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OHCHR Press Briefing Notes 22 October 2010

Spokesperson: Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva

22 October 2010

Violence in run-up to Guinea election

The UN human rights office (OHCHR) is deeply concerned by the manner in which Guinea’s security forces, in their efforts to quell a series of demonstrations that took place in Conakry earlier this week, used excessive force and resorted to live fire, killing one man and injuring at least 62 others.

OHCHR appreciates that the authorities had a difficult task dealing with the 18-20 October demonstrations which in some cases degenerated into acts of violence, including stone-throwing, the burning of tyres and erection of roadblocks, and resulted in some 10 members of the security forces receiving injuries. Nevertheless, OHCHR believes the security forces committed serious human rights violations by indiscriminatingly shooting at unarmed civilians (sometimes at point-blank range), and by breaking into and ransacking private homes, and severely beating young men who were not offering resistance.

Five sectors of Conakry were particularly affected: Hamdallaye, Ratoma, Matoto, Bambeto and Afia Minière. Some of the security forces’ operations appeared to target entire areas indiscriminately, with little effort to distinguish between violent protestors and residents who had not taken any part in the protests.

They also illegally and arbitrarily detained an unknown number of people, held them in undisclosed places of detention and prevented them from having access to lawyers. In addition, human rights officers were denied access to a gendarmerie detention cell, in the commune of Hamdallaye, where a number of protestors are allegedly still being detained incommunicado.

OHCHR is particularly concerned that members of security forces who took part in these police operations include the Force Spéciale de Securisation du Processus Electoral (FOSSEPEL), which is the special police unit that was formed and trained to secure the electoral process.

Victims of alleged human rights violations documented so far by OHCHR staff in Conakry include the following:

· A 21-year-old mechanic, who died Wednesday of injuries sustained the previous day. When the police came to his house in Hamdallaye, the women and children hid in a room while the male members of the family stayed outside in the compound. Allegedly without prior warning, the police started beating them up with their rifle butts. The beatings continued until the young mechanic tried to escape, at which point he was shot. The bullet entered through the back of the neck and lodged in his forehead. He was admitted to hospital where he died the following day.

· A 22 year-old man hit in the head by a tear gas bomb thrown by a police officer on 18 October in the commune of Hamdallaye. The victim is still in a coma.

· A 7 year-old boy shot in the head by a stray bullet in the Matoto neighborhood of Conakry on 20 October, while returning home from school with his sister and a schoolteacher. The boy is also in a deep coma.

· A family whose house in the ethnically-mixed Afnia Minière neighbourhood of Conakry was shot at and then broken into by several gendarmes, who then reportedly subjected an elderly man to a severe beating with their fists, truncheons and rifle butts. The gendarmes then arrested the man, his wife and several of his children and detained them for five hours before releasing them. The elderly man could barely move as a result of the assault, and received treatment at a local hospital.

· The same group of gendarmes was also reported to have shot three young men aged 18 to 25 at point-blank range, wounding two of the victims in the arm and one in his thighs.

OHCHR staff recorded a number of other extremely violent incidents of a similar nature, aimed in particular – but not exclusively – at young men.

OHCHR is particularly concerned that some members of the security forces appear to have been making threats, and even conducting assaults, on the basis of victims’ ethnicity or political affiliation, and is calling on political leaders to restrain their supporters, both within the security forces and among the general population, while still respecting the right of people to assemble and protest peacefully. During an earlier round of violence between opposing political groups on 12 September at least one person was killed and 50 injured.

OHCHR also calls on the transitional Government to ensure that members of the security forces scrupulously adhere to international standards governing the use of force and firearms.*

In the run up to the Presidential elections, the first round of which were held on 27 June with the second round originally scheduled for this Sunday, OHCHR’s office in Guinea – which was officially established in May – has helped train 175 human rights monitors, operating all across the country. OHCHR has also engaged in conflict prevention activities, including holding talks with both presidential candidates and their teams, human rights training of security forces and youth groups. The OHCHR staff in Guinea have also worked closely with NGOs and other local partners throughout the country to monitor the human rights situation before, during and after the elections.

* The conduct of law enforcement officials is addressed by a number of specific international standards and codes, including the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, and the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials.