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Statement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to the Press in Guinea

15 March 2011
Novotel Conakry

Thank you all for coming. It is with great pleasure that I am here with you today. As you may know, this is my first official visit to West Africa since I took office as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2008. My two-day mission was on the invitation of the Guinean government.

Let me begin by congratulating the people of Guinea for the completion of the presidential elections, marking the return to civilian rule and turning the page from military rule.

During my visit to the country, I held discussions with senior government officials, including the Ministers for Justice and Foreign Affairs. I also met with representatives of the transitional parliament (CNT), the diplomatic community, UN agencies and members of civil society – with whom I had very fruitful discussions.

I had the opportunity to get some insights into the human rights situation in general, and in particular the administration of justice, protection of vulnerable groups, situation of victims of human rights violations as well as on economic, social and cultural rights. Human rights are interdependent and therefore deserve equal attention.

Although Guinea has made some progress in fighting violence in general, there are still some challenges the country faces. Let me highlight a few:

I note that the Constitution provides for the establishment of an Independent National Human Rights Commission. NHRIs are crucial engines in the advancement of human rights. They are conveyor belts between the government, civil society and national and international human rights systems. Therefore, they should comply with a set of minimum standards called the “Paris Principles” -- these include independence, pluralism, a broad mandate, functional and structural autonomy and interaction with civil society.

It is critical that Guinea promptly calls for an inclusive national consultation process with a view to creating a National Commission on Truth, Justice and Reconciliation. This Commission would be an essential tool to assist Guinea in turning this painful chapter of its history, with the view of respecting the victims of past wrongs. Justice is the key to reconciliation. It is important to point out that this Commission must comply with international legal obligations such as the obligation to undertake effective investigations and prosecute gross violations of human rights and serious violations of international humanitarian law. Several countries, like my own South Africa during the post apartheid era, have drawn on Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commissions to reconcile with their pasts and I believe Guinea can only benefit from a similar exercise.

Yesterday, I met with victims of human rights violations. I listened to their heart breaking stories and suffering. I was particularly moved by their courage and thirst to seek justice that will deter perpetrators from repeating the crimes. When you receive justice that means seeing the perpetrators charged and prosecuted, it also brings along reparations for the victims.

In my meetings with several government officials, I have expressed my serious concern regarding impunity for the perpetrators of past abuses and numerous human rights violations committed during the electoral process. I reiterate my call that Guinea must end the culture of impunity. Currently, perpetrators of the most serious crimes remain free and undeterred.

The government should send a strong message to perpetrators of human rights abuses – by investigating and prosecuting alleged human rights violations including those committed by security forces.

In my visit I also met with victims of torture who point fingers at state security forces. To decisively turn into a fully-fledged democracy, respect for human rights must be observed and the Security and Justice Sectors must be urgently reformed as a matter of priority. The reforms should ensure access to justice for all, in accordance with international standards of a fair trial. My Office in collaboration with other UN Agencies will continue to actively assist the Government to attain this important goal.

During the meetings I had with survivors of violence they also expressed their desire to see the memories of the victims preserved. They fear that the new generation may forget what happened to victims of human rights abuses in the country. I believe it is important that the younger generation knows their history, good and bad, as a way to promote human rights.

Last week, we all celebrated International Women’s Day. Let me reiterate the importance of gender equality for the fulfillment of human rights for all. Discrimination against women must end. Men and women are equal in rights. Young girls and women should have equal access to education, health and sanitation. Equal access to the workplace remains a big challenge across the world but the struggle must continue. I am saddened to see that sexual violence has been perpetrated against women with impunity in Guinea. I remind all that rape equates to torture. Again, perpetrators of human rights violations, including sexual crimes must face justice.

Guinea is rich in natural resources. However, poverty and lack of basic services are of a major concern. Poverty negatively impacts the full enjoyment of all human rights. It is important that Guinea’s wealth benefits all and the management of the country’s natural resources should be consistent with basic human rights principles such as participation, non-discrimination and accountability. I welcome Guinea’s efforts to implement the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) standards.

Much of my concerns about the situation of human rights in Guinea were outlined in my report which I submitted to the Human Rights Council. Since August 2010, my Field Office is fully operational in Guinea.

The Government expressed their commitment to protect all human rights and I trust this will be translated into concrete actions. I would like to underscore that the full protection of human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights are equally important and essential for peace, justice, security and development. I also call on the international community to support Guinea in addressing these challenges.