Guinea gained its independence from France in 1958, after being the first and only colony to opt for complete independence with no integration into a community of French overseas territories. The campaign for independence was led in part by a charismatic former union leader, Sékou Touré, who first came to prominence in the 1940s and 1950s after leading a post-war strike against the French colonial administration. He would go on to rule Guinea from independence in 1958 until his death in 1984. Embracing a mixture of pan-Africanism and Marxist ideology, Touré transformed Guinea into a one-party dictatorship in which free expression and political opposition were ruthlessly suppressed. As with political parties, union membership under Sékou Touré was restricted to a single, state-sanctioned entity.4

Under Sékou Touré and the state terror and informant apparatus he put in place, thousands of intellectuals, government critics, and perceived political rivals were detained in the notorious Camp Boiro, Guinea’s Gulag, where they were systematically tortured and killed. Their fate was determined not by an independent judiciary, but by the Revolutionary Committee (Comité révolutionnaire), a body consisting of senior political officials and relatives of the president. 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, Sierra Leone and Liberia.5 Although it ended nearly a quarter century ago, Sékou Touré’s twenty-six-year reign left an indelible mark on Guinea, and a legacy of fear and mutual distrust for those attempting to call their government to account.

When Touré died in 1984, the army swiftly seized power and Colonel Lansana Conté, Guinea’s current president, emerged to assume control. Within days, the constitution was suspended, Sekou Touré’s PDG party (Partie Democratique de Guinee) and the National Assembly were disbanded, and military rule was instituted under the name of the Military Committee for National Redress (Comité militaire de redressement national, CMRN). The new military government declared the protection of human rights to be one of its primary objectives, released political prisoners from Camp Boiro, and encouraged the Guinean diaspora that had fled under Sékou Touré’s rule to return. Effectively continuing Touré’s one-party rule, all activities by political parties were banned. Although there was a decrease in the scale of rights abuses compared to the Sékou Touré era, extrajudicial executions, disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrests of students and government critics, and the killing of peaceful demonstrators continued during the period of military rule that ended in the early 1990s.6

Following a referendum at the end of 1990, Guinea endorsed a new constitution guaranteeing a broad range of human rights, and the military government was officially dissolved. However, the process of Guinea’s transition to a multiparty system would not be completed until the first legislative elections in 1995. Lansana Conté won 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.7 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.8 Most opposition parties boycotted the 2003 election, and Conté won against a single, relatively unknown candidate.

The human rights record of the Conté regime after the transition to a multiparty system in the mid 1990s has continued to be marked by abuses and repression, including excessive use of force against unarmed demonstrators, torture of criminal suspects, including children, in police custody in order to extract confessions, prolonged pre-trial detention, the arrest and detention of opposition leaders and supporters, and harassment and arrest of journalists.9 The Conté government has largely failed to tackle the impunity that often accompanies these serious human rights abuses, particularly abuses committed by security forces.

In recent years, Conté’s health has deteriorated. Suffering from acute diabetes, he flew to Switzerland on at least two occasions in 2006 for emergency medical treatment, creating increasing speculation both within and outside of Guinea as to whether his condition allows him to govern effectively.10

There has been a parallel deterioration in the state of the Guinean economy. Despite vast reserves of iron, bauxite and precious stones, Guineans are among the poorest people in the world, currently ranked 160 out of 177 on the United Nations development index.11 Guinea’s economy is plagued by corruption and inflation. In 2006, corruption watchdog Transparency International ranked Guinea as Africa’s most corrupt country.12 Inflation, which hovered around 4 percent in the late 1990s has skyrocketed, and currently hovers around 30 percent, dramatically eroding the purchasing power of most Guineans.13 Economic growth, which averaged about 4.5 percent in the 1990s, has slowed since 2000 to an average rate of about 2.5 percent a year.14 In 2002, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the African Development Bank suspended economic assistance to Guinea due to poor economic and political governance.15 In 2003, the European Union (EU) invoked Article 96 of the Cotonou Agreement to suspend all but humanitarian assistance to Guinea due to human rights concerns.16

