With its president, Lansana Conté, rumored to be gravely ill, its economy in a tailspin, and its military thought to be deeply divided, Guinea is a country teetering on the edge of a political transition.1 But while Guineas political future may be uncertain, the fact that ordinary Guineans are regularly brutalized by the very security forces responsible for protecting them is not. Immediate measures to combat this culture of violent law enforcement are critical, and could boost Guineas stability at an uncertain time of impending political transition.
Security forces and other government officials in Guinea routinely violate some of the most basic civil and political rights, including the inherent right to life, freedom from torture, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and the right to a trial within a reasonable period. These violations are committed against individuals accused of common crimes as well as those persons security forces perceive to be government opponents.
While brutality on the part of Guinean security forces is at times well publicized in local and international press, serious human rights violations often escape the public eye, especially those violations that take place in detention facilities such as police stations and prisons. Human Rights Watch interviewed 35 individuals, including children, who provided detailed and consistent accounts of mistreatment and torture by police officers while in police custody. Victims told Human Rights Watch that during police interrogation they were bound with cords, beaten, burned with cigarettes and corrosive chemicals, and cut with razor blades until they agreed to confess to the crime of which they were accused. Most of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch bore nearly identical scars on their body, which they report were the result of police torture during interrogation.
Once individuals are transferred from police custody to prison to await trial, many are left to languish for years in cramped cells where they face hunger, disease, and sometimes death. Human Rights Watch interviewed many detainees who have spent over four years in pre-trial detention. Nearly all the individuals interviewed in prison by Human Rights Watch told us they were there based in part on a confession they made under torture.
Other forms of brutality by Guinean security forces take place not in the confines of a police station, but in public for all to see. In June 2006 the government responded to demonstrations and a nationwide strike against rising prices of basic commodities with a brutal crackdown. Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 50 victims of and witnesses to the violence that took place, and collected detailed accounts alleging involvement by the police in murder, rape, assault, and theft. Eyewitnesses to thirteen killings told Human Rights Watch that security forces fired directly into crowds of unarmed demonstrators. Scores of Guineans, many of them mere bystanders to the demonstrations, were severely beaten and robbed at gunpoint by security forces.
The June 2006 crackdown, the largest in recent years, was the latest in a series of incidents in which Guinean security forces have used excessive and at times lethal force on demonstrators protesting worsening economic conditions.
Putting a stop to such brutality must include addressing the impunity that too often allows abuses to continue undeterred. Many of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch expressed a view that it was the failure to address the human rights abuses that took place under Guineas first president, Sékou Touré, that paved the way for a repetition of those same abuses during the presidency of Lansana Conté.2 To combat the entrenchment of impunity, the Guinean government must immediately investigate and punish, in accordance with international standards, crimes committed by state security forces during the June 2006 nationwide strike, and investigate promptly and independently alleged torture and ill-treatment of individuals in police custody.
At the same time, as the international community begins to reflect on the prospect for a peaceful political transition in Guinea, it is critical that accountability for human rights violations play a central role. International donors such as France, the United States, and the European Union should begin to call publicly and privately on the Guinean government to investigate, and where applicable, to punish those responsible for the violations described in this report.
This report is based on Human Rights Watch interviews in Guinea in April and June 2006 with officials from the Guinean Ministry of Justice; diplomats; journalists; representatives from the United Nations; international nongovernmental organizations; trade unions; local civil society organizations; and opposition parties; as well as victims of and eyewitnesses to human rights violations in Guinea. Human Rights Watch was given permission by the Ministry of Justice to interview prisoners and detainees in Conakrys main prison, the Maison Centrale. All such interviews were conducted outside the presence of prison guards or other government authorities. The names of prisoners, detainees, and other witnesses have been omitted to protect their identity and ensure their privacy. Human Rights Watch thanks the Ministry of Justice for the open access that it was granted, and hopes that such openness speaks well for the possibility of reform.
 Guinea: Ailing president in Switzerland for medical treatment, IRINnews, March 20, 2006, http://www.irinnews.org/report.asp?ReportID=52325&SelectRegion=West_Africa&SelectCountry=GUINEA. (accessed August 10, 2006). Guinea: Grinding poverty drives unprecedented general strike, IRINnews, March 3, 2006, http://www.irinnews.org/report.asp?ReportID=52006&SelectRegion=West_Africa&SelectCountry=GUINEA. (accessed August 10, 2006). International Crisis Group, Guinea in Transition, April 11, 2006, http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=4067&CFID=30852257&CFTOKEN=55231897 (accessed August 10, 2006). Human Rights Watch interviews with diplomats, United Nations (UN) representatives, journalists, international nongovernmental organizations, local human rights defenders, civil society leaders, and opposition party members, Conakry, April and June 2006.
 Human Rights Watch interviews with diplomats, journalists, human rights defenders, and civil society leaders, April and June 2006.