Still in the early stages of transitioning into a constitutional democracy after decades of authoritarian rule, Guinea still has significant room for improvement regarding its human rights. Guinea struggles with issues such as state-sponsored violence against dissidents, violence against women and restrictions on freedom of the press. Despite the implementation of the modified Criminal Code in 2016 – which criminalized torture and abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes – the defamation and insulting of public figures remain punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment. With a score of 41 out of 100 in Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2017 report, Guinea continues to be classified as a Partly Free nation.
According to the United States Department of State’s 2016 Human Rights Report on Guinea, the country’s second democratic presidential campaign in 2015 was more peaceful than the previous one in 2010 or the 2013 legislative elections. Incumbent president Alpha Condé won re-election with 58 percent of the vote. The report does mention, however, that a few deaths still occurred during confrontations between demonstrators and state security forces.
Human Rights Watch has reported that the election was flawed, though Condé’s government took steps in 2016 to consolidate the rule of law and address the excessive use of force employed by security forces. Human rights violations by these security forces have reportedly decreased, but the Guinean judiciary appears to have done little to investigate past instances of state-sponsored violence – except the 2009 massacre of unarmed protesters. The massacre occurred under the military rule of Moussa Dadis Camara and resulted in the death of over 100 protesters. According to Human Rights Watch, while the investigation received political and financial support from the government, there was significant failure to suspend high-ranking government suspects from their positions.
In addition to the use of force against dissidents, the freedoms of speech, press and assembly are also restricted in order to decrease public criticism of the government. Since 2016, there have been multiple cases of citizens being imprisoned or fined for defamation or being in “contempt of the President.” In June 2016, journalist Malick Bouya Kébé of a private radio station was fined one million Guinean francs (approximately $112) for complicity in contempt of the President; he failed to interrupt a listener who criticized the president during a phone-in segment. His listener, another journalist, was sentenced to a year in prison and fined 1.5 million Guinean francs (approximately $168). To put this in perspective, the average annual income in Guinea is approximately $446. Both were tried without access to a lawyer.
Discrimination and violence against women and girls have also been human rights issues needing improvement in Guinea. In accordance with Guinean law, violence against women causing injury is punishable by up to five years in prison and a maximum fine of 30,000 Guinean francs (approximately $3.30). Though the law does not specifically address domestic violence, a charge of general assault carries a sentence of two to five years and a fine of up to 300,000 Guinean francs (approximately $33). Though grounds for divorce, the U.S. State Department has found that police rarely intervene in instances of domestic violence. It has also been reported that approximately 96 percent of Guinean women and girls have undergone female genital mutilation or cutting.
Key international actors such as the European Union, the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission and the International Criminal Court have undertaken efforts to strengthen judicial reforms, support security sector reform and engage national authorities on progress in investigations into state-sponsored violence. In its 2017 World Report, Human Rights Watch asserts that there must be more international pressure put on the Guinean government from these international actors in order for there to be lasting improvements made on human rights in Guinea.
– Amanda Quinn