ethnic and religious groups, including those supporting the political opposition.

While the authorities and commanders now make a greater effort to prevent abuses in times of unrest, such as by issuing clear orders not to carry lethal weapons during demonstrations and not to mistreat detainees, they have very infrequently investigated, much less prosecuted, security force members implicated in human rights violations. While a military tribunal was also established, it has yet to begin hearing cases.

During his second term, the government of President Condé should:

  • Make training and equipping the police force a priority;
  • Ensure that the judiciary, gendarme, and police hierarchy take concrete steps to further improve command and control during demonstrations, including by increasing the presence of commanders during field operations;
  • Make clear and strong public statements condemning excessive use of force, criminal conduct, wanton destruction, and other violations by members of the security forces;
  • Ensure that the judiciary investigates credible reports of serious crimes by the security forces;
  • Reinforce the capacity of the human rights office within the police force;
  • Establish an independent civilian oversight board for the Gendarmerie and the Guinean National Police that would accept complaints from the public about misconduct; and conduct prompt, impartial, and independent investigations into all allegations of violations.

Ethnic Tension and Reconciliation
Sporadic deadly outbreaks of ethnically motivated communal and political violence have, since 2010, left several hundred people dead. The most deadly outbreaks occurred in the southeastern Forest region, notably in N’Zerekoré. For example, in 2013, several hundred people were killed in clashes between the Guerze and Konianke ethnic groups; and in 2011, more than 25 people died in clashes between the Kpeles and Malinkés in the village of Galakpaye.

Political tensions remain particularly high between the Malinké and the Peuhls, who, during the 2010 and 2015 presidential elections, largely supported the opposition. National and international observers maintain that Condé’s government has aggravated this tension by failing to discipline members of security services for abuses against the Peuhl; by discrimination in appointing civil servants, which, observers contend, has resulted in a disproportionate number of Malinké officials; and at times using the security services and judiciary to restrict and punish members of the political opposition for exercising their right to peaceful assembly.

Tension between the Peuhl and Malinké erupted again during the 2015 presidential campaign, when mobs in Conakry beat at least two people to death and burned and looted scores of shops owned by businesspeople from both groups. Clashes between both communities in N’Zerekoré wounded 80 people.

The Provisional Commission for Reflection on National Reconciliation, created by presidential decree in June 2011 in part to explore communal tension, has been undermined by inadequate consultation with stakeholders about the commission’s mandate, composition, and powers. The commission has made little visible progress in fulfilling its mandate.

An effective truth, justice, and reconciliation mechanism in Guinea could have an important impact on the country’s future. It could illuminate underreported atrocities committed during past periods of abuse, explore the dynamics of persistent communal tensions, and make recommendations to prevent a repetition of past abuses and improve respect for human rights.

To address ethnic tension and create a credible, independent and effective truth commission, the new president should:

  • Establish a commission of inquiry into the 2015 election-related violence, investigate those allegedly responsible from all sides, and compensate victims from all sides who suffered personal and property damage, including the many merchants whose property was looted or destroyed during the violence;
  • Provide for a wide consultation process on the truth commission’s mandate and membership, involving human rights, youth, women’s, and victims’ groups; political parties; labor unions; religious denominations; and security forces, among others;
  • Ensure the truth commission’s independence;
  • Ensure that all proposed commissioners are subject to public confirmation hearings; 
  • Ensure that the truth commission is part of broader efforts toward truth-telling and accountability that include justice for serious crimes.

The president should also explore ways of guaranteeing equality and non-discrimination in accordance with international law, and he should provide those who suffer from such discrimination an effective remedy, including through an effective anti-discrimination law.