Elections in Guinea: cause for celebration

Many observers believed it was impossible but the people of Guinea have voted in the first free and democratic presidential elections in the country’s history. The months leading up to the poll were marked by general nation-wide instability. With a long history of violence and widespread human rights abuses there were real fears the electoral process would be disrupted.

In May UN Human Rights chief Navi Pillay signed an MOU with the Government of Guinea © UNThe UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) and other international organizations supported the government and civil society in their efforts to ensure the process was fair and free of violence and intimidation. OHCHR has recently established a country office in Guinea and its staff and a specialist team from headquarters worked before, during and after the elections to monitor the human rights situation.

The OHCHR mission to Guinea had a number of very specific objectives to accomplish in the run-up to the polls: to avoid any form of violence, ensure a better understanding of human rights and to build an increased capacity amongst local organizations monitoring the electoral process.

To achieve these goals the human rights team advocated with political candidates and party members, senior officers in the armed forces and many other local governmental authorities and political leaders. Through the deployment of a network of ‘correspondents’ they monitored the human rights situation around the country and liaised with local civil society groups.

In addition to their activities directly linked to a successful outcome of the elections, the human rights officers also worked to raise awareness of human rights issues and concerns generally. In this context, they met with religious and traditional leaders to urge them to promote tolerance: with the Catholic Relief Services they produced radio messages promoting “elections free of violence” and in Guinea’s capital, Conakry the “Conseil des sages”, composed of leaders from the Christian Churches and the Muslim religion also campaigned for a peaceful vote.

The significance of the achievement cannot be underestimated given Guinea’s recent history. Since its independence on 28 September, 1958 there had never been democratic, free and fair elections. For fifty years the country had known only two leaders, both of them dictators. There had been little economic progress over the decades and thousands of people disappeared, were tortured and executed.

4 August 2010