African healthcare laid bare by Ebola epidemic

A street artist, Stephen Doe, paints an educational mural to inform people about the symptoms of the deadly Ebola virus in the Liberian capital Monrovia    ( DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)

A street artist, Stephen Doe, paints an educational mural to inform people about the symptoms of the deadly Ebola virus in the Liberian capital Monrovia. ( DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)

By Savio Carvalho, senior adviser on international development and human rights at Amnesty International.

Two years ago, I had the privilege of visiting Freetown and other parts of Sierra Leone where Amnesty International was training maternal health volunteers to monitor antenatal care. It was evident then that Sierra Leone’s health infrastructure was in a very poor state, undermined by years of war and lack of investment. But today, the outbreak of Ebola has meant that its struggling healthcare system, and others in neighboring African countries – particularly Liberia and Guinea – have been completely overwhelmed.


Guinea's Bloody Monday Demonstrates Need for Greater Arms Control

Cartridge casing from a bullet, for a Kalashnikov-type assault rifle, found at Conakry stadium. Copyright Amnesty International

Cartridge casing from a bullet, for a Kalashnikov-type assault rifle, found at Conakry stadium. Copyright Amnesty International

There is no question that the September 28th, 2009, Bloody Monday massacre in Guinea was an unprecedented episode of violence and brutality by Guinea’s security forces. But let’s not forget that this was not the first time that Guinea’s military and security forces have used excessive force and acted with impunity in the past decade. In fact, the behavior of the security forces has been defined by a clear pattern of unlawful killings, extrajudicial executions, rape, arbitrary detentions, torture and grossly excessive use of force.

You did not want the military, so now we are going to teach you a lesson – member of the security forces present during the 28 September 2009 violence

Yet, as Amnesty’s new report demonstrates, a number of governments and companies have continued to finance, train and supply Guinea’s security forces, ignoring the numerous human rights violations they have committed over the years. In fact, several of the military and security units whose members were directly involved in the commission of human rights violations during Bloody Monday and in previous years had received training from states including France, China and the US. Weapons and security equipment supplied from South Africa, France and elsewhere provided the tools for the crimes perpetrated on Bloody Monday.

The decision by several states to suspend military cooperation with Guinea, including the US after the December 2008 coup and France after the September 2009 massacre, was too late. While such suspensions will certainly help minimize the capacity of the security forces to commit human rights abuses in the future, the signs were there long before December 2008 and military cooperation should have been suspended much earlier.

What the case of Guinea shows is the need for all states to adopt international standards to assess arms transfers on a case-by-case basis. This would ensure that states adequately assess the risk of exporting arms and training to countries such as Guinea and that such transfers do not facilitate serious human rights violations.

UN Report Echoes NGO Analysis of September Massacre in Guinea

Yesterday, a United Nations panel, commissioned in October to investigate the September 28th massacre in Guinea, released their report on what really happened that day. The report echoes what NGOs have been saying all along, identifying at least 156 people who died that day and at least 109 women and girls who were subjected to sexual violence, including rape, sexual mutilation or kidnap for repeated rape.

Up until now, the military junta in power in Guinea has denied these figures, saying that fewer than 60 people were killed that day and ignoring local and international NGOs, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, whose investigations have shown the numbers of casualties to be much higher. But this new UN report will make it hard for them to continue denying the true horrors of that day.

The report argues that three specific people are directly responsible for the violence of September 28th: Captain Camara, the leader of the military junta; Lieutenant Aboubacar Cherif Diakite, Camara’s aide-de-camp and chief of the Presidential Guard; and another officer, Moussa Thegboro Camara. Which is ironic, since Diakite recently tried to kill Captain Camara, saying that Camara was trying to hold him responsible for the massacre.

Most importantly, the report calls for the referral of these three individuals to the International Criminal Court to be tried for crimes against humanity. Because Guinea is a signatory to the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the ICC, the court’s prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo does not have to wait for a referral from the UN Security Council to open an investigation. And Ocampo already has a head start: he began a preliminary examination back in October after he received information, including pictures, about what had happened.

