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GUINEA: Human Rights Watch and International Crisis Group – Where Are You?

May 16, 2013

At the outset, it should be said that Human Rights Watch (HRW) deserves a medal for the intensive efforts it focused on Guinea over the last several years. HRW’s most important work on human rights in Guinea came in the aftermath of the September 28, 2009, massacre and rapes of opposition supporters, largely Peul, in a stadium by state-sponsored forces. HRW interviewed victims and compiled a report called, “Bloody Monday,” which  must be one of the most compelling human rights chronicles to be issued by an  international human rights organization.  But, HRW did not stop there.  It took on both the interim government of Sekouba Konate and Alpha Conde’s regime.  HRW  assailed both governments for lack of progress in investigating the crimes committed as well as the shameful failure by the government to pursue the  perpetrators.  It also condemned Alpha Conde for putting two of the September 28 perpetrators in his cabinet.  For three years, HRW has stayed on the case continuing to push for  justice for the September 28 victims and their families.  Further, HRW kept  apace of new violations of human rights beginning with the pre- and  post-election violence in 2010 as well as Alpha Conde’s ever-expanding human  rights abuse record once in office.  The last statement from HRW on Guinea  was issued on December 5, 2012 urging Guinea to step up efforts to ensure justice for victims of the stadium massacre in 2009.  The last report on Guinea was issued in February 2013, which was a part of HRW’s annual World Report for 2013, covering calendar year 2012. 

Much has happened in Guinea over the last six months and the  stakes are even higher than usual because of the intention of the government to commit fraud in upcoming legislative elections.  Further, the country is closer to an ethnic civil war than ever.  Not hearing HRW’s strong  voice during these very dangerous times is disconcerting. The people of Guinea  need to know that HRW supports them in this struggle and a press release would go a long way to show that support.  An  increasing number of Guineans are finding themselves the target of Alpha Conde’s murderous regime.  The cumulative impact of violent events since 2009 bores into the psyche of most Guineans. Yet, in those same four years, security forces and militias have achieved a level of comfort with the fact that killing opposition supporters, primarily Peuls, is their job and they will never have to face punishment. 

