Bring end to "military abuses" says human rights group

Guinean soldiers have committed robberies, extortion and violence against civilians since the military junta took power in December 2008, according to a Human Rights Watch report, ‘Rein in Soldiers’, causing concern that a bad precedent is being set in the lead-up to elections.



In February and March a Guinean woman who lives next door to a group of Nigerians allegedly suspected of involvement in drug trafficking told HRW she was robbed twice by soldiers. “The military threatened to shoot if my aunt did not open the door, so she let them in…They took a laptop, US$600 and jewellery…Because of these visits, I decided to move out of my house.”



Most of the attacks have been carried out by heavily armed soldiers wearing red berets and travelling in both civilian and military vehicles, according to HRW.



Men in military uniforms are accused of raiding offices, shops, warehouses, medical clinics and homes, stealing cars, electronic goods, jewellery and cash partly partly under the guise of cracking down on trafficking, according to the human rights group. Lawyers and judges told HRW military members have entered their court rooms trying to intimidate them during rulings.



It is unclear whether the acts were ordered or sanctioned by senior members of the military junta, the National Council for Democracy and Development (CNDD), HRW’s West Africa head, Corinne Dufka told IRIN, but in some cases the attackers announced they were on an official mission for the CNDD.



In 19 robbery cases HRW investigated, victims said they were not shown any search or arrest warrants.



Tiègboro Camara Moussa, an army captain appointed by the CNDD as secretary to fight against drug trafficking and crime, told IRIN: “What is happening now is regrettable. But I think it is mainly poor manners and training. The army's mission is to protect the citizens of Guinea and their property.”



Military personnel, who remain anonymous, told HRW the criminal acts were not undertaken by the military, but rather by individuals posing as soldiers.



Precedent



According to HRW, under CNDD rule the military has increasingly taken over criminal investigations, which the military and national police handle under Guinean law.



“It is dangerous in the run-up to an eventual election...when the military is perpetrating these crimes without any fear of being held accountable,” said Dufka. “You may wonder what they might do during an electoral process, including intimidation and influencing election outcomes through force,” she warned.



“The lawlessness seen in these abuses is without excuse. The military should end the abuses and allow the police, gendarmerie and judiciary to uphold the rule of law,” stated a recent HRW communiqué.



Drug crackdown



The CNDD has been cracking down on drug traffickers in Guinea, including police executives and Ousmane Conté, eldest son of the late Guinean president, who was imprisoned on 14 April on charges of cocaine trafficking.



Several former government officials have also been accused of corrupt practices.



But no military members have been questioned for alleged drug crimes, Dufka told IRIN.



“The fight against drug trafficking is noble, but they are using it as an excuse to act as common criminals,” said a Guinean lawyer who requested anonymity as he is representing six clients seeking damages for forced entry and armed robbery. “They [military] did not find any of my clients with drugs. In none of these cases is there a legitimate complaint.”



Several foreign nationals have also been targeted, including Chinese owners of medical clinics accused of counterfeiting medicines, according to the report.



“We must remember Guinea has signed international conventions requiring it to protect foreign nationals,” said the CNDD’s Moussa.



Way forward



HRW calls on the CNDD to acknowledge and condemn alleged abuses, to instruct all military personnel to stop any abuses and for the police, and judiciary legal authorities to investigate abuses.



It also calls on the ECOWAS-led International Contact Group on Guinea to encourage these constitutionally-mandated institutions, to do their work.



“It is dangerous for any society when any one power or the military takes on the role(s) of law-enforcer, investigator and judge,” Dufka told IRIN.



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