Wednesday, October 7, 2009



All Africa. Com
Olivier Kambala wa Kambala
7 October 2009

The victims of 60 years of human rights violations in Guinea deserve to be heard, and West Africa and the African Union should join calls for an international inquiry into the massacre in Conakry last week, writes AllAfrica guest columnist Olivier Kambala wa Kambala.

The world witnessed a disturbing display of brutality by security services against the people of Guinea in the capital, Conakry, last week. Indiscriminate attacks were launched on civil society and political party groups demonstrating against the decision of Moussa Dadis Camara, the country's military ruler, to contest presidential elections in 2010. Eyewitnesses reported that people were shot in the back while trying to escape from the stadium where the rally was being held. The Conakry carnage left an estimated 150 dead. Thousands more were injured, women raped and properties destroyed.

In a public declaration after the massacre, Camara pledged investigations into the killings, accountability for perpetrators and care extended to families of the victims. But his pledge seems doubtful after he declared on Radio France International on September 29, the day after the killings, that he does not control the army. Indeed, Camara's admission is a sign of the state of lawlessness and turmoil into which Guinea has descended since the death of the country's authoritarian leader, Lansana Conté, in December 2008.

Maseco Conde/IRIN

Security forces clash with protesters in Conakry, Guinea (file photo).
This latest round of human rights attacks must be investigated by an international commission of inquiry and perpetrators must face sanctions with no delays. Such a call has already been made by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, and the United States, France and the European Union have unanimously condemned the brutal actions of the security forces.

But external condemnation will do little to prevent continued abuse by state perpetrators. Guinea has a long history of ignored and unpunished state-sponsored human rights violations.

The architect of independence in Africa and Guinea's first leader, Sekou Touré, had his "concentration camps" in Camp Boiro where political opponents were starved to death and summarily executed. His successor, Lansana Conté, proclaimed "I am the Law in this country; after God, it's me," and used security forces to clamp down on social movements seeking better basic living conditions and an end to one-party rule. He crushed rallies by the Confederation of Trade Unions in January and February 2007. His son, Captain Ousmane Conté, who commanded the army's Special Forces, enforced his orders, killing protesters in violent confrontations.

No one has been called to answer for all these human rights violations.

In an attempt to placate an increasingly frustrated public, a transitional government led by Prime Minister Lansana Kouyaté established an Independent National Commission of Inquiry in May 2007. The commission was tasked to investigate serious human rights violations committed during the social protests earlier that year, as well as abuses committed by security forces during general strikes in June 2006.

Staffed with judges and official investigators, the commission did not take off the ground, despite its members being sworn in. Preliminary investigations conducted by the Human Rights Organization of Guinea, led by Dr. Thierno Sow, documented up to 3,156 human rights violations, many of which were summary executions.

A dialogue and reconciliation commission was established by Kouyaté in April 2008, exactly a year after the creation of the national commission of inquiry. Naby Youla, a former detainee in Sekou Touré's gulag, and Monsignor Robert Sarah, the former archbishop of Conakry, were designated to chair the commission. They were meant to report to the prime minister before a symposium, to be held around the 50th anniversary of Guinea's independence. Nothing happened. On the eve of the anniversary in October last year, victims both of the Camp Boiro abuses and of the repressed social movements of 2006 and 2007 were promised compensation. It was never paid. Instead, Guineans are subjected to fresh abuses under another military government.

It is time for Guinea to respond to the plight of victims of successive military governments.

The regional body, the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS), which has tried to mediate the country's recent political upheavals, should draw on lessons from across the continent to help ensure accountability and justice for victims. It does not need to look too far. Indeed, Guinea can learn from attempts to usher in a culture of accountability in its immediate region; a truth commission and a special tribunal have helped improve the rule of law in Sierra Leone. Former Liberian leader Charles Taylor is facing justice before special proceedings of the Sierra Leone Special Court in The Hague.

The international community should swiftly intervene to call for an international and impartial commission of inquiry into the killings of September 28. In the aftermath of the post-election violence in Kenya in December 2007, former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan led an international mediation which recommended, among other measures, the creation of a Commission of Inquiry on Post Election Violence (CIPEV) and the creation of a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission. The CIPEV handed over to Annan a list of key suspects to be held criminally accountable for the violence, either in Kenya before the International Criminal Court.

Why should Guinea be allowed to remain exempt from international standards for redress to victims of grave human rights abuses


Beyond its threat to impose sanctions on Camara's junta, the African Union and Ecowas should join forces with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and West African civil society to call for an independent and impartial inquiry. The perpetrators of human rights violations from 1958 onwards must not be allowed to continue the regime of violence. A tough international response to the massacre in Conakry could be an opportunity to begin the difficult job of wiping away impunity and allowing Guineans to build a society enshrined in the rule of law and respectful of citizens' rights.

Olivier Kambala wa Kambala is a Congolese human rights lawyer who was formerly director of the International Centre for Peace in Central Africa. He is now a program associate of the International Center for Transitional Justice and in 2007 conducted a transitional justice assessment in Guinea. He writes in his personal capacity.