Feb 18, 2007 (070218)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
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.
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[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United
"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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
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.
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
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
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.
To Trade Union Leaders, other Civil Society Organisations and
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
(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
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
(a) economic measures to be taken immediately to guarantee a
(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
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
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
(b) individual responsibility must be established for the actions
of the security forces during the January and February
(c) they should support efforts to devise and implement security
sector reform, with external assistance.
Dakar/Brussels, 14 February 2007
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