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VI. Excessive Use of Force and the Killing of Unarmed Demonstrators

Brutality on the part of Guinean security forces includes both the everyday, such as that which takes place during police interrogation, and the political. One example of the latter is recurrent excessive use of force against unarmed demonstrators. As Guinea has slid deeper and deeper into economic and political chaos, there has been an increasing number of demonstrations by trade unions and other civil society organizations. Guinean civil society, once thought to be a weak voice for political change, has increasingly attempted to pressure the government for political and economic reform.62 Civil society leaders interviewed by Human Rights Watch attribute this increased activity to rapidly deteriorating economic conditions, which many Guineans find increasingly intolerable.63

Since late 2005 there have been several incidents in which Guinean security forces have used disproportionate and lethal force against unarmed demonstrators. In September 2005, two individuals in the northern town of Kouroussa were reportedly seriously injured after a prefect’s guards opened fire on a crowd protesting government corruption.64 In November 2005, three protestors in the central town of Télimélé were reportedly killed after soldiers opened fire on students demanding more teachers.65 Human Rights Watch interviewed victims of and witnesses to an incident in Conakry in February 2006 when soldiers fired on demonstrators, resulting in two wounded and one killed, during a nationwide strike to protest increases in basic commodity prices.66

The most serious incident occurred in June 2006 when Guinean security forces responded to a second strike to protest increases in basic commodity prices with excessive and inappropriate use of force.

June 2006 Nationwide Strike

On June 8, 2006, Guinea’s two most prominent trade unions called a nationwide strike to protest, among other things, increases in prices for rice and gas.67 The first four days of the June strike were relatively peaceful, with most citizens choosing to stay home rather than protest in the street.

On Sunday, June 11, an announcement was made on national radio calling all secondary students to present themselves at test centers to sit for national baccalaureate exams.68 When students arrived the following morning, they found that there was no one to supervise the exams because the teachers’ union had joined the strike.69 Faced with what many students believed to be the prospect of a “white year” (a year without exams, requiring students to repeat the school year), thousands of students and other civilians took to the streets of Conakry, Labé, N’zérékoré and other towns across the country in protest, chanting anti-government slogans and calling for the government to step down.

In some locations, protests were peaceful. In other locations, students and other civilians set up barricades, burned tires, threw rocks at security forces, and burned cars. In Labé (one of Guinea’s regional capitals) students vandalized several government installations, breaking windows and damaging walls at the offices of the governor, mayor, and prefect.70

Victims and witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch described how police and gendarmes would generally kick and severely beat anyone they could catch on the street. Eyewitnesses in different locations told Human Rights Watch how security forces fired directly into crowds of unarmed demonstrators. Many protestors interviewed claimed that the throwing of rocks and other acts of vandalism by protestors were in response to police brutality—that is, that they did not start until police beatings and shootings began, or greatly increased thereafter.71 Human Rights Watch sent a letter to the minister of security requesting an official account from the police, but no response had been received at the time this report went to publication.

Accounts of Lethal Use of Force

While police forces did use teargas and warning shots at various locations, in several different incidents across the country police and soldiers opened fire on unarmed demonstrators with live ammunition in what amounted to inappropriate and excessive use of force. Human Rights Watch gathered accounts from eyewitnesses to a total of thirteen killings by police and soldiers in Conakry and Labé.72 The following account by a taxi driver in Conakry describes one such incident:

On Monday the 12th, around 9:30 or so, I was sitting in a café that taxi drivers in the area frequent. The café overlooks a crossroads, and many people were coming and going in the street. Many of them were in student uniforms. Around 12:30, I saw four or five police vehicles come. I don’t know exactly how many policemen got out, but there were a lot, maybe even one hundred of them. They had black uniforms and had riot gear. There were also some gendarmes there. Students were not throwing rocks at them at this point. The policemen got out of their vehicles and immediately began shooting teargas directly at the crowd that had gathered in the crossroads. Then they started shooting their rifles. I saw four people killed with my own eyes. Two were hit in the chest. One was hit behind the ear. People started to flee. The owner of the café where I was sitting said he wanted everyone out.  People were being beaten left and right. A policeman grabbed me and hit me on the shin with a club. You can still see all the bruises. If the police catch you and you don’t have any money, you get taken to the police station. But because I had 100,000 francs [GNF, about U.S.$20], they freed me. One of the policemen told me, “He who speaks of this will be eliminated,” in Sousou.73 I fled after my release, so I didn’t see who picked up the bodies. Since then, opposition parties have come to the neighborhood to see what happened, but the police have been telling people, “If you speak about what happened, you’ll be eliminated.”74

