Guinea to launch investigation into killing of protestors

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Guinea's military government has said that it is launching what it calls an independent investigation into last week's killing of opposition demonstrators by security forces. Military ruler Captain Moussa Dadis Camara told state television that the commission of inquiry is his government's response to calls from the international community, political opponents, and local human rights groups to prosecute those responsible for last Monday's violence.

A Justice Ministry statement said that the commission will include members of the ruling military council, political parties, trade unions, civil society groups, human rights organizations, lawyers, judges, and university professors.

In all, the military government said 31 people will investigate what happened when security forces opened fire on opposition demonstrators at Conakry's main sports stadium. Human rights groups say at least 157 people were killed in the clashes. The military says 57 people were killed, most in the crush of protesters fleeing the stadium.

Captain Moussa Dadis Camara in August 2009

Captain Camara has blamed both "uncontrollable elements" of the military and political opponents who he said should not have staged an illegal protest.

Opposition leaders say they will not join proposed regional efforts to mediate the crisis unless Captain Camara resigns and his military council is dissolved.

There was no immediate word on whether opposition groups would take part in the military government's probe into the killings last week.

The Economic Community of West African States says it is organizing a regional investigation involving both the United Nations and the African Union.

Human Rights Watch says that is an "excellent move." But it also supports Guinea's own inquiry into the events of September 28.

"You could have up to 150 or even more murders of mostly peaceful demonstrators. Not to mention the horrific sexual abuse that happened against an unknown number of women and other abuses that were happening including theft and looting and so on," said Corinne Dufka, head of the Human Rights Watch operations in West Africa. "This was done by all accounts by members of the security forces. They need to be held accountable."

Dufka said the volume of photographic evidence of sexual assaults against women at the protest should be front and center in any investigation. "You see security forces from a number of different corps," said Dufka. "You have members of the presidential guard. You have what appear to be members of the military, the police, and the gendarmerie. So right there you have a number of people who are responsible."

The demonstrators were protesting Captain Camara's expected run for the presidency. He has not yet formally announced his candidacy, but has told supporters that he will not insult them by ignoring their demands that he run.

The African Union suspended Guinea following Captain Camara's December coup. The AU said it will sanction him later this month unless he makes clear that he will not be a candidate in elections scheduled for January.