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Guineans Frustrated with Lack of Progress on Violence Inquiry

  • Nico Colombant

One year after violent protests erupted in Guinea, a promised government inquiry into several hundred deaths and dozens of rapes has yet to get started, frustrating human rights activists and families of victims. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from Guinea's capital, Conakry.

Fatimatou Barry, 39, shows the place where bullets smashed into a wall near a pharmacy. Those same bullets, she says, also tore through her son's body last January 22.

She says she was told he cried out for her in vain, dying in a pool of blood just meters away from where she was sitting in a courtyard in the impoverished Hamdalaye neighborhood.

Barry says she does not want any more protest strikes during which young men die unnecessarily.

One year after his death, memories are still fresh. As a group of women pound spices to prepare for a meal, they all fondly remember Abdourahmane Tounkara, who was 19.

One woman doing dishes says he was always nice to his mother, trying to bring her money earned with odd jobs, even though he was still a student.

She says he was not even taking part in the protests that were called to demand better rule from long-standing President Lansana Conte. She says he was just an innocent bystander, cut down in the violent upheaval. She says other young men saw the soldiers who killed him.

As part of a deal to end the protests, authorities promised an official inquiry into the crackdown.

But Fatimatou Barry says up to now, not a single investigator has come to ask questions about her son's death.

In a humid office without electricity, human rights activist Mouchtar Diallo flips through pages of pictures and testimonies of his own investigative work, depicting accounts of killings, rape, and torture.

He shows the picture of a dead man, also killed last January 22, taken away by other protesters from Conakry's November 8th bridge, where security forces blocked passage using live rounds.

According to Diallo's records, in Conakry alone, more than 200 people were killed, and more than 60 rapes were committed. Official tallies so far say about 200 people were killed and hundreds injured across the country. Security forces were also attacked and government offices were destroyed in many areas.

The head of the Guinean organization to defend human rights, Thierno Maadjou Sow, says he has been most horrified by accounts of rape that have been brought to his attention.

He says he was disgusted by a case where a woman was allegedly raped just outside a mosque, as well as the case of an old widow being raped. He says he was not able to meet her because she was probably too ashamed and has gone back to her native village.

Sow says while he went to investigate that case, he saw soldiers in a white van shoot two 13-year-old girls who were drawing water from a well. Later that day, he saw soldiers shoot two female teenagers in their breasts while they were eating underneath a tree.

Sow says soldiers who committed such acts must face the law.

During the unrest, medical workers and journalists reported seeing the president's own son, the head of the presidential guard, Ousmane Conte, organizing operations on the November 8th bridge on the most violent day, January 22. Conte denies this.

Sow says no one should be above the law, and that those who ordered killings should also be judged. But he believes the current government has not made the commission charged with investigating the strike-related violence its priority.

Sow says the lack of judicial independence also makes him doubtful they can bring about justice.

A concerned citizen, Sara Claver Thiameny, says many Guineans are angry about this. "They are going too slow. People are really frustrated. The longer it takes, the harder it will be for people. People are going to be more and more frustrated. I think people need something clear before too long," he said.

The 19-member investigative commission, which will also probe previous strike-related unrest from 2006, was sworn in on December 31, after delays caused mainly by a lawyers' strike.

The commission's president, Mounir Houssein Mohamed, says the government of consensus Prime Minister Lansana Kouyate has yet to give it a headquarters and funding for logistics. A spokesman for the prime minister's office says progress is being made, and that the commission is important.

Mohamed says the commission will work very seriously, but that the work ahead will take lots and lots of time.

He says it will also be very delicate in dealing with people very close to President Lansana Conte and high up in the army.

But last year, a spokesman for the armed forces reacted angrily to accusations from Guineans that they had turned their guns against unarmed civilians. The spokesman said the truth will come out one day, and that the crackdown was the work of Spanish and Portuguese-speaking mercenaries from neighboring countries, allegations those countries flatly deny.

Back in the courtyard in Hamdalaye, Fatimatou Barry, the mother of one the young men killed, says she hopes she will one day know who killed her son, not for revenge, but to know and be able to move forward.

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