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GUINEA: Journalists Re-Inventing Alpha Conde and Human Rights Groups Ignoring His Human Rights Abuses

July 8, 2013
Journalists Re-Inventing Alpha Conde
 
Alpha Conde has a pretty good communications team as well as experts from an image consulting firm, who have combined forces to give him a new face to present to the world.  The goal of this re-invention of Guinea’s head of state is to make him appear more “presidential,” to re-brand him as a mining “reformer” and “corruption” fighter and, perhaps most importantantly, to conceal his  terrible human rights record and his deadly policy of targeting those of the Peul ethnic group.  Based on international media coverage Conde has received of late, it’s working.
 
Tony Blair and George Soros, have been instrumental in gaining access for Conde to both political high rollers and influential business people and his communications team have the pictures to prove it.  The invitation he received to the UK for a G-8 Transparency, Trade, and Tax Committee meeting in June, was close enough for his communications people to issue breathless press releases announcing that “Conde is Heading to the G-8 Summit!”  Suffice it to say, Conde never made it to Northern Ireland where the actual G-8 summit was held, but because of the press statements, many believed he did and, in the world of propaganda, this is all that counts. 
 
Conde capitalized on his “proximity” to the G-8 Summit by doing several interviews set up by his image consulting firm.  Suddenly, Conde’s face was everywhere — Great Britain’s Independent Television Network (ITN), Radio France Internationale, and the cover of Jeune Afrique.  He also had an op-ed piece, obviously penned by his image consultants, which made the rounds of all major  international media outlets.  The newfound mining “reformer,” increased journalists fascination with Guinea’s Simandou iron ore project as did the billionaire diamond merchant, Beny Steinmetz, and his shell game to gain control over a part of the iron ore field.  The story was all the more intriguing because of alleged bribes made by Steinmetz to the wife of dying president, Lansana Conte, in order to seal the deal. 
 
And, over the last month, this is how Simandou became the ONLY story journalists pursued concerning Guinea and Conde.  This happened to the virtual exclusion of Conde’s poor management of the country, his ethnic baiting policies which have raised tensions to an all time high, and relentless violent repression meted out by his security forces against opposition supporters. With these kinds of problems festering in Guinea and on the horizon, fraudulent legislative elections likely to cause a civil war, Conde’s image consultants have done a masterful job keeping the press’ attention focused on Simandou, the diamond dealer and the “reformer.”
 
 
Ever since the G-8 Summit, sans Conde,, he and his image makers have continued to score points in the media. One of the best examples is a lengthy article in the “New Yorker” magazine entitled, “Buried Secrets.” The article, by Patrick Keefe, is a corruption thriller in which Beny Steinmetz is the bad billionaire and Alpha Conde is the last man standing to defend Guinea against seemy mining titans and grifters.  
 
When Keefe interviewed Steinmetz he spent most of time trying to get Steinmetz to admit he’s a crook.  Later in the interview an interesting topic surfaces.  Steinmetz raises the issue of Conde’s dreadful human rights record and suggests he has blood on his hands.  Any reporter worth his salt would have said “tell me more,” but Keefe stopped Steinmentz in his tracks and said, “Dadis Camara had blood on his hands, too, yet you invited him to your daughter’s wedding in Israel.”  Most would agree that Keefe’s cloak and dagger thriller would have been infinitely more thrilling had he allowed Steinmetz to talk.  After all, Steinmetz has close ties with Israeli intelligence services which surely have a file of some kind on Conde.  But, Keefe was having none of it.  What journalist would close such a door?  Perhaps, a journalist who is writing an article about a “reformer” expressly for the purpose of covering significant human rights abuses.  
 
The full court press among journalists to re-invent Conde will be around for a while and what is needed are a few good investigative reporters to dig for the evidence about Conde’s theft of the 2010 election and his mounting human rights violations.  Now, a story like that would be far more intriguing than Conde, the “reformer.”  Who knows, someone might win a Pulitzer prize for daring to write the story that others would not. 
 
As you might guess, Keefe was loyal to Conde until the bitter end of his article.  The scene is set with Conde slumped in a big chair at the presidential palace contemplating Guinea’s tricky world of mining and then he muses out loud, “How can we be so rich and yet so poor?”  Only the poor can ask a question such as this.  Conde understands well why the poor have not benefited from the natural resources in the country.  For him to feign ignorance about this is the ultimate insult. 
 
