GUINEA: Rights group says security forces torture with impunity
Detainees in Guinea display scars they say they received through torture by police.
Dakar, 22 August 2006 (IRIN) - Security Forces in Guinea routinely torture, assault and sometimes murder people as part of a culture of impunity that lingers from the era of dictator Ahmed Sekou Toure who died more than 20 years ago, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Tuesday.
In its report, “The Perverse Side of Things: Torture, Inadequate Detention Conditions and Excessive Use of Force by Guinean Security Forces,” HRW said it interviewed 35 people who provided detailed and consistent accounts of mistreatment by police.
Tension is building in Guinea as the danger of a potential power vacuum escalates with the failing health of President Lansana Conte, who took over after Toure died in 1984. Economic woes have triggered several strikes in the past year. Security forces killed at least 13 people during demonstrations linked to a strike in June, according to eyewitness accounts obtained by HRW.
According to HRW, the victims, suspected of common crimes or opposition to the government, are in prison based in part on a confession they made under torture. They languish in cells for years awaiting trial, facing hunger, disease and sometimes death. Twenty of the interviewed detainees had spent more than four years in these conditions.
Many children cited in Tuesday’s report described being beaten, bound with cords, burned with cigarettes and cut with razor blades until they agreed to confess to a crime of which they were accused.
“The police tied my arms behind my back and then hoisted me up in a tree in the courtyard,” said a 16-year-old boy detained in Guinea’s largest prison. “Two policemen were telling me to tell the truth, to admit that I stole the goods. Then they pushed their cigarettes into my arms. At first I maintained my innocence, but I was in so much pain that I had to say I stole it.”
HRW researcher Dustin Sharp spent a month in Guinea conducting interviews in June. He said authorities likely allowed him into the country’s largest prison in the capital, Conakry, to speak with detainees because torture had occurred elsewhere, such as in police stations, not in the prison itself.
Sharp said he counted 70 prisoners who had pronounced circular scars below their elbows or below their shoulders.
“Basically, they tie them tightly with their arms behind their back and many of them are hoisted from a tree or hook,” Sharp said. The nylon cords cut deeply into the skin, creating the circular wounds. “To go in and see the same scars on so many prisoners suggests to me that it is a regular and consistent practice,” Sharp said.
According to Sharp, the torture technique goes back to the era of Sekou Toure. “Almost 25 years after the fall of Sekou Toure and 10 years after Guinea’s transition to multi-party democracy, that the same techniques are happening is very disconcerting,” he said.
“At some point the cycle of impunity needs to be broken. A report like this is a great time for the government to take the initiative and end these practices,” Sharp said.
The Guinean government had no immediate reaction to the HRW report.
Sharp said many of those interviewed spoke of divisions within the military between young, more idealistic, foreign-educated soldiers and an older generation of officers.
“Whether those divisions will actually manifest themselves at a time of crisis is anyone’s guess,” Sharp said. “But you have people talking, saying, ‘Look what happened in Mali and Mauritania’, where coups ousted regimes resisting democracy and respect for human rights.
Sharp said it was unclear how many police officers might be involved in torturing detainees, but that simple steps could be taken to help end impunity.
“If you put one police commander in jail for torturing people it would have a serious impact in the future on the willingness of other police officers to use torture to extract confession,” he said.