A human rights organization on Friday called for “urgent changes” ahead of October presidential vote in Guinea, citing legislative elections and a constitutional referendum in March 2020, “when security forces failed to protect people from election-related and intercommunal violence and committed human rights abuses in Nzérékoré, southeastern Guinea.”
In a 43-page report released on Friday, Human Rights Watch said it found that security forces deployed to provide security for the polls “did not do enough to prevent the killings or widespread destruction of property, and allegedly killed two people and beat and arbitrarily arrested dozens of men.”
The report, “‘They Let People Kill Each Other’: Violence in Nzérékoré During Guinea’s Constitutional Referendum and Legislative Elections,” documents the violence which killed at least 32 people and injured more than 90 as clashes between pro-government and opposition supporters ignited longstanding political and ethnic tensions.
“Guinea’s security forces were either unable or unwilling to halt the devastating violence that accompanied the March legislative elections and constitutional poll in Nzérékoré,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Ahead of preparations for presidential elections in October, the government should take urgent steps to ensure that security forces respect and protect people’s rights to political protest and participation while acting with restraint and respect for human rights.”
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“The violence in Nzérékoré is first and foremost a tragedy for those who lost family members or suffered life-changing injuries, who deserve to see the attackers brought to justice,” Allegrozzi said. “The events also serve as a warning that Guinea’s dangerous mix of political crisis, longstanding ethnic and intercommunal tensions, abusive security forces, and impunity risks further human rights violations ahead of and during the October elections.”
According to the human rights organization, the March 22 constitutional referendum was the culmination of a controversial months-long effort by President Alpha Condé and his supporters to replace the 2010 constitution to pave the way for Condé to run for another term.
The day of the referendum and legislative elections was marred by violence across the country, including in the national capital, Conakry, as opponents of the proposed new constitution clashed with pro-government supporters and the security forces.
“The violence reached its peak in Nzérékoré, Guinea’s second-largest city. Victims and witnesses told Human Rights Watch that the violence often ran along ethnic lines with groups of armed Guerzé, a group seen as sympathetic to the opposition, facing off with equally well-armed ethnic Konianké and Malinké, largely considered ruling party supporters. Some of the victims were apparently targeted based on their ethnic identity. Many were shot, hacked, or beaten to death, and at least one was burned alive. Human Rights Watch also documented one case of a 17-year-old girl raped by a group of armed men.
“Despite the presence of the security forces, including police, gendarmes, and soldiers deployed to provide election security, witnesses said that the security forces and the political authorities did not intervene or respond to desperate calls to stop mobs from attacking people or destroying property,” Human Rights Watch said.
Guinea’s government initially said that people people died, but later admitted a heavier human toll of 30 deaths.
Human Rights Watch said it documented at least 32 killings and found “credible evidence to support an allegation by Guinean human rights groups that the bodies of over two dozen people killed during the violence were removed from Nzérékoré’s regional hospital and secretly buried in a mass grave in the city.”
It quoted relatives as saying that the hospital had refused to hand over their family members’ remains and that they did not know where the bodies had been buried.