Another witness interviewed by Human Rights Watch, a mechanic in Conakry, provided the following account of a different incident involving lethal use of force:

On Monday the 12th, I was sitting in front of my house in the early morning. I saw lots of people running through the streets and chanting and screaming. They were saying, “Down with the PUP!”75 The energy excited me, so I followed the crowd. I followed them to the stadium, but when I got there, my older brother saw me and told me to go home, so I started walking back towards my house. I made it to a crossroads near my house. I saw a group of police sitting in the back of a pickup truck firing in the air. I ran with a group of people behind a building. One of the young men behind the building said he wanted to see what was happening, so he stuck his head around the corner to look. I heard a shot and saw his body fall to the ground. He was shot in the head. I started running away, and then I heard people yelling, “They killed him! They killed him!”76

In a radio broadcast on June 12, the Guinean government expressed its condolences to victims’ families, but accused opposition parties of trying to destabilize the government by providing finance and equipment to individuals who took part in the demonstrations.77 The Presidency of the European Union and the UN Secretary-General both issued statements expressing concern at the deaths.78

Accounts of Police Beatings, Rape, and Robbery of Bystanders

As protestors dispersed into surrounding neighborhoods, police and gendarmes pursued them, rampaging through the homes and businesses of local residents, beating not only the protesters, but many others including women, children, and elderly men who had not participated in the protests. Many of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch had been arrested and taken to police detention facilities where they reported being beaten with clubs, held for several days, and freed only after family members bribed police officers to secure their release. The following account from a 40-year-old father is typical:

On Tuesday morning, around 9:30, I was home sitting on my porch. I had told all my kids not to go out due to the strike. Suddenly, a teargas canister was launched into the clearing in front of our house. The next thing I knew, I saw police come running into the area. There were at least thirty of them. My kids ran over to me on the porch to be protected. But the police started catching my children and hitting them with police batons. I said to leave them alone because they haven’t even gone outside. When I said that, four policemen came and grabbed me. They took me and four children to a truck parked on the road not far from the house. They emptied everything from our pockets, taking my watch, 150,000 francs [GNF, about U.S.$30], and my shoes. We drove off, and they continued to beat us with their baton in the truck. Then they stopped to transfer us to another truck. To do this they formed a line of policemen on two sides that we had to pass through from truck to truck, and they struck us as we went through. Later, we changed trucks again, but they didn’t hit us this time. By this time, there were so many of us in the truck, we were stacked up like luggage on top of each other. They took us to the police station near Cameyenne.79 They lined us up in a big courtyard in front of a table were we had to give our name and neighborhood. They asked no other questions. Then they undressed us. I asked what we had done to be taken from our own house, but they just said to shut up and sit down. After this, they put us naked with our faces to the sun on the hot pavement and left us like that for an hour. Then they put us in prison. There were others there, maybe fifty or so. They were naked too. We stayed there until 6 p.m. or so. If prisoners had managed to keep any money, you could pay a policeman to call your relative to come pay to get you out. But we didn’t have any. Luckily, a relative had figured out where we were and came to negotiate our release. We paid 500,000 francs [GNF, about U.S.$100] for the five of us.

We want to file a complaint, but it will create more problems for us. It’s the leaders who sent them here, so if we complain, it’ll just make it worse.80

Two women told Human Rights Watch that they were raped by security forces in their homes. One of them, a 19-year-old student in the tenth grade, described being raped by the police:

I was preparing lunch for the family when a large group of police officers came into the courtyard. We thought that because we were staying home, we wouldn’t have any problems. I saw them hitting some of my brothers, and I ran into my house.  One of the policemen came into my room. Like the others, he was dressed in black and wearing a bulletproof vest. He pushed me up against the armoire. With his hand he ripped my shirt in front and hurt my breasts. Another officer came in and said, “Leave her alone, she’s just a child.” The two of them left, but the first policeman came back a second time. Then he raped me. His gun was pressing on my shoulder. He left, but then he came back a third time and pressed a knife to my head. I thought he was going to kill me, but I guess it was only to frighten me. His hands smelled like gas. They were disgusting. The next day, I had pain down in my stomach and I was bleeding. Because it’s a policeman who did it, there’s nowhere to go to talk about it. They do it because they are armed, and because they know they won’t be punished. They are no different than the bandits.81

