Thursday, November 25, 2010

Guinea: Investigate Death in Custody and Arbitrary Detentions at Unauthorized Site

Source: Human Rights Watch (HRW)

Investigate Death in Custody and Arbitrary Detentions at Unauthorized Site

(Dakar, November 24, 2010) – Guinean authorities need to ensure fair trials for the approximately 125 men and boys arrested during violence after the results were announced for the run-off presidential election, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should alsoinvestigate the death in custody of a Guinean-American man who had been arbitrarily detained. They should additionally eitherchargeor release four other detainees arbitrarily detained in an unauthorized military prison off the coast of the Guinean capital, Conakry.

The elections were envisioned to bring an end to over 50 years of authoritarian and abusive rule. However, irregularities in both the June primary and November run-off elections, as well as political and ethnic violence and excessive force by security forces responding to the situation, have marred the elections' credibility. Abuses against detainees, arbitrary arrests of civilians, and accusations of coup plotting by the military, illuminate continued tensions within the security forces and the fragility of Guinea's transition to civilian rule.

"Both the Guinean transitional authorities and the new government must ensure lawful treatment of detainees, and investigate these disturbing reports of abuses and arbitrary detentions by the security forces," said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Guinea can only overcome its violent and unstable history if it puts respect for the law at the top of its agenda."

Inter-communal Violence and Detentions

On November 15, 2010, the day the electoral commission declared Alpha Condé the winner of the presidential election, communal violence broke out between his largely Malinké and Susu supporters and the largely Peuhl supporters of his rival, Cellou Dalein Diallo. Some 125 people, including 26 boys, were among those arrested, charged, and transferred to Conakry's central prison.

While numerous witnesses described supporters of both parties engaging in widespread acts of aggression, prison records seen by Human Rights Watch indicate that the detained men and boys are overwhelmingly Peuhl. The numbers suggest a disproportionate and ethnically motivated response to the violence by security forces, very few of whom are Peuhl. Human Rights Watch was unable to ascertain how many of those arrested were detained on the basis of credible allegations of criminal acts, or whether they were arbitrarily detained on the basis of their ethnicity.

Witnesses in Conakry told Human Rights Watch that security forces had severely mistreated many of the men and boys both during and after their arrests, which in several cases occurred at their homes. Human Rights Watch urged government leaders to ensure that members of the security forces suspected of unlawful violence against the detainees are investigated and prosecuted in accordance with international fair trial standards.

Death of Michel Loua in Gendarme Detention

The body of 45-year-old Michel Lazare Loua, a permanent US resident, was delivered to a hospital morgue in Conakry on November 15. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that the body appeared to have a gunshot wound in the chest.

Three witnesses with intimate knowledge of Loua's case told Human Rights Watch that he had been arrested on October 26 by members of the Gendarme Squadron #4 (l'Escadron mobile de la Gendarmerie No. 4) in the Matoto administrative district of Conakry. Witnesses described seeing him in detention there in late October and November, and said the gendarmes told them Loua was suspected of involvement in planning a coup.

Human Rights Watch saw a copy of a letter from Guinean judicial authorities, dated October 28, to the commander of the Matoto Gendarmerie, reminding him of the 48-hour limit for pretrial detention. Judicial authorities told Human Rights Watch, however, that prior to Loua's death they had been warned by the gendarmes to desist from pursuing the case. Witnesses also said that the gendarmes from the Matoto Gendarmerie had ignored repeated efforts by judges with jurisdiction over the case, as well as by Loua's own lawyers, to have Loua's dossier transferred from the gendarme squadron to the relevant judicial authority.

A medical report dated November 11, seen by Human Rights Watch, noted signs of severe mistreatment including black-and-blue marks, and swelling of his head, back, and wrists. One witness said he learned of Loua's death on the morning of November 15 in a call from a morgue official who told him that, "a body was last night dropped off in the middle of the night with your telephone number on a card in his pants pocket." On November 22, authorities confirmed to Human Rights Watch the presence of Loua's body in the hospital morgue.

Arbitrary Detentions in Kassa Island Military Camp

Human Rights Watch is also concerned about the arbitrary detention of four men in an unofficial detention facility in the Kassa Island military campa few kilometers off the coast of Conakry. Under the country's one-year military regime of the National Council for Democracy and Development (CNDD), which began in December 2008, numerous people were detained and tortured on Kassa Island. When General Sékouba Konaté assumed power in January 2010 to lead a transitional government until new elections could be held, he shut down the Kassa Island detention facility.

Three witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch confirmed the arbitrary detention at the camp of a civilian, Sékou Souape Kourouma, 48, since September, as well as the detention since November 11 of Colonel David Sylla, Colonel Sékou Fadiga, and Captain Issa Camara, all apparently accused of plotting a coup. Witnesses who saw the men in detention said Kourouma had visible cuts and scars on his wrists, and that he told them he had been beaten and subjected to humiliating treatment during his arrest by members of the Red Berets.

This prolonged detention of the men without charge, access to a lawyer, or review by an independent judge constitutes arbitrary detention, in violation of Guinea's international law obligations. The arbitrary detention at Kassa Island directly violates Guinean law. Additionally, Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Guinea in 1978, states that anyone arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for the arrest and promptly informed of any charges. The Guinean authorities should either initiate formal trial proceedings against the men and ensure that they are brought before a judge immediately, or order their immediate and unconditional release, Human Rights Watch said. In any case, the men should be compensated for their arbitrary detention.