Guinea: Coup Further Complicates Massacre Justice

By Elise Keppler: Associate Director, International Justice Program

The trial of suspects in the massacre of more than 150 people and the rape of dozens of women in a Guinea stadium on September 28, 2009, should begin as soon as possible, six human rights groups said today. Twelve years later, victims and their families should not have to wait any longer for justice to finally be delivered.

As Guinea embarks on a political transition process after the September 5, 2021 coup, the opening of this trial would send a strong signal that the authorities are willing to put respect for human rights and the fight against impunity at the center of their priorities.

The groups are the Association of Victims, Relatives and Friends of September 28, 2009 (AVIPA), Equal Rights for All (MDT), the Guinean Human and Citizen Rights Organization (OGDH), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch.

Although 12 years have gone by, the need for justice remains as strong as ever for the survivors of the massacre and victims’ families. Just one year ago, the six groups had denounced the delays and time wasted in organizing the trial. The wait has become unbearable for the survivors and victims’ families, the groups said, given that the investigation phase concluded in late 2017. The Guinean government has promised several times to begin the trial as soon as possible, and no later than June 2020. The organizations remain concerned by an evident lack of will to complete preparations for this trial in Guinea.

In recent months, the steering committee overseeing the preparations for the trial, made up of government officials and international partners, had resumed its work and adopted a road map. Construction had progressed at Conakry’s Court of Appeal, where the trial is to take place, and a training session for judges was planned by the French government. However, despite these efforts, no trial date has yet been set.

“Given the deteriorating health of the survivors, we, together with the Association of Victims, Relatives, and Friends of September 28, 2009, are calling for this year to be the last commemoration before justice is done,” said Aissatou Diallo, a survivor of the September 28 events. “It is urgent for the trial to be held and reparations awarded before all the victims die.”

Residents cheer on army soldiers after the uprising that led to the toppling of President Alpha Conde in Kaloum neighborhood of Conakry, Guinea September 6, 2021, REUTERS/Souleymane Camara NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES

The investigation by Guinean judges began in February 2010. More than 13 suspects were charged, 11 of whom were sent for trial. Among them is Moussa Dadis Camara, the former leader of the National Council for Democracy and Development junta that ruled Guinea in September 2009, who is living in exile in Burkina Faso. Some of the suspects who have been charged held influential positions until the recent coup, including Moussa Tiegboro Camara, who was in charge of fighting drug trafficking and organized crime.

The organizations are closely following Guinea’s period of political transition after the National Committee for Reconciliation and Development (Comité national du rassemblement et du développement, CNRD) took power on September 5, and reiterated their call for the respect of human rights and fundamental liberties of all Guineans. As the CNRD leader, Mamady Doumbouya, stated that “justice will be the compass guiding every Guinean citizen,” the fight against impunity should be at the heart of the authorities’ actions, the groups said.

“It is more than urgent for Guinea to put an end to the cycle of impunity that has deeply marked the country’s history for more than 60 years,” the groups said. “We remind the authorities that international law requires states to provide effective remedies to victims of human rights violations and that any lack of justice or the adoption of an amnesty for serious crimes is incompatible with these requirements.”

“It is also essential for the new authorities to guarantee the protection of human rights defenders and activists who have suffered numerous violations of their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly for years,” the groups said. “The new authorities should make justice a prerequisite of their actions.”

The International Criminal Court (ICC) opened a preliminary examination of the situation in Guinea in October 2009. Designed as a court of last resort for the most serious crimes, the ICC steps in when national courts are unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute such cases. In its latest report, the ICC had expressed its disappointment that “the trial has not yet started and no timeline or action plan for the opening of the trial has been communicated by the Government of Guinea.” The ICC had indicated that “the Guinean authorities must demonstrate, in the coming months, their will and ability to combat impunity and to prevent renewed cycles of violence.”

Guinea’s partners, particularly the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union, the European Union, the ICC, and the United Nations should pay increased attention to the current situation in the country and strengthen their actions and support, on the one hand, for the September 28 trial to be organized as soon as possible, and on the other, for the new authorities in Guinea to respect human rights.

Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea resigns

Cardinal Robert Sarah. Photo credit: Vatican News

Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea as head of the Vatican’s liturgy department, removing a conservative who was seen as an opponent of the pontiff’s vision for the church.

In a statement released on Saturday, the Holy See Press Office announced that Sarah stepped down from his leadership position. The Vatican did not provide any reason for his resignation or name a successor.

Sarah submitted his resignation as required by church law last June when he turned 75. But cardinals are often allowed to remain in their posts for a few years longer, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Shortly after the announcement, Sarah posted a statement on Twitter in which he alluded to his retirement age. “I am in God’s hands. The only rock is Christ. We will meet again very soon in Rome and elsewhere,” he wrote in French.

Cardinal Robert Sarah preaches at Chartres Cathedral

In 2014, Pope Francis appointed Sarah as prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. However, as the Journal notes, it became clear that the African cardinal and the pope shared very different visions on theological matters, including on topics such as homosexuality and the church’s relationship with the Muslim world.