The people of Guinea need the shining light that only international human rights organizations can provide.  But, like most non-governmental organizations, human rights groups have shifts in priorities which can account for those lights shining less brightly along the way. Sometimes this happens because of reduction in staff, other times it is precipitated by a change in focus from one part of the world to another.  For instance, how many human rights groups readjusted resources to more closely focus on the so-called Arab Spring?  But, most often these kinds of changes are the result of overriding political concerns, usually raised by influential board members.  
Yet, some human rights abuse problems are so serious that they should remain a priority for all  major human rights organizations.  In the case of Guinea, it is the commission of state-sponsored violence to conduct ethnic cleansing.  Not since the regime of Sekou Toure, Guinea’s first president, has ethnic cleansing of the Peul ethnic group been an established policy of the government.  If we go back  to the massacre and rapes of September 2009, we know that the perpetrators were hunting for Peuls because they asked about the ethnic identity of their victims just before killing or raping them.  In the case of the 2010 violence  perpetrated by the interim government, Peuls were specifically disenfranchised in the presidential election and ethnic cleansing was the tool of intimidation.   Alpha Conde has used ethnic cleansing regularly since coming to office in 2011 and it is even more prevalent today.  Killing Peuls is the only way to rid himself of the overwhelming majority of Guineans who did not vote for him as well as a way to ensure he maintains his following among Malinkes.
On February 18, 2013, the International Crisis Group (ICG), laid out a bombshell of a report focused on getting Guinea out of a “quagmire” that prevents it from holding legislative elections.  The executive summary of the report, entitled “Guinea:  A Way Out of the Election  Quagmire” appears below.  The remarkable thing about this report is that it demonstrates an almost innate understanding of Guineans. the dynamics between ethnic groups, and the historical forces which have brought Guineans to where they are now.  Even more incredible is that all the recommendations for change are directed at Alpha Conde. his government, and his assorted forces, both official and unofficial. There are no recommendations for the opposition.
Let’s look at some of the recommendations (see below, at the end of the executive summary) made by ICG.  Four things are remarkable.  
First, if you were to sum up the first recommendation to Conde, it is to “act like a president.”  It recommends bringing together political parties, the National Transition Council, and the CENI to talk about how to work together and resolve differences.  Elementary!
Second, the CENI is urged strongly to make arrangements for diaspara voting (as provided for in the Constitution) and to, well, act like an electoral council by playing fair and to quit pulling fast ones.  Unbelievable!
Third it tells the government to clarify its position on Donzos.  Obviously, ICG knows about Conde’s Donzo fighters and probably about his assorted Malinke militias.  ICG is telling Conde to come clean on his Donzo groups, but knows he won’t.  Yet, by putting this recommendation in the report, ICG “outs” Conde sufficiently.  Brilliant!
Fourth, the recommendation to the international community is to intercede, guide and make sure that the elections are fair and square. Usually such carte blanche is given to members of the international community to assist with committing election fraud, such as during the 2010 presidential election. Ironic!
All the recommendations taken together tell a story about why Guineans cannot go to legislative elections as long as Alpha Conde is at the helm of the country.  You cannot trust Alpha Conde as far as you can throw him, the CENI is overrun by Conde’s crony operatives, the government is using Donzos (also security forces and Malinke militias) to kill the opposition, especially Peuls, and only the international community can fix this mess.  Things look quite bad for Alpha Conde and his administration.  
So how did ICG follow up on its report?  What does it have to say about the recent and intense deterioration of the political situation and increased violence in Guinea? Since the report was issued, ICG staff have given interviews to the media which have focused largely on the report’s recommendations  But, it was in an ICG press statement issued just 8 days after the “Quagmire” report, on February 27, 2013, which “calls out” the opposition for withdrawing from talks with the government concerning the election, that a slightly new attitude at ICG emerged.  Here is an excerpt:
“The opposition’s withdrawal bodes ill for a peaceful and legitimate vote. The precise implications of the election commission pushing ahead with a May date – as the commission’s chair Bakary Fofana promises – without the consent of opposition-aligned commissioners, are troubling, if unclear. Nor is it clear what the opposition means by withdrawing from the current process while insisting it will not boycott the polls, or by its oft-repeated threat to “block” the vote. Non-participation rarely proves a successful strategy. The opposition risks being left without a voice in decisions related to electoral mechanics, like the revision of voter rolls. Its exclusion, and the resulting polarisation, will make it almost impossible to manage the conflicts that will inevitably arise during a contentious competition for power in a divided society with a recent violent past. Despite recent efforts by the judiciary to curb impunity, Guinea’s security forces have a long history of heavy-handed repression. A scrappy election could present restless officers, who only recently submitted to civilian rule, with opportunities for troublemaking. The cost of divisive and violent elections for the young democracy could be enormous.”  — ICG, Salvaging Guinea’s Elections, 27 Feb 2013
Researchers who worked on the “Quagmire” report know well why the opposition cannot sit down and talk with Conde’s government about anything.  It is a never-ending duplicitous trap that can only hurt the opposition.  But, someone, somewhere in ICG or close to it, thought it necessary to rap the opposition’s knuckles over its intent to “walk away” from elections.  A low and unnecessary blow.  It is likely that this stance about the opposition was taken to assuage the international community which is as willing to send Guineans into a highly fraudulent election as it would be to send lemmings over a cliff.  It is a low and unnecessary blow.  
Now, ICG needs to do the right thing by the people of Guinea, as it did in the “Quagmire” report, and explain that it cannot support the holding of elections in Guinea at this time.  It cannot produce more statements like the one above which attempts to lay blame for a violent future and the possibility of a military takeover of the country on the opposition.  For this, ICG must focus on Alpha Conde.  Remember, the people of Guinea’s lives changed horribly when Conde committed massive fraud and stole the 2010 election.  They will not march into a fraudulent election again.  Here’s hoping ICG can muster up the spirit of the “Quagmire” report and support the Guinean people’s right to resist a fraudulent election.  ICG staff would never vote in an election in their own countries if similar electoral fraud was such a profound reality.

Guinea:  A Way Out of the Election Quagmire

Africa Report N°199 18 Feb 2013


Two years after President Alpha Condé’s victory in the first really  competitive election in the history of postcolonial Guinea, the country still  does not have a national assembly. Forthcoming legislative elections look set to  be complicated: ethnic tensions, compounded by the 2010 polls, remain high and  the electoral system is deeply controversial. The establishment of a new  Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in September 2012 was an  important step, but progress stalled again in December on the issue of the voter  register. President Condé must engage in a genuine dialogue with the opposition  and the INEC must reach a consensual solution on the register. With  international support, the government and opposition must consolidate the  electoral system. Peaceful and credible legislative elections are essential to  establish a parliament that reflects the country’s diversity, give the  opposition a real voice, restore checks and balances, and prevent the hope  raised by the replacement of illegitimate military leaders with an elected  civilian president turning into disillusionment.

