Where is justice in Guinea Conakry?

Published: 27 Nov 2012
By: Djibril Balde

Since Guinea gained independence in 1958, the country has been governed by a string of dictatorships. Discrimination along ethnic lines has resulted in massive human rights violations, killings, extrajudicial executions and disappearances. To date, these acts that have been committed by various governments remain unpunished, creating a culture of impunity.

The first president of Guinea, Sekou Touré, led the country from 1958 to 1984 with an iron fist. To name a few, crimes associated with his rule include the imprisonment of thousands of people; starvation leading to death; and several thousand summary executions and torture.  For instance, Boubacar Diallo Telli was a Guinean diplomat and politician who helped found the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and was the first secretary-general of the OAU for almost eight years. After serving as Minister of Justice in Guinea for four years he was killed by starvation by the regime of Sékou Touré at Camp Boiro prison in 1977. These acts still remain unpunished today.

After the death of Sékou Touré in 1984, an interim government was quickly overthrown by Lansana Conté who continued to commit atrocities. In June 2006, students who organised a peaceful demonstration were attacked and killed by the army leading to the death of 32 individuals, and leaving hundreds of others wounded. In January and February 2007, a strike organised by the trade union CNTG-USTG (la Confédération nationale des travailleurs de Guinée et l’Union syndicale des travailleurs de Guinée) was followed by the bloody repression of the army causing 186 more deaths and over 1,200 injured. Victims and human rights organisations are still fighting for justice for these incidents.

Following the death of President Lansana Conté, army dignitaries unilaterally announced the dismissal of the government and the suspension of the Constitution. That very day, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara became the new Guinean Head of State. Yet it was business as usual.

During a peaceful demonstration of the opposition at the stadium in Conakry on 28 September 2009, the army committed various atrocities against unarmed demonstrators: 157 were killed, 109 women and girls were raped, more than 80 people went missing, and thousands of people were injured.

So did the government finally overstep this time? And is there now a glimmer of hope that the country will start to see some kind of justice for such atrocities?

Some of the signs are encouraging. A UN commission of inquiry was put in place to investigate these events, and its report has now been published. It accuses the Guinean military junta led by Dadis Camara of crimes against humanity and states that there are substantial grounds to believe that former President Dadis Camara and his associates might bear criminal responsibility. Meanwhile, the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has visited Guinea to gather evidence on the work of the Guinean justice system regarding the events of September 28, and Guinea itself has appointed three judges to investigate the perpetrators of the massacres. In fact, the Guinean system of justice has recently taken a big step by charging two officers of the Guinean army (Moussa Camara and Abdoulaye Cherif Tiegboro Diaby) for their involvement with the events of September 28. And on 5 October 2012, three generals were also dismissed from their ministerial duties, due to suspicion of involvement in the events of September 28.

Furthermore, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established, aimed at healing the wounds of political and ethnic violence in Guinea.

But while all of this is encouraging, it is important that we are not naïve at this point and think that the involvement of the ICC, or a truth commission will automatically lead to justice. Instead, questions as to the veracity of these forms of justice need to be asked. Ultimately, we need to ask whether all of these forms of justice will really get to the root of Guinea’s problems, which lie in years of reckless and poor governance and the chronic mismanagement of resources. Will they address the ethnic tensions that have been created by a government that continues to divide the country along ethnic lines?

For sure, many of the signs are encouraging. But we need to be vigilant. Guinea is a very fragile country, and the African and international community must help it establish rule of law and fight effectively and appropriately against impunity. Priority needs to be given to ensuring that the Guinean army is reorganised and disciplined and that is respects the fundamental principles of human rights. Finally, pressure needs to be put on President Alpha Condé to ensure he takes into account the conclusions and recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to bring about justice and end ethnic discrimination within Guinea.


Programmes: Resolving Displacement, Justice and Accountability
Regions: Western Africa
Type: IRRI Blog