Last year, the cardinal caused controversy after co-writing a book in which he defended the “necessity” of celibacy in the priesthood. His co-author, retired Pope Benedict XVI, later put distance between himself and the book and asked for his name to be taken off as co-author.

Story credit: NPR

Civil Society in Sierra Leone raises concerns over positive cases of Ebola in Guinea

Civil society in Sierra Leone are once again calling on the Government of Sierra Leone to increase sensitization of Ebola awareness campaigns in the country after confirm cases of the virus in Guinea.

Shiekh Tamba Jusu, the chairman of the Kombra Network in iKailahun district, east of Sierra Leone, said massive sensitization is needed to prevent the spillover of Ebola into the country.

Jusu said the authorities must pay attention to public awareness raisng as part of Sierra Leone’s community engagement efforts in response to the threat of the Ebola epidemic across the border.

“Massive sensitization is what we are asking local authorities to give us support for, and we want them to consider particularly religious leaders to preach to the people through sermons, which is an effective way of appealing to people,” Jusu told KMN.

The Guinean government last week confirmed the outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), after four people reportedly died after exhibiting symptoms akin to the hemorrhagic fever disease.

As of Thursday, February 17, reports indicated that the death toll had increased to five, as health authorities struggle to prevent wide spread transmission.

The World Health organization has issued an alert to six countries neighboring Guinea, which are said to be at high risk of transmission of the virus in the event the epidemic gets out of hand. These countries include Guinea’s MRU neighbors – Sierra Leone, Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire, as well as Senegal and Guinea Bissau. 

The latest Ebola outbreak in Guinea comes nearly five years after the end of the 2014-2016 West African Ebola epidemic, which also began in Guinea and spread to nine other countries across the world, including Liberia and Sierra Leone. The three MRU countries were the worst affected, as they accounted for most of the cases (nearly 30, 000) and fatalities (over 11, 000). 

The 2014 outbreak entered Sierra Leone through Kailahun, which is close to Guinea’s Forest Region. According to local authorities, there are multiple illegal border crossing points between the two countries at that end. And this, says Mr Jusus, is a major concern.

However, Sierra Leone and Guinea have agreed on opening their borders.

Jusus says the reopening of the border has made the job more complicated and requiring more attention to control movement across the borders.

“Strategies are there in place, but we still see the border issue as unfortunate,” he said. 

He added: “We cannot do anything about it because it is an agreement between the leaders… but that has increased the work on us, because we have a lot of porous borders. At the moment the Moa River is such that people can even cross it by foot.”

Sierra Leone, Guinea Sign Communique, Commit to Mutual Security, Public Health and Socio-Economic Interests

President Julius Maada Bio has concluded his 2-day working visit to Conakry where the two countries committed to reopening on Thursday 18 Feb the land border that was closed since early last year due to COVID-19.

The communique states that: “Based on mutual reassurances and enhanced mutual confidence…the President of the Republic of Guinea Professor Alpha Conde has reviewed the security situation in his country and has agreed to reopen its borders with the Republic of Sierra Leone effective from Thursday 18 February 2021 at 8:00 hours GMT”.

“The two leaders also agreed to reactivate the Joint Technical Committee on Yenga, which shall commence sittings in Nongowa, on 3 March 2021. They also agreed to implement the agreement to Joint Border Patrols along the common border areas from 5 March 2021,” the document reads, adding that the two foreign ministers would immediately restart the holding of the Joint Commission of Cooperation meetings between the two countries.

The communique also contains a raft of bilateral agreements to cooperate with each other on security, defence, public health, ICT, mining, justice, transport, private investments, and cultural exchanges. The Heads of State further pledged to use their good offices to provide the necessary capacity to address the current and emerging public health emergency such
as COVID-19 and EBOLA in the two countries.

“The two Heads of State expressed their satisfaction with the strategies by the two countries in the COVID-19 pandemic and reaffirmed their determination to coordinate their efforts in obtaining vaccines for their respective populations,” the document reads.

At the sub regional level, President Bio and President Conde welcomed the latest decisions for the return of Mali to constitutional order, in accordance with the provisions of ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance and reiterated their continental commitment to always defend the African interest.

“They also welcomed the decision of the African Union Heads of State and Government for launching the first operational stage of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement…and commended the implementation of the 2063 agenda and other reforms initiated at the African Union,” the communique adds.

President Bio, whose government delegation also included deputy leader of the main opposition All People’s Congress in Parliament, Alhaji Ibrahim Ben Kargbo and former APC Minister of Public Affairs, Information and later Mines, Alhaji Alpha Sahid Bakar Kanu, will return today Tuesday 16 February 2021

Sierra Leone is better prepared now to respond to the Ebola outbreak – Saffea Gborie

 By Isaac Unisa Kamara

Saffea Gborie, communications officer at the World Health Organization Country Office in Freetown, Sierra Leone has said Sierra Leone is better prepared to respond to any Ebola outbreak than before.

