GUINEA: Government stalls on probe into alleged abuses

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Two months after Guinea’s parliament voted for an investigation into alleged human rights abuses by government security forces, legal experts, rights advocates and union leaders are questioning why the probe has not yet gotten off the ground.

“The fact that it’s taken so long for this to happen raises some serious questions about whether the political will to ensure accountability for the abuses that took place exists,” said Dustin Sharp, a researcher with Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Guinea is still reeling from strike-related protests earlier this year, in which demonstrators calling for President Lansana Conte to step down clashed with the army and presidential guard. Among the 137 people killed by marauding soldiers were several children. Nearly 2,000 people were wounded.

Rights groups and union leaders pushed for an independent inquiry into the alleged killings, beatings and other abuses by security forces. Guinea’s parliament unanimously passed a law on 18 May to create an independent national commission to look into the violence and similar clashes in June 2006. However, President Lansana Conte has yet to promulgate the law.

Legal experts say the authorities have provided no information on the status of the commission.

A Justice Ministry official told IRIN the government was waiting for the president to act. “In order for this commission to be put in place, the president must promulgate the law adopted by the national assembly,” Justice Ministry adviser Mohamed Aly Thiam said.

Yet one of the legal experts IRIN spoke with said that according to Guinean law, if an act passed by parliament is not signed by the president within 10 days it automatically takes effect.

International pressure

Bar Association President Boubakar Sow said it took international pressure to get the law passed and it will take the same to get the investigation going. “Nothing happens here without international pressure,” he said. “If we do not have the support of the international community [the probe] will never, never, never happen.”

Trade union leaders who led the demonstrations in which the security force allegedly used violence sent an open letter to Prime Minister Lansana Kouyate on 3 July, accusing him of “making declarations to the population that you do not respect”. One of the unions’ demands was for him to state when the Guinean people would see the promulgation of the national commission of inquiry.

Amnesty International in a report last month said that during the January and February violence Guinean security forces, in particular the army, “used excessive lethal force, shooting at people who were unarmed, entering private homes and killing or injuring their inhabitants”.

Rights advocates say tackling impunity is critical to Guinea's stability and economic recovery. “It’s impunity that has ultimately brought Guinea to its knees,” Sharp, the HRW researcher, told IRIN. “Along with getting health, education, and other institutions on track, combating impunity will be a fundamental part of getting Guinea back on its feet.”

Source: IRIN