Numerous witnesses described to Human Rights Watch how during the protests and in the days following the protests, police and gendarmes stole valuables at gunpoint, including cell phones, household electrical goods, and money from both protestors and bystanders. The following account from a goat and sheep merchant in Conakry was typical:

I had gone to feed my flock, and was returning to my house on my motorcycle. When I got to a crossroads, three soldiers wearing red berets stopped me and removed the key.82 They physically pulled me off of the motorcycle and put it in the back of their truck. They undressed me in the middle of the road, so I was wearing only my underwear. I had 840,000 [about U.S.$168] in my pocket for buying sheep, which they took. They also took my cell phone.  They beat me with some kind of club until I lost consciousness. Look, you can still see all of the bruises. I don’t even know when they left or who took me back to my house because I had been beaten so much, on the head and everywhere.83

Another witness interviewed by Human Rights Watch in Conakry, a young merchant, provided the following account:

I was in my bedroom when I heard some shots outside the house—about five of them in rapid succession. I heard yelling outside.  Someone was telling my mother to bring all her children out in the courtyard. I head them say, “We know you have lots of kids and they are the ones causing the problems.” My mom said we weren’t home. The next thing I knew a group of policemen, ten or so of them, broke down the door and came in to the house. You can still see the shattered doors. They were dressed in riot gear. They didn’t ask or say anything. They just started searching the house and beating the five of us that were in there with a police baton. You can still see the bruises all over my back. They took two cell phones and 500,000 francs [GNF, about U.S.$100] in cash. They spent about 20 minutes searching the house. When they were done searching the house and beating us with clubs, they took five of us, including my father, down to the street and put us in the back of a truck. My mother came running to the truck and gave one of the policemen 159,000 francs [GNF, about U.S.$31.80] to let us go, and they let us get out of the truck. I haven’t seen those policemen since then.84

Intimidation of Journalists, Union Leaders, and Opposition Parties in Connection with the June 2006 Strike

One of Guinea’s most prominent union leaders told Human Rights Watch that in the weeks leading up to the June 2006 strike he was verbally threatened by two government ministers, and was followed by a suspicious individual. When army guards stationed at the bank where the union leader works went to arrest the suspicious individual, they reportedly found an identity card showing his affiliation with Guinean intelligence services, and a pistol with a silencer on it.85 

During the strike, eight members of a prominent opposition party, the Union of Republican Forces (Union des Forces Républicaines, UFR), were arrested in their homes at two or three in the morning and detained for one week at a police station in downtown Conakry.86 UFR leaders told Human Rights Watch that the detainees were denied visitation rights by their lawyers and ultimately released nine days later, with no explanation.87

A local correspondent for Radio France International told Human Rights Watch that the government may have tried to kidnap him from his home in the early hours of the morning on June 16.88 According to the correspondent, police arrived in the vicinity of his house to effect the arrest, but mistakenly knocked on his neighbor’s door instead. Another of the correspondent’s neighbors reportedly overheard one policeman saying, “He’s not a journalist” and another who replied, “Let’s take him anyway.”89 The detained neighbor was freed a day later by the police after reportedly paying 200,000 GNF (about U.S.$40).

Government Response to Killings and Other Strike-Related Abuses

The Guinean government has legal obligations under several international and African human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which require it to respect the right to life and freedoms of expression and assembly.90 The actions of the security forces during the first weeks of June violated those obligations. 

The violations detailed in this report require immediate and thorough investigation on the part of Guinean authorities. However, when Human Rights Watch interviewed the public prosecutor for the regions of lower and middle Guinea, he suggested that if there is to be an investigation into the June 2006 demonstrations, it is up to each individual district prosecutor to decide whether to investigate problems in his or her district.91 

In its letter to the minister of security Human Rights Watch requested a response to the allegations relating to police participation in violations during the strike and the status of any investigations that might be underway, but no response had been received at the time this report went to publication.

Local human rights defenders and other members of civil society told Human Rights Watch that there are no recent examples where killing or wounding of demonstrators has resulted in a member of the Guinean security forces being brought to trial.92 According to one local human rights defender, “the soldier has no fear to use his weapon on a group of civilians because he is sure that there will be no follow up.”93


[62] Many civil society organizations interviewed by Human Rights Watch attribute this previous reluctance and timidity to the severe repression experienced by many Guineans during the presidency of Sékou Touré. Human Rights Watch interviews with members of Guinean civil society, Conakry, April and June 2006.