 
Human Rights Groups Ignoring Conde’s Human Rights Abuses
 
NOTE:  The following is written about Human Rights Watch specifically, but criticisms made apply to several international human rights organizations which are significantly less vocal about Alpha Conde’s human rights abuses than they were two years ago, yet today’s state repression and violence are far worse than then.
 
Recently, Claude Pivi, Minister of Presidential Security, was summoned to appear before a Guinean court to answer questions about his involvement in the September 28, 2009, massacre against opposition demonstrators in a stadium in Conakry.   Pivi is long thought to be one of the primary perpetrators of the attack.  Human Rights Watch was one of the first organizations on the ground after the attack to conduct an investigation and to hold interviews with victims.  HRW’s relentless pursuit of truth and justice in the 2009 attack is one of the few rays of hope for victims and their families.  Guinea Oye has repeatedly applauded HRW’s efforts over the last four years to keep pressure on the Guinean court system and Alpha Conde, himself, to make sure the country is responsive to the need to move forward with indictments of those responsible.  An HRW press statement, issued last week, addresses Pivi’s questioning before the court.
 
HRW makes an interesting request in its statement concerning Pivi, whom HRW has long asked Alpha Conde to remove from his cabinet.  The statement asks “Guinean officials” to put Pivi on leave from his post as Minister for Presidential Security while under court inquiry, because of concern that he will use his cabinet level position to exert undue influence on the investigation.  “Guinean officials?”  Anyone in particular?  As a member of the Guinean cabinet, there is only one person who can make Claude Pivi do anything — Alpha Conde.  Why didn’t HRW address Conde directly in its press statement and ask him to do the deed?  There was a time when HRW had no qualms about calling out Alpha Conde on a variety of things, including Guinea’s lack of progress on the September 28 case and his own dismal human rights record.  Why is HRW disassociating Conde from his Minister of Presidential Security?  
 
The most recent news from Guinea is that Alpha Conde has interceded on Pivi’s behalf to get a postponement (indefinite?) of his questioning before the court.  Where is a new statement from HRW calling out Conde for interfering in Pivi’s case by getting his court appearance postponed?
 
If one takes a few steps back, Conde’s behavior concerning Pivi is strange.  Allowing Pivi to remain in his cabinet, claiming repeatedly that Pivi was not at the stadium on the day of the attack and helping him get away from court questioning demonstrates bad judgment on his part, especially for someone who is re-inventing himself.  In any event, their relationship is highly suspect and maybe one of those investigative reporters will dig deeply enough to reveal it.
 
In a recent post, Guinea Oye took particular note of HRW’s odd and prolonged silence concerning human rights abuses which have taken place over the last six months in Guinea.  These abuses run the gamut from extrajudicial killings to rape to mutulation to burning of homes and businesses to arbitrary arrests and all manner of anti-Peul repression.  Not only have state forces been involved in this violence but also Malinke militias, Donzos (mercenaries) and gangs paid for by Conde’s party, the RPG.  Further, HRW has made no comment about a state forces attack on the home of opposition leader, Cellou Dalein Diallo, in which his life was threatened.  Diallo ran against Conde and won the final round of the 2010 presidential election which Conde then stole. The state-sponsored violence committed in the first six months of 2013 mirrors that of what happened in 2009.  HRW’s silence on the latest violence in Guinean is disheartening and puzzling.
 
The close focus by human rights organizations on the the September 28 massacre and the lack of focus on the 2013 violence suggests that the international community’s perceptions about one human rights abuser– Dadis Camara — are quite different from those about another human rights abuser –Alpha Conde.  Anything that could be done to get Camara a one-way ticket out of Guinea was fine.  Courtesy of a bullet to the head, Camara is now in exile in Burkina Faso.  Within the last year, the international community has nearly stood on its head to clean up, cover up, and re-invent Conde to keep him in office.  A shift of focus away from Conde took place in several human rights groups roughly in the same time frame and it is not coincidental.  While a spruced up Conde may be helping an influx of business investors in Guinea, the fact that he is still at the helm of the country is an insult to the people of Guinea.
 
