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Rights Group Says Guinea Needs Rule of Law

Guinea President Alpha Conde reviews an honor guard at his arrival at the Elysee Palace, in Paris for a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy (File Photo - March 23, 2011)
Guinea President Alpha Conde reviews an honor guard at his arrival at the Elysee Palace, in Paris for a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy (File Photo - March 23, 2011)

Human Rights Watch says Guinea's new government should address what it says are profound rights and governance problems that have underscored decades of abuse.

Guinean President Alpha Conde took office in December of last year amid high hopes that his presidency would mark an end to 50 years of authoritarian rule and mismanagement in the West African country.

In a new report, Human Rights Watch calls for Conde to bring an end to those decades of impunity and to hold perpetrators of crimes and human-rights abuses accountable, particularly members of security forces responsible for gunning down 100 demonstrators in 2007 and for killing more than 100 individuals and raping dozens of women in the now infamous 2009 stadium massacre.

Conde's task is not without its challenges.

Human Rights Watch Senior West Africa researcher, Corinne Dufka, said the new leader has inherited a swelled and unruly security sector, as well as a broken-down justice system.

"The three successive regimes have used militias and security forces not to protect the population but rather to ensure a continuation of the regime," said Dufka. "Members of the security forces have acted more as perpetrators than protectors of the population over the years. President Conde has inherited a military that is steeped in a culture of indiscipline and impunity and there must be measures taken, including downsizing the military, which has grown from 10,000 to 45,000 in the last decade."

Human Rights Watch says soldiers and policemen implicated in extortion, banditry, theft, kidnapping, racketeering, and excessive use of lethal force have enjoyed near-complete impunity for years. It says thousands of Guineans who dared to oppose previous regimes have been tortured, starved, beaten to death by state security forces or executed in police custody and military barracks.

The group is calling for President Conde to investigate and bring these perpetrators to justice, something his three predecessors failed to do.

"We found that particularly among ordinary Guineans, disturbingly, there is a sense that the security forces are simply above the law," said Dufka. "It is really a blind spot, the fact that they should be held accountable, that they should be subject to the rule of law in Guinea."

Dufka says the rule of law in Guinea has been undermined by a chronically neglected and underfunded judiciary, which gets just one half of one percent of the national budget, compared to the more than 40 percent going to the Defense Ministry.

"Some of the Ministry of Justice officials and legal professionals we spoke to characterize it as no accident that it has been that way," he said. "Lawyers and judicial personnel do not have pens and paper and desks. They do not have cars to transport detainees to court, and in fact very few cases really take place.

"In the criminal court in Conakry for example, there were over 200 cases on the docket and only one was dealt with last year," continued Dufka. "It has effectively ground to a halt because of negligence, marginalization and lack of independence."

Human Rights Watch is also calling for Conde to establish an anti-corruption commission to address embezzlement and mismanagement that have made Guinea one of the world's poorest countries, despite abundant mineral resources.