[63] Human Rights Watch interviews with civil society leaders, Conakry, April and June 2006.

[64] “Guinea: Two hurt in anti-corruption protest, IRINnews, September 9, 2005, (accessed August 10, 2006).

[65] Human Rights Watch interview with local human rights defender, Conakry, April 3, 2006. See also “Three killed in Guinea protest over education,” Reuters, November 25, 2006.

[66] Human Rights Watch interviews with victims and eyewitness, Conakry, April 3, 4, and 7, 2006.

[67] The two trade unions are the National Confederation of Guinean Workers (Confederation Nationale des Travailleurs de Guinée, CNTG) and the Guinean Workers’ Union (Union Syndicale des Travailleurs de Guinée, USTG). The June 2006 strike followed the February strike called to protest increases in prices of basic commodities, which was “suspended” after five days based on government concessions. On June 8, however, the trade unions re-activated the strike because they said that the government had not implemented any of the concessions it had previously made. Both strikes were observed by many Guineans who were not union members.  Human Rights Watch interviews with diplomats, journalists, union leaders, and members of Guinean civil society, Conakry, April and June 2006.

[68] Human Rights Watch interviews with students and civil society leaders, Conakry and Labé, June 20 and 26, 2006.

[69] Ibid.

[70] Human Rights Watch interviews with students and other protestors, Labé, June 26, 2006.

[71] Human Rights Watch interviews with numerous students and other protestors, Conakry and Labé, June 2006.

[72] While the official death toll stands at eleven, a group of local civil society organizations maintains that twenty-one people were killed by gunfire from the Guinean security forces during the demonstrations nationwide.

[73] The Sousou are one of Guinea’s major ethnic groups, and are most numerous in the lower coastal regions of Guinea.  It is the ethnic group of President Conté and many key members of government.

[74] Human Rights Watch interview with a witness to violence during the strike, Conakry, June 23, 2006.

[75] The Party for Unity and Progress (Parti de l’Unité et du Progrès, PUP) is the ruling party to which President Conté belongs.

[76] Human Rights Watch interview with a witness to violence during the strike, Conakry, June 28, 2006.

[77] Transcript printed in, “Après les folles journées de 12 Juin 2006 en Guinée c’est dans une déclaration radiodiffusée que le gouvernement indexe les partis politiques,” L'Observateur (Guinea), June 13, 2006.

[78] Statement by the Presidency on Behalf of the European Union on Guinea Conakry, P/06/85, Brussels, June 16, 2006; Statement Attributable to the Spokesman of the Secretary-General, New York, June 13, 2006.

[79] One of the neighborhoods in central Conakry.

[80] Human Rights Watch interview with a 40-year-old Conakry resident, June 17, 2006.

[81] Human Rights Watch interview with a 19-year-old student, Conakry, June 20, 2006.

[82] There are two primary divisions within the army that wear red berets—the Autonomous Presidential Security Battalion (Bataillon Autonome de la Sécurité Presidentielle, BASP), or presidential guard, stationed primarily in and around Conakry, and the Autonomous Battalion of Airborne Troupes (Bataillon Autonome des troupes Aéroportées, BATA), an elite group of commandos stationed throughout the interior of the country. Human Rights Watch interviews a former member of the Guinean military, Conakry, July 1, 2006.

[83] Human Rights Watch interview with a merchant, Conakry, June 24, 2006.

[84] Human Rights Watch interview with a merchant, Conakry, June 17, 2006.

[85] Human Rights Watch interview with a union leader, Conakry, June 20, 2006.

[86] Human Rights Watch interviews with UFR party leaders and neighbors who witnessed the arrest of one of the eight UFR party members, Conakry, June 19 and 21, 2006.

[87] Human Rights Watch interviews with UFR party leaders, Conakry, June 21, 2006.

[88] Human Rights Watch interview with a correspondent for Radio France International and other journalists, Conakry, June 23, 2006.

[89] Human Rights Watch interview with a correspondent for Radio France International, Conakry, June 23, 2006.

[90] ICCPR, Articles 6, 19, and 21; African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Articles 4, 9, and 11.

[91] Human Rights Watch interview General Prosecutor for the Court of Appeals Yves William Aboly, Conakry, June 28, 2006.

[92] Human Rights Watch interviews with local human rights defenders and other civil society leaders, Conakry, April and June 2006.

[93] Human Rights Watch interview with a local human rights defender, April 3, 2006.

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