Direct dialogue between the government and opposition on the legislative  elections started more than a year after Alpha Condé came to power, with the  Inclusive Framework for Political Dialogue (Cadre de dialogue politique  inclusif, CDPI). It ended two months later with limited results. Between March  2012 and February 2013, there were no further direct talks, but instead a series  of interventions, facilitations, consultations and announcements. Some questions  have been settled and others brushed aside, but the opposition still strongly  disagrees on two key issues: the INEC and the voter register. Soon after a  banned opposition protest on 27 August 2012, which led to widespread disorder in  the capital Conakry, the government pledged to reconstitute the INEC, and the  commission’s controversial president asked that his mandate not be renewed. His  successor, Bakary Fofana, presented in December a timetable setting the  elections for 12 May 2013. Does this signal a way forward? Did this peculiar  form of dialogue, with accusations, manoeuvres and anger, eventually yield  progress?

Although there has been some headway, the level of polarisation remains high.  The appointment of the new INEC members created fresh friction, with its new  president rapidly coming under fire, and it is this contentious institution that  must resolve the key problem of the electoral register. Tension on that issue  boiled over on 10 December, when the opposition accused Fofana of violating the  procedures of INEC by refusing to release a report on the register prepared by  the International Organisation of Francophonie (Organisation internationale de  la francophonie, OIF), and considered calling for his resignation. Fofana’s  announcement, the following day, that elections would be held in May 2013 raised  the temperature further: the opposition rejected that date, arguing that the  INEC plenary had not been consulted.

The opposition also protested against the technical weaknesses and lack of  transparency in the process of revising the electoral register, as well as the  lack of preparation for the Guinean diaspora’s vote. On 29 January, the  opposition, allied with a number of “centrist” parties, called for new  demonstrations and dismissed the direct dialogue called for by the authorities  as a ploy to have them cancel the protest. During a new INEC meeting to discuss  the electoral register on 11 February, the majority supporting President Condé  voted to endorse the controversial revision while opposition commissioners  walked out. They might decide to suspend permanently their participation.

In sum, the situation remains worrisome. Holding elections while the  government and opposition disagree on fundamental issues is dangerous. The  government shows contempt for the opposition and took almost a year to engage in  dialogue. The opposition maintains that President Condé was elected through  fraud and prefers to avoid elections (or, at least, does not want transparent  and consensual polls). It accuses the regime of ethnic favouritism. Civil  society, which played a key role at the end of the 2000s, is now divided along  political and ethnic lines. Controversial elections against the backdrop of  ethnic disputes raise many risks at both local and national levels.

Electoral turmoil could degenerate into significant violence. Security sector  reform has made limited progress and tension remains very high between the  security forces, accustomed to impunity and also affected by ethnic disputes,  and the population, exasperated by police and army brutality. Electoral troubles  could offer opportunities to those in the armed forces who have not fully  accepted their new submission to civilian authority.

The Condé regime cannot simply talk about its good governance and development  ambitions: it must also iron out political tensions. Moreover, it is more  important that the vote is credible than that it takes place in May – although  with so much time already lost it should take place as soon as possible and  certainly before December 2013. For this to happen, dialogue is vital. The road  to the elections will be rocky, but it is crucial to keep friction to a minimum,  maintain serious dialogue between the parties and rebuild trust in the electoral  apparatus. It is also necessary to strengthen the capacity of the political  system – the judiciary, territorial administration, security forces, INEC,  political parties – and for civil society to manage in a proper and credible  manner the conflicts that will inevitably emerge during the long electoral  journey ahead.


To break the election logjam and guarantee a credible vote

To the president of the republic:

1.  Set up regular meetings with the leaders of the main parties and the boards of the National Transition Council (Conseil national de transition, CNT)  and INEC to discuss the political situation and establish shared understanding  of the electoral system issue.

To the president of INEC:

2.  Provide all INEC commissioners with all the documents relating to the  organisation of the elections and clarify the procedures for the revision of the  electoral register.

3.  Reopen discussions on the electoral register in the INEC plenary without  excluding any solution; on this issue and on others, the electoral commission must make credible decisions, which require operating on the basis of consensus rather than on a majority vote.

4.  Take the necessary steps to allow Guineans living in the diaspora to  exercise their right to vote.

To the government of Guinea:

5.  Increase and publicise the repression of crimes and offences committed by  members of the defence and security forces, whether in the execution of their  duties or not.

6.  Consider, in consultation with human rights organisations, the creation  of an observatory of impunity.

7.  Clarify publicly its position on, and its relations with, the different  organisations of “donzo” traditional hunters, whose presence in urban areas is  creating mistrust.

To the Guinean Social Movement:

8.  Prepare for the deployment of a national electoral observation mechanism  inspired from the one implemented during the 2012 presidential election in  Senegal.

To the international partners of Guinea:

9.  Mobilise and support international and non-governmental organisations  involved in the electoral process to reinforce the credibility of the polls, including by:

a) supporting the Guinean Social Movement in the establishment of an  electoral observation mechanism.

b) preparing local representatives of the different parties within INEC and  its sub-structures, as well as magistrates, to the management of disputes that  will no doubt emerge in the course of the electoral process.
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