Re-inventing Conde or going silent about his gross human rights abuses may appease an international community desperate to hold legislative elections so it can proclaim Guinea a  “democracy.”  It is the politicians and diplomats who manipulate facts and factors in order to bring about desired results.  Such manipulations can change a country in an instant, as evidenced by Conde’s theft of the 2010 presidential election.
 
So, it is the journalists and the human rights organizations which must play it straight, tell it like it is and carry the banner for the victims of repression.  Falling in line with politicians and diplomats strips organizations of their credibility and, most importantly, it leaves those most vulnerable without a voice.
 
 
  
Human Rights Watch Statement
 

(Nairobi) – Guinea’s domestic panel of judges investigating the country’s 2009 stadium massacre and rapes has taken a significant step in charging a high-level suspect, who is expected to be questioned by the judges on July 4. Given the potential for interference with the investigation, the government should place the suspect on leave and take additional measures to protect judges, witnesses, and victims.

The suspect, Lt. Col. Claude “Coplan” Pivi, is Guinea’s minister for presidential security, a position he also held at the time of the 2009 crimes. Media reports said that Pivi was charged with murder, rape, arson, looting, destruction of buildings, and complicity. Consistent with international law, Pivi is presumed innocent unless tried and proven guilty.

“The judges took a major step for justice for the 2009 stadium massacre and rapes by filing charges against an influential, high-level official,” said Elise Keppler, senior international justice counsel with Human Rights Watch. “Now Guinean officials need to show their commitment to justice by putting Pivi on leave so he won’t be in a position to influence the investigation.”

Pivi appeared before the judges briefly on June 28, 2013, during which time they notified him that charges had been filed. Pivi is expected to appear before the judges again on July 4, for questioning.

Human Rights Watch has extensively documented the 2009 crimes and closely followed the investigation. On September 28, 2009, several hundred members of Guinea’s security forces burst into a stadium in Guinea’s capital, Conakry, and opened fire on tens of thousands of opposition supporters peacefully gathered there. By late afternoon, at least 150 Guineans lay dead or dying, and dozens of women had suffered brutal sexual violence, including individual and gang rape.

Human Rights Watch, a United Nations-supported International Commission of Inquiry, and other independent human rights organizations identified Pivi as someone whose possible role in the crimes should be investigated.

“The sensitive nature of charging such a high-ranking officer brings increased risk for judges, witnesses, and victims alike,” Keppler said. “The Guinean authorities need to ensure the judges, witnesses, and victims are protected against threats.”

The panel of judges has made important progress in the investigation. They have interviewed more than 200 victims and charged at least 8 people, including Pivi and other high-ranking military officers.

Others charged include Guinea’s minister in charge of fighting drug trafficking and organized crime, Col. Moussa Tiégboro Camara, and Col. Abdoulaye Chérif Diaby, the health minister at the time.Another key suspect the judges have charged, Lt. Abubakar “Toumba” Diakité, remains at large.

However, the investigation has been plagued by lack of material support and concerns about security for the judges. The investigation has yet to be completed nearly four years later. Some suspects have already been in pretrial detention longer than the two years permitted by Guinean law.

Human Rights Watch, in December 2012, identified several key benchmarks the Guinean government should meet to support the panel to complete its investigation. They include ensuring the judges have adequate resources and security; establishing a witness and victim protection program; and resolving a two-year-old request to the government of Burkina Faso to interview Guinea’s former president, Dadis Camara, who is living in that country.

The report also urged the government to place suspects on leave from government posts – namely Col. Moussa Tiégboro Camara and Lieutenant Colonel Pivi – where there is a risk they could interfere with the investigation. This is especially important given the prominent role members of the military have played in Guinean society.

On October 14, 2009, the International Criminal Court (ICC) Office of the Prosecutor confirmed that the situation in Guinea was under preliminary examination – a step that may or may not lead to the opening of an investigation. The ICC has closely monitored the situation and played a pivotal role in keeping accountability on the government’s agenda, and fostering progress by regularly visiting Guinea and talking with the local media.

“Victims in Guinea are desperate to see justice for the heinous crimes of September 28, 2009, and the days immediately following,” Keppler said. “Fair investigation and prosecution are essential to bring redress to the victims and to signal a definitive end to longstanding impunity for abuses by members of the security services.”

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