When contacted at his Freetown office by SPECIMEN today, he said with seven confirmed cases and three dead in neighboring Guinea, the Government of Sierra Leone has activated Emergency Response to level 2 and in readiness to undertaking surveillance to make sure there is no case in the country. He said the WHO is providing technical support at the strategic and operational level and working in collaboration with the Ministry of Health.

Following a Press Release from the Government of the Republic of Guinea on Sunday February 14, 2021, confirming seven reported cases of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) including three deaths, President Bio, instructed the Ministry of Health and Sanitation to inform the general public that even though there are no reported cases of EVD in Sierra Leone, the government should take prudent action to prevent any introduction of the virus into the country and to institute measures to protect the lives of Sierra Leoneans.

“The Government of Sierra Leone is working with the leadership of the WHO to understand the situation and the necessary steps that should be taken in the event of a reported case,” he noted, adding that the Ministry of Health has already dispatched Rapid Response Teams to border districts. “The teams are carryout surveillance and engage the communities,” he said.

He however noted that with present laboratory and strong surveillance systems, Sierra Leone is better prepared now than in 2014 in responding to any outbreak. “Lessons learned from 2014 has put the country in a better position to respond to public emergencies. The structures the country has now were not there before”.

Ebola kills four in Guinea in first resurgence of disease in five years

Four people have died of Ebola in Guinea in the first resurgence of the disease in five years, the country’s health minister said Saturday.

Remy Lamah told AFP that officials were “really concerned” about the deaths, the first since a 2013-16 epidemic — which began in Guinea — left 11,300 dead across the region.

One of the latest victims in Guinea was a nurse who fell ill in late January and was buried on 1 February, National Health Security Agency head Sakoba Keita told local media. “Among those who took part in the burial, eight people showed symptoms: diarrhoea, vomiting and bleeding,” he said. “Three of them died and four others are in hospital.”

The four deaths from Ebola hemorrhagic fever occurred in the south-east region of Nzerekore, he said.

The four deaths from Ebola hemorrhagic fever occurred in the southeast region of Nzerekore, he said.

Keita also told local media that one patient had “escaped” but had been found and hospitalized in the capital, Conakry. He confirmed the comments to AFP without giving further detail.

The World Health Organization has eyed each new outbreak since 2016 with great concern, treating the most recent one in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as an international health emergency.

A rapidly spreading virus with a high fatality rate and no cure, Ebola was first recorded in Guinea in 2013 with the death of a local two-year-old boy. This marked the first outbreak of Ebola in all of West Africa. Since then, the highly fatal virus has been spreading throughout neighboring countries such as Sierra Leone and Liberia, leaving a trail of death behind it.

An epidemic of Ebola virus disease in Guinea from 2013 to 2016 represents the first ever outbreak of Ebola in a West African country. Previous outbreaks have been confined to several countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The epidemic, which began with the death of a two-year-old boy, was part of a larger Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa which spread through Guinea and the neighboring countries of Liberia and Sierra Leone, with minor outbreaks occurring in SenegalNigeria, and Mali. In December 2015, Guinea was declared free of Ebola transmission by the U.N. World Health Organization, however further cases continued to be reported from March 2016. The country was again declared as Ebola-free in June 2016.

Sierra Leone president engages Guinean authorities on the Yenga stalemate

A Guinean government delegation on Monday met with Sierra Leone officials amidst growing concerns over closure of the border at Kambia, and increased instances of incursions by Guinean troops in Yenga, east of Sierra Leone.

The visit comes almost two weeks after President Bio sent a delegation to Conakry to engage President Conde on the border closure at Kambia with increased instances of incursions by Guinean troops in the Yenga area and 3 weeks after he raised the issue with the 58th Ordinary Session of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government.

Guinean troops entered Yenga more than a decade ago to help the Sierra Leonean army fight the rebels. In 2005, Sierra Leone and Guinea signed an agreement confirming Yenga – a tiny town on the banks of the Makona River – belonged to Sierra Leone.

However, Guinean troops have remained in the town.

The Guinean delegation led by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Guineans Abroad, Dr Ibrahim Khalil Kaba, has today conveyed a letter from Guinea’s President Alpha Conde to His Excellency President Dr Julius Maada Bio at State House.  

The team comprising the minister, Dr Kaba, Guinean Ambassador to Sierra Leone, Tejan Conde, and other top-ranking officials from the country’s Ministry of National Defence and Ministry of Security and Civil Protection also held a closed-door meeting with President Bio and his government.

Also present on the part of the government of Sierra Leone were the Speaker of Parliament, Hon. Dr Abass Chernor Bundu, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nabeela Tunis, Minister of Defence, Brig. (Rtd) Kellie Conteh, Minister of Information and Communications, Mohamed Swaray and his deputy Mamadi Gobeh Kamara, and the