Saturday, January 24, 2009

Guinea: If you want peace, give people justice

One month after junior military officer Moussa Dadis Camara took power in a coup, international organisation Human Rights Watch is calling on Guinea’s transitional government to address longstanding impunity and to reactivate investigations into the military killings of unarmed protesters in 2007.

Most of the past human rights abuses – including torture, extrajudicial executions, widespread extortion and repression of protesters – were perpetrated by members of the Guinean security forces, Human Rights Watch said in a 21 January press release.

"We urge Camara to address issues related to the longstanding culture of impunity and rule of law problems in Guinea," Corinne Dufka, West Africa senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, told IRIN. HRW issued a letter to junta leader Camara on 21 January.

Human Rights Watch also expressed concern about the presence of military officers in the new transitional government who the organisation says were linked to serious abuses and crimes, including torture.

Killers not brought to justice

In January 2007 protesters took to the streets demanding better living standards and governance, including an end to corruption. A military crackdown on the protests left more than 100 dead.

The strike ended with an agreement between then-President Lansana Conté and trade union leaders to appoint a new prime minister, as well as to form a commission to investigate the shootings of unarmed protesters in the 2007 demonstrations as well as protests in 2006. And civil society formed a National Observatory for Democracy and Human Rights to monitor rights abuses.

But since its inception the inquiry commission has not been operational, the commission’s director Mounir Hussein, told IRIN. And those responsible for the killings have not been brought to justice, according to HRW’s Dufka.

HRW says If Camara is serious about addressing impunity he must reactivate both the commission of inquiry and the observatory and allow them to function independently.

"It will be extremely important to have [these institutions] up and running to be able to monitor abuses both in the run-up to the elections as well as more chronic abuses," Dufka said.

Historic opportunity

“Camara has an historic opportunity to redress the deep-seated impunity that characterised former president Conté's 24 years in power,” Dufka told IRIN.

Human Rights Watch also urged Camara to "rigorously scrutinise" the records of members of his government and the newly-formed transitional authority, to hold accountable those who have committed past abuses.

"If [Camara] takes these concrete steps, it will send a signal of confidence to the Guinean people and the international community that he is serious about addressing the longstanding culture of impunity," Dufka told IRIN.

Government position

Idrissa Cherif, special adviser to Camara, implied that some kind of inquiry would go ahead when he told IRIN: "Let's wait for the results of the inquiry to see whether Captain Ousmane, the son of General Conté, was involved in the killings of 2007.”

In a recent address to the nation, junta leader Camara promised to root out corruption, promote human rights and prepare for free and fair elections, though he did not mention a date.

On 22 January the government reportedly called for corruption hearings to take place, involving several ex-ministers and business leaders in Guinea's capital Conakry.

But Dufka says despite widespread endorsement of the need to tackle serious corruption in Guinea, she is concerned as to whether Camara’s approach will follow the appropriate legal channels.

"Are those accused being allowed representation? Is it appropriate to question them inside a military camp? Wouldn't the rule of law be better served through the Ministry of Justice and the police?"

"Corruption lies at the root of many serious problems in Guinea. This will be a test to show whether Guinea can work within the rule of law," she said.

Civil society response

Trade union leaders were unavailable for comment on reactivating the commission of inquiry. Union leaders are maintaining a wait-and-see approach to the transitional authorities.

Hadja Rabiatou Sérah Diallo, secretary general of the National Confederation of Guinean Workers, told IRIN in mid-January: "We will be on the front lines to applaud or denounce the actions of the new government. Guineans no longer have any time to lose.”

Alpha Madjou Sow, president of the Guinean Organisation for the Defense of Human Rights, told IRIN he is not convinced by the direction the new government is taking. "The new government's silence on the killings is not reassuring."

Alhassane Camara, national secretary of Civil society Organisations for Youth, said he deplores the silence.

"We ask that the [military government] make sure the commission of inquiry functions,” he said. “If the new authorities really condemn corruption then why are they so quiet about the killings that took place during the strikes in early 2007? If you want to maintain peace, then you must give people justice.”

Disclaimer:This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
Photo: Copyright IRIN
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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