The post presidential-election period in Guinea has been marred with violence and repression, with at least 12 people dead, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday. Following the October 18, 2020 election, security forces used excessive force to disperse opposition-led demonstrations in the capital, Conakry.
The main opposition candidate, Cellou Dalein Diallo, was held under de facto house arrest, without charge, from October 20 to October 28. One of Guinea’s main online news outlets was suspended from October 18 to November 2, and internet and telephone networks were severely disrupted or shut down between October 23 and 27, making it difficult for people to communicate, get information, or report on unfolding events.
“The brutal crackdown on protesters and others in Conakry is part of a pattern of repression that undermined the credibility of the elections,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should rein in security forces, investigate those implicated in abuses and hold them to account, while all political leaders should urgently instruct their supporters to refrain from using violence.”
Some protesters assaulted the police and gendarmes, throwing rocks and other objects. According to the government, the assault resulted in the death of six members of the security forces. One person died during intercommunal violence, while scores of people were injured during violence across the capital, including at least 29 with gunshot wounds or injuries from teargas allegedly caused by security forces.
On October 24, the electoral commission announced that incumbent President Alpha Condé won the election, with 59.5 percent of the vote. This win has allowed him to serve a controversial third term. Diallo announced on October 19 that he had won, and on October 24 rejected the official election results, alleging fraud, and called for mass demonstrations. On October 30, he appealed Condé’s victory at the country’s constitutional court. On November 7, the court confirmed Condé’s victory, rejecting the fraud allegations, and Diallo has since called for further demonstrations and civil disobedience.
Human Rights Watch interviewed 70 people by phone between October 17 and November 13, including 32 victims and witnesses to the violence, 15 relatives of victims, 3 medical workers, 3 journalists, 10 opposition party members, 5 civil society representatives, and 2 local authorities in Conakry. Human Rights Watch also reviewed government statements and analyzed photographs and video footage to corroborate victim and witness accounts. On October 27, Human Rights Watch shared its findings and requested responses to specific questions in a telephone conversation with Albert Damatang Camara, the security and civilian protection minister.
Camara rejected the allegation that the security forces killed anyone and said that “Many were killed by bullets fired from 12-caliber rifles, hunting guns, which are not used by our security forces.” He said that “Twenty-one people died since October 19 in post-election violence, including six members of the security forces and three children, the youngest of whom was 14 years old.” Camara stated that of the 21 victims,18 died in Conakry while the others died in the country’s interior. He also claimed that at least 18 of the victims were shot.
Human Rights Watch did not find any evidence that civilians fired guns during the violence. Camara’s position was at odds with the accounts of many witnesses, including a person who took part in the protests in Conakry’s Hamdallaye 2 neighborhood on October 19. “We were expressing our joy for Diallo’s victory when a police vehicle came in at full speed and fired teargas to disperse us,” the protester said. “People ran and then the police shot at us.” The witness said that 13-year-old Thierno Nassirou Sylla was shot in his face and “died on the spot.”
Human Rights Watch spoke to another witness to the killing and to a relative of the victim, who confirmed that the police shot Nassirou. Human Rights Watch also reviewed video footage showing the aftermath of the killing and photographs of his body.
In an October 22 statement, Camara said that violent demonstrators burned a military post in Conakry’s Niariwada neighborhood between October 19 and 21. According to authorities and media reports, violent protesters blocked a train in the Sonfonyah neighborhood on October 23 and killed three gendarmes and a soldier escorting the train to Conakry’s port. The authorities said that opposition protesters beat the four force members to death with machetes and other bladed weapons.
Camara said that investigations were ongoing to identify those responsible for the killings. On October 31, the prosecutor of the Conakry appeals court said that 325 people had been arrested in connection with the post-election violence. Human Rights Watch is not aware that they included any security force members.
Nationwide internet disruptions have made it difficult for Guinean and international journalists and human rights activists to cover and report on the violence. Netblocks, a civil society organization working on digital rights and cybersecurity on October 23 reported “major disruptions on leading cellular network operator Orange, with national connectivity registering at just 9% of ordinary levels,” as well as partial restrictions on other operators, including MTN and Cellcom, “limiting access to major social media and communication platforms.” The authorities have not issued any public statement about the internet restrictions which, Netblocks said, lasted from October 23 to October 27.
On October 18, the High Authority for Communication (HAC), the Guinean media regulatory body, suspended a news website, Guinéematin.com. “I was not even notified of the decision,” Nounou Baldé, the founder of the website, told Human Rights Watch. “It came right after our Live Facebook broadcasting of the vote counting. This decision has no legal basis and is a form of intimidation against independent journalism.” On November 2, the HAC announced that the suspension had been lifted.
International law and Guinea’s constitution protect the right to freedom of assembly and expression and prohibits excessive use of force by law enforcement officials. The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms states that law enforcement officials may use force only in proportion to the seriousness of the offense, and that the intentional use of lethal force is permitted only when strictly unavoidable to protect life. International human rights standards require internet-based restrictions to be both necessary and proportionate. The United Nations Human Rights Council has condemned measures by governments to prevent or disrupt online access to information.
The United States, France, and the European Union all condemned the post-electoral violence and urged the authorities to conduct credible investigations and to ensure justice and accountability. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights called on Guinean security forces to respect the right to life and physical integrity provided for by the African Union’s Charter and to avoid using lethal force to restore public order. Speaking from a military camp in Conakry on October 30, President Condé urged the security forces not to carry lethal weapons while policing demonstrations and to act in a “civilized way.”
On October 25, during a visit to Conakry, a delegation from the United Nations, African Union, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a regional bloc, urged Guinean authorities to remove security forces deployed around opposition leader Diallo’s residence.
“With tensions still running high and more opposition-led demonstrations planned, Guinean authorities should be vigilant in preventing more abuses,” Allegrozzi said. “Guinea’s regional and international partners should support accountability efforts and urge the government to bring the perpetrators of abuses to account.”