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Guinea (Conakry): State of Siege

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Feb 18, 2007 (070218)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

Army violence against civilians has escalated after declaration of a state of siege in Guinea (Conakry) on February 12, despite condemnation of the move by leaders of the West African regional organization ECOWAS and the African Union, as well as local and international non-governmental organizations. Fears are mounting that the violence may not only undermine hopes of change in Guinea itself, but also fuel further conflict in Guinea's neighbors.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains recent reports from the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) and from Human Rights Watch, and the executive summary from a February 15 report from the International Crisis Group, including specific policy recommendations and calling for a stronger international response. All three reports are also available in French on the organizations' own websites.

For additional links on Guinea, visit
http://www.africafocus.org/country/guinea.php

Links to current news in English can be found at http://www.africafocus.org/country/guinea_news.php

Sources for news in French about Guinea include
http://fr.allafrica.com/guinea
http://www.guineenews.org
and http://aminata.com


Request from Editor to French-Speaking Readers

AfricaFocus does not have the resources to provide its own French edition. However, the website now has available, on an experimental basis, automatic translation of pages on the site into French, making use of Google's translation facility. Please visit http://www.africafocus.org/index_fr.php and give me your feedback with an e-mail, in English or French, to africafocus@igc.org. Despite recent improvements in automatic translation, there are inevitably errors. However, I hope that the translations are good enough to be useful to many readers. If you agree, please pass on the link to your Francophone colleagues. If you know of any free automatic translation software that you think does a better job, also please let me know.

Note: this translation feature is now available only from the home page and from the 2007 Bulletin pages. However, you can reach French versions of many other pages on the site, by beginning with the translated home page.

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

Life Means Terror in Army-Run Conakry

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
http://www.irinnews.org

February 16, 2007

Conakry

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]

"The boss made reference to President Lansana Conte and gave us the order to shoot anyone provocative, so whoever provokes me, I will shoot him without any hesitation," said a Kalashnikov-toting soldier in the main street outside the Donka hospital in central Conakry on Thursday, who refused to give his name.

The NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Friday security forces have killed at least 22 people using this justification since last weekend.

Of those, HRW said at least one was killed since President Conte imposed 10 days of martial law on Monday night, although news reports have recorded nine people killed around the country since then.

In addition to the HRW count, IRIN has confirmed that a seven year-old girl, Aicha Diallo, was shot and killed during random shooting by uniformed soldiers in the Taouyah suburb of Conakry on Thursday.

Guineans say uniformed soldiers have also been looting, raping and beating people at random in most of the sprawling city's suburbs.

Violence erupted in Conakry and in towns across Guinea on Saturday after President Conte announced on Friday evening he would appoint a man seen as his close ally to the prime minister post, a position populist unions now leading calls for his resignation say he promised to an independent candidate.

Most areas of Conakry are calm since the army took over, although demonstrations have been reported in the towns Banankoro in the south and Labe in the centre of the country.

Provocations

Guineans struggling to live in Conakry, the rundown capital, where they are only allowed out of their houses between noon and 6pm, say 'provocations' can include staring, wearing a desirable pair of shoes, or simply being in the wrong place when the jeeps of soldiers careering around the city start shooting their guns in the air.

Alseny Bah, 21, was leaving his house in the maze of alleyways in the Petit Lac area of Taouyah district in the north of Conakry on Thursday, looking for an open kiosk to buy food.

"When I left the house, a soldier saw me straight away. I ran away but he trapped me in a corner and beat me with his fists. When I fell down he went through my pockets," Bah said on Thursday.

Bah lost his cell phone, and the equivalent of US $8 in cash. The soldier even took his worn Nike running shoes.

Shot hiding in the closet

In the Hafea district in the east of the city, Aminata, 30, didn't even leave her house but still got caught up in the violence, according to her sister, who gave her name as Djenadob.

"We heard trucks pulling up outside and shouting, then shooting started," Djenadob said. The girls hit inside their wardrobe, but when the shooting stopped Aminata was slumped, bleeding.

Neighbours said later the soldiers were shooting into the air as a warning to people not to come outside. One of the bullets pierced the flimsy tin walls of the sisters' shack and clipped Aminata.

