Briefing on Stability and Human Rights in Guinea

On Wednesday, August 19, the Africa Center hosted a briefing by Corinne Dufka, Associate Director of Human Rights Watch’s Africa Division, who spoke about her recent fact-finding mission to Guinea. The West African nation is scheduled to hold presidential elections in less than two months, and the pre-election period has seen a rise in sometimes-violent demonstrations and clashes between protesters and the security services as well as escalating ethnic tensions. The anxious political climate is further complicated by the incumbent regime’s repeated postponement of local and regional elections, which were supposed to have been held years ago, and the consequent filling of offices with unelected government appointees.

Africa Center Director J. Peter Pham gave a welcome and introduction, noting that, amid a number of other crises in the region and throughout Africa, the United States and the international community are guilty of not devoting sufficient time, attention, and resources to the situation in Guinea, which could have a negative impact on the wider region. Dufka echoed Pham’s sentiment and gave a short overview of her trip, focused primarily on the role and performance of Guinea’s security services, which include the national police and the gendarmerie.

Dufka began by acknowledging improvements in the professionalization of Guinea’s security forces, especially the gendarmes. She confirmed that when security services respond to demonstrations, they are under strict orders not to use force or live ammunition against protesters. While violent incidents during some of the protests show that not insignificant issues remain, she noted as a good sign that the military leadership has taken steps to protect civilians.

After talking with Guineans, Dufka reported that many felt—unlike in previous years—that they could trust the gendarmes, once considered partial to the ruling party. In contrast, a number of incidents with the national police showcased their involvement in criminal activity most often levied against those perceived to support the political opposition.

Dufka’s work catalogued abuses by both security services and protesters—primarily property destruction and physical abuse. She additionally documented two killings and one case of rape, which she hopes will spur the judiciary to investigate alleged abuses.

Dufka also noted the worrying use of ethnicity for political ends, including in polarizing statements by President Alpha Condé, especially when he is speaking in local languages, rather than French.  

An off-the-record discussion involving participants from both the US government and private sector followed Dufka’s remarks and focused on the strengths and weaknesses of Guinea’s judiciary, the upcoming presidential elections, and the role of the international community in ensuring a peaceful and fair electoral process.