Guinea’s economic meltdown has brought with it political chaos, resulting in sacked prime ministers (the latest is the sixth in 10 years) and chronic cabinet reshuffling (as of April 2007, 172 different individuals have served as minister in Conté’s cabinet).17 Many observers attribute the disorder in part to rival clans vying for succession after Conté’s time in office is finished.18 Guinea’s military is rumored to be deeply divided along both generational and ethnic lines, and a military takeover is feared in the likely event that President Conté does not finish out his term, set to expire in 2010.

4 Human Rights Watch interviews with union and other civil society leaders, Conakry, February 5 and March 16 and 17, 2007.

5 US Department of State, Bureau of African Affairs, “Background Note: Guinea,” May 2006,

6 See Amnesty International, “Republic of Guinea: Amnesty International’s Concerns sine April 1984,” December 11, 1991, (accessed April 4, 2007); Amnesty International, “Guinea: Does the political will exist to improve human rights?” AI Index: AFR 29/05/95, November 9, 1995, (accessed April 4, 2007).

7 One former USAID/Guinea official testifying before the US congress put the matter bluntly: “[E]very election since the first multi-party presidential elections in 1993 through the most recent local elections in December 2005 has been fraudulent.”

Dr. Herschelle S. Challenor, Former Team Leader, Democracy and Governance USAID/Guinea, Testimony Before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, March 22, 2007, (accessed April 4, 2007). See also US State Department, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – 1999: Guinea,” February 23, 2000, (accessed March 23, 2007); “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – 1994: Guinea,” February 1995, (accessed March 23, 2007). 

8 This amendment, along with an extension of the presidential term from five to seven years, and removal of age restrictions for presidential candidates were approved in a national referendum in 2001.

9 Human Rights Watch, The Perverse Side of Things. 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, and February-March 2007.

10 Human Rights Watch interviews with diplomats, UN representatives, international nongovernmental organizations, journalists, and local civil society leaders, Conakry, June 2006 and January-February 2007. “Guinea: Ailing President in Switzerland for Medical Treatment,” IRIN, March 20, 2006, (accessed March 23, 2007).

11 United Nations Development Program, Human Development Report 2006 (New York: UN, 2006), p. 286, (accessed March 23, 2007).

12 Transparency International, Corruption Perceptions Index 2006, (accessed March 23, 2007).

13 Center for Democracy and Development, “West Africa Insight, No 1,” February 2007, (accessed March 23, 2007). Inflation is caused by a number of factors including corruption, high defense spending, depreciation of the Guinean franc against the dollar, and increases in world petroleum prices. International Monetary Fund, “Guinea: 2005 Article IV Consultation and Staff-Monitored Program - Staff Report,” IMF Country Report No. 06/37, January 2006, (accessed March 23, 2007).

14  International Monetary Fund, “Guinea: 2005 Article IV Consultation and Staff-Monitored Program - Staff Report,” IMF Country Report No. 06/37, January 2006, (accessed March 23, 2007).

15 Ibid.

16 Partnership Agreement between the members of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States on the One Part, and the European Community and its Member States, of the Other Part, Signed in Cotonou, Benin on June 23, 2000, (accessed March 23, 2007). The EU indicated its intention to resume development assistance in late December 2006 due to Guinea’s fulfillment of conditions imposed by the EU, most notably the licensing of privately-owned radio stations for the first time in Guinea’s history. See “Guinea: EU Aid Back But Social Problems Remain,” IRIN, December 25, 2006, (accessed March 23, 2007).

17 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with local civil society leader, Conakry, April 4, 2007.

18 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 and January-February 2007.  See International Crisis Group, "Guinea: Uncertainties at the End of an Era," Africa Report N°74, December 19, 2003, (accessed April 4, 2007).