The family borrowed a neighbour's car and risked the long drive to the city's only functioning hospital. Aminata's condition later was unclear.

Stoned, raped

At the Donka hospital, the mother of a young boy who was hit in the head with a rock thrown by soldiers on Wednesday says he has not eaten or spoken since the attack.

"The soldier was going to shoot him but his colleague stopped him, so he threw a rock instead and it cracked his head," she said.

In its statement on Friday, HRW said at least three women living in Conakry's suburbs have been raped by uniformed personnel, including soldiers and presidential guardsmen.

"At least one victim was reportedly gang-raped," the statement said.

"People in the suburbs are terrified because they say the soldiers are going to come in and 'kill and rape us and send red berets into our homes'," said HRW researcher Dustin Sharp who was in Conakry until Thursday.

Culture of impunity

Guineans say they are far more afraid of the army than the regular police or gendarmes.

"It's the army that kills," said a 33-year-old journalist, who did not want to be named. "We have much more reason to fear them than the police or gendarmes."

HRW has previously accused the Guinean security services of torture and murder and said there is a "culture of impunity" compounded by a weak judicial system.

The army chief-of-staff, Gen Kerfalla Camara, told journalists in Conakry on Friday that a commission has been set up to look into allegations of army abuse.

But Sharp said no Guinean security personnel have ever been prosecuted for serious crimes, including the shooting of 13 unarmed students during a strike in June last year.

Despite the unrest, Sharp said many people he met in Conakry still wanted to demand Conte's resignation when martial law is lifted.

"It's an open question to what extent the resistance has been broken," Sharp said.

Civil society leaders are due to sit down with the military on Saturday to start negotiations to end the crisis.


Security Forces Abuse Population Under Martial Law

Human Rights Watch
http://www.hrw.org

Press Release

February 15, 2007

Dakar

The Guinean government has failed to control security forces responsible for rapes, robberies and more than 110 killings since mid-January, Human Rights Watch said today. After the imposition of martial law on February 12, security forces committed numerous abuses during house-to-house searches for weapons earlier seized by a small group of violent protesters from police stations and other government installations.

"Guinean security forces are using martial law as an excuse to terrorize ordinary Guineans," said Peter Takirambudde, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Under the guise of reestablishing law and order, they're acting like common criminals, beating, robbing and brutalizing the population they're supposed to protect."

Human Rights Watch interviewed numerous witnesses in Conakry's outlying suburbs who report that in the last several days, security forces - particularly the presidential guard - went house-to-house, breaking down doors, and looting everything of value inside, including cell phones, cameras, and money. In conducting these searches, members of the security forces have seriously beaten individuals with clubs and rifle butts, and have even shot and wounded individuals protesting the theft of their household goods. The terror caused by the security forces has succeeded in frightening most families in Conakry, particularly in the suburbs, into staying locked inside their homes.

The security forces have been responsible for at least 22 killings in the past five days. According to a witness interviewed by Human Rights Watch, presidential guardsmen fired into a group of people outside a mosque in Conakry's outer suburbs, killing a man in his 60s. Other credible sources report that at least three women living within Conakry's suburbs have been raped in the last four days by uniformed personnel, including soldiers and presidential guardsmen. At least one victim was reportedly gang-raped.

"The government's response to economic protests has become increasingly deadly, culminating in the bloodbath we've witnessed this month," said Takirambudde. "It's imperative the Guinean government rein in the security forces, and investigate and hold to account those responsible for recent abuses."

The current crisis began after labor unions declared a nationwide strike in early January to protest against deteriorating economic conditions, including rampant inflation and corruption. According to witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch, nearly all those killed have been shot by members of the security forces including the presidential guard, police, and gendarmes. The unrest subsided for several days after ailing President Lansana Conte agreed to appoint a consensus prime minister. However, Conte's February 9 appointment of a close ally as prime minister resulted in another wave of protests and the subsequent declaration of martial law.

Over the weekend, protestors across the country - angered by the nomination of the new prime minister - attacked government installations, burned the private homes of government and military officials, looted guns from police stations, blocked roads, attacked cars and passersby, and engaged in running gun battles with security forces.