This report is a positive step in the quest for justice for the victims of Captain Camara’s regime. Already, the European Union has responded by increasing its sanctions on the military junta, adding to its existing arms embargo an assets freeze and an export ban on equipment that could potentially be used for state repression, as well as adding additional names to its travel ban. Hopefully, other nations will follow suit and ensure that the reign of impunity in Guinea ends now, including by supporting an ICC investigation.

What Future for Guinea?

Since the deadly attack on civilians by Guinea’s security forces on September 28th, 2009, Guinea is showing many signs of slowly unraveling, leading many to wonder what Guinea’s future will look like. Between interest in Guinea’s rich mineral resources, to concerns about rising ethnic and regional divisions, to theories about France’s involvement, media outlets have been rife with stories about Guinea’s political turmoil.

Of course, the failed assassination attempt on December 3rd on the leader of Guinea’s ruling military junta, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, who is still in Morocco recovering in a hospital, has dominated the headlines. And with good reason too:

Since the failed assassination attempt, General Sekouba Konate, the defense minister, has ruled Guinea, continuing the reign of terror that has characterized the junta’s rule since it took power last December. Arguing that discipline has been completely shattered and that they can “no longer let undesirable people act within our ranks,” the general is now advocating for military units to “root out the bad elements, actually eliminate them from our ranks.” If that’s not a call to fratricide, I’m not sure what is.

The situation in Guinea “risks not only destabilising the country in the long-term” but “also undermines all our efforts to consolidate peace in post-conflict countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau and Ivory Coast”. ECOWAS chief Mohammed Ibn Chambas, December 13, 2009

But despite these worrying developments, we cannot forget the victims of the September 28th tragedy. Amnesty International researchers, who just recently returned from Guinea, found that over 40 people who had attended the rally on September 28th are still missing. Dead bodies identified in photographs and film footage from that tragic day were never found at any of Conakry’s hospitals, morgues or military camps. As for the others, they were probably killed or forcibly disappeared.

So as the international community debates on ways to return Guinea to civilian rule and as Guinea’s neighbors, increasingly worried about the destabilizing effects on the entire region consider the possibility of deploying a regional peacekeeping force, we need to remember the victims of September 28th. They deserve justice.

International Commission of Inquiry Needed in Guinea

On Monday, September 28th, 2009, Guinea’s security forces opened fire on 50,000 demonstrators, killing over 150 people and injuring more than 1,200 in the capital, Conakry. The protesters were asking for the leader of Guinea’s military junta, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, to step down after he suggested he would be running in the upcoming presidential elections. Capt. Camara took over in a military coup in December 2008 after the death of longtime president Lansana Conte.

According to several sources, the attacks were organized by army officers and supervised by members of the Presidential Guard. Witnesses also told Amnesty International that several women were publicly raped by the soldiers and that some of the demonstrators, including women, had been arrested during the demonstration and were still being held by the security forces.

This is what one demonstrator told Amnesty:

The soldiers ripped the skirts off the women, leaving them naked. They hit them with truncheons and Kalashnikovs. I saw two soldiers throw a woman on to the ground and publicly rape her in view of the demonstrators. I was afraid.

This is not the first time Guinea’s security forces have been accused of using indiscriminate forces against civilians. Just last year, during protests against the rising cost of basic commodities, at least five people were killed and 20 were injured as security forces turned against the protestors.

In 2007, a Commission of Inquiry was set up by the government to investigate grave human rights violations committed in 2006 and 2007, a commission which has yet to conduct any investigations and is continually hampered by a lack of political will to let it do its job. This is why Amnesty is asking for an international commission of inquiry to look into this new wave of human rights violations to ensure justice for all of the victims.  

Both the United Nations and the US government have condemned the actions of the Guinean security forces. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has even asked for an independent Commission of Inquiry. But given the lack of political will in Guinea to support commissions of inquiry in the past, it is absolutely necessary for the international community to ensure that an international commission of inquiry is implemented as soon as possible.

For more information on the situation in Guinea:

Juliette Rousselot contributed to this blog post