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II. Background

Guinea’s father of independence, Sékou Touré, ruled Guinea from independence from France in 1958 until his death in 1984.3 Embracing a mixture of pan-Africanism and Marxist ideology, Touré transformed Guinea into a one-party dictatorship (with a closed, socialized economy) in which free expression and political opposition were ruthlessly suppressed. Touré created what was, in essence, a police state, and the names of his gulag-style prison camps for political dissidents, such as Camp Boiro, where thousands were imprisoned, have become synonymous with torture, starvation, and death.

Due to the atmosphere of paranoia and repression that prevailed in the Sékou Touré era, thousands of Guinean intellectuals fled the country, only to return (if at all) after Sékou Touré’s death in 1984. Some have estimated that as many as one million Guineans fled to neighboring countries such as Côte d’Ivoire.4

When Touré died in 1984, the army swiftly seized power and Col. Lansana Conté, Guinea’s current president, emerged to assume control. The new government declared the protection of human rights to be one of its primary objectives, released political prisoners, and encouraged the Guinean diaspora that had fled to return. In 1991, multipartyism was permitted and the first opposition parties were born.

Lansana Conté would go on to win elections in 1993 and 1998 that were regarded by international observers as flawed due to allegations of vote rigging, disruption of opposition party meetings, and arrest and detention of opposition figures.5 Conté was re-elected for a third term in 2003 after an amendment to the constitution was passed allowing the president to run for an unlimited number of terms.6 Most opposition parties boycotted the 2003 election, and Conté won against a single, relatively unknown candidate.

While many Guineans claim that human rights conditions have improved since the Sékou Touré era, the human rights record of the Conté regime has been marked by abuses and repression, including the arrest and detention of opposition leaders and supporters, torture of those accused of common crimes in police custody, and harassment of journalists.7

[3] Guinea gained its independence from France in 1958, after being the first and only Francophone country in West Africa to say “no” to the referendum initiated by Gen. Charles de Gaulle, opting for complete independence with no integration into the French Community. 

[4] U.S. State Department, Bureau of African Affairs, “Background Note: Guinea,” May 2006,

[5] U.S. State Department, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – 1999: Guinea,” February 23, 2000,; “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – 1994: Guinea,” February 1995,

[6] This amendment, and an extension of the presidential term from five to seven years, were approved in a national referendum in 2001.

[7] Human Rights Watch interviews with diplomats, UN representatives, international nongovernmental organizations, journalists, local human rights defenders, and civil society leaders, Conakry, April and June 2006.

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