The martial law decree, issued by Conte on February 12, bans all demonstrations and meetings, and imposes severe restrictions of movement on the population. It also authorizes the military to detain or put under house arrest anyone deemed to present a danger to public security; to conduct searches of private property and monitor all means of communication without a warrant; and to exercise draconian restrictions on the media. Prior to the decree, the military had already forcibly entered one private radio station, broken its equipment, and arrested some of its employees.

Human Rights Watch called on the government to ensure that the security forces respect Guinea's obligations under international human rights law and take appropriate action against perpetrators of abuses. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Guinea ratified in 1978, permits some restrictions on rights during an officially proclaimed public emergency that threatens the life of the nation. According to the Human Rights Committee, the expert body that monitors compliance with the ICCPR, any derogation of rights during a public emergency must be of an exceptional and temporary nature, and must be "limited to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation." Certain fundamental rights, such as the right to life and the right to be secure from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, must always be respected.

Human Rights Watch also called on the Guinean security forces to abide by the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials in policing demonstrations. The principles state that law enforcement officials, in carrying out their duty, apply nonviolent means as far as possible before resorting to the use of force. Whenever the lawful use of force is unavoidable, law enforcement officials must use restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense.


Guinea: Change or Chaos

International Crisis Group
http://www.crisisgroup.org

Africa Report N 121
14 February 2007

Executive Summary

The 12 February 2007 declaration of siege and establishment of a permanent curfew and martial law by President Lansana Conté after three days of renewed violence has brought Guinea to the verge of disaster. Towns throughout the country rallied to the general strike launched on 10 January, turning it into an unprecedented popular protest against the Conté regime. The repression of the demonstrations - over 100 dead in total since January - and the nomination of EugŠne Camara, a close Conté associate as prime minister have shown the regime will do anything to ensure its survival. The international community, which has been largely quiet and absent, needs to react urgently to help produce real change if chaos that could well spread beyond Guinea's borders is to be prevented.

Weakened by illness, Conté clings to his privileges, showing more interest in his extensive agricultural estates than the fate of the country. Receiving conflicting advice from sycophants obsessed by presidential succession and safeguarding their own material interests, he has responded to the rebellious trade unions with a mixture of carelessness, clumsiness and violence. His consent on 27 January to delegate powers to a prime minister who would be head of government and the decree he issued four days later setting out the powers of that office do not mean he will actually withdraw and that the system of rule Guineans have rejected will end soon. Nor do they remove the question of responsibility for the January and February slaughter of unarmed demonstrators.

The choice of Camara on 9 February was a tragic mistake that was received in the country as a provocation. It was promptly followed first by riots, and then by renewed violent repression. Red-berets of the presidential guard and anti-riot police fired live rounds at people but prevented neither looting nor the systematic destruction of state symbols, including property belonging to members of the government, the presidential entourage and others associated with Conté's regime.

Guinea now faces two possible scenarios. There is still a chance, though a diminishing one, for a negotiated solution involving key Guinean, regional and wider international actors. Alternatively, if the Conté regime continues to rely on military repression, it could rapidly bring Guinea to a dramatic spiral of violence: full popular insurgency, with increasing chaos that is likely to stimulate a bloody, military take-over, leading in turn to a possible civil war comparable to those that have torn apart its neighbours in the past decade with uncontrollable consequences.

If it comes to that, the troubles are unlikely to stop at the city limits of Conakry or even the country's frontiers. Chaos in Guinea's Forest Region, bordering Liberia, Sierra Leone and Cote d'Ivoire, could well destabilise one or more of those frail countries. Likewise, politically unstable Guinea-Bissau could suffer if its president, Joao Bernardo Vieira, seeks to support his long-time friend, Conté.

Western governments as well as multinational firms that benefit from the country's natural resources value political quiet but they would be making a serious mistake if this led them to support, even by passivity, an effort to retain the Conté system (with or without its creator). Guinean actors and the international community urgently need to cooperate to implement an action plan that brings about change and prevents an escalation of violence.

Recommendations

To Trade Union Leaders, other Civil Society Organisations and Political Parties:

1. Support a negotiated exit strategy to the crisis and call for an end to the looting of public and private property, the settling of scores and all other violence of the sort that accompanied the riots of 9 February 2007.

2. Ask religious leaders (the Guinea Christian Council and the imam of Fay‡al Mosque) to resume dialogue with the government and mediate with President Conté, the military hierarchy and the trade union leadership, an end to the crisis based on the following five points:

(a) immediate suspension of martial law, curfew and all violence carried out by the security forces, as well as immediate withdrawal of the presidential guard from the streets of Conakry;

(b) immediate replacement of EugŠne Camara with a prime minister chosen from a list to be approved by the trade unions;

(c) constitutional guarantees on the prime minister's powers;

(d) agreement to hold a national dialogue to decide the nation's future as soon as possible; and

(e) a broadcast by President Conté to the nation confirming these commitments.

3. Negotiate with the regime a constitutional amendment that:

(a) guarantees the powers and competencies of the prime minister (head of government); and

(b) makes the prime minister (head of government) the constitutional successor of the president if the latter is incapacitated, while further specifying that in such a case he or she will be ineligible to stand for any election organised under the interim presidency.

4. Establish without delay a national dialogue to determine the economic and political priorities of the new government and that addresses, specifically:

(a) economic measures to be taken immediately to guarantee a social truce;

(b) postponement for several months of the legislative elections presently scheduled for June 2007 to allow for better preparation, with active support from the European Union and the UN, to be followed by a thorough constitutional review by the new National Assembly and, finally, presidential elections; and

(c) creation of a working group on security sector reform, composed of civilians and military officers, to redefine the role of security forces in a democratic state and set up efficient mechanisms for their civilian control.

5. Demand that the mandate of the national commission which, as provided in the 27 January 2007 agreement, is to investigate the actions of the security forces in that month's demonstrations, be expanded to include the latest actions and that its report be published by the end of March 2007.

To the Guinean Government and President Lansana Conté:

6. Accept the political settlement as outlined in the five points above, including in particular the appointment of a new prime minister acceptable to all sides.

To the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU) and the United Nations Secretary-General:

7. Publicly condemn the recent killings perpetrated by the security forces, which call into question in particular the responsibility of President Conté; the chief of the general staff, General Kerfalla Camara; his deputy, General Arafan Camara; the chief of staff of the gendarmerie, General Jacques Tour‚; the national police general director, Mohamed S‚kouba Bangoura; and the president's son, Captain Ousmane Conté.

8. Invite John Agyekum Kufuor, president of Ghana and head of the AU, to engage with President Conté in order to persuade him to implement the 27 January 2007 agreement in word and spirit and to support a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the powers and competencies of the new prime minister and the holding of a national dialogue.

9. Create an international contact croup on Guinea, composed of representatives of the AU, ECOWAS and the UN Secretary-General, to:

(a) monitor implementation of the 27 January 2007 agreement and alert the AU Peace and Security Council and the UN Security Council as necessary, with a view to their taking prompt actions should the situation deteriorate; and

(b) coordinate international support for a Guinean working group on security sector reform.

10. Offer and insist upon the participation of international experts mandated by ECOWAS and the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in the investigation to be conducted by the commission of inquiry pursuant to the 27 January 2007 agreement.

To the President of the United Nations Security Council:

11. Place Guinea urgently on the agenda of the Security Council, in order initially to produce a statement supporting President Kufuor's efforts to negotiate an end to the crisis.

To the European Union and other Members of the Donor Community:

12. Organise a round table of donors, including France, the UK, Germany, the U.S., Japan, the African Development Bank, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the UN Development Program, to meet with the new Guinean government and define the modalities for emergency financial and technical assistance in the fields of economic governance and institutional reform.

To the Governments of France and the United States:

13. Use privileged channels of communication gained through bilateral military cooperation to send a strong message to Guinean army officers that:

(a) a military takeover of government in any form would be unacceptable;

(b) individual responsibility must be established for the actions of the security forces during the January and February demonstrations; and

(c) they should support efforts to devise and implement security sector reform, with external assistance.

Dakar/Brussels, 14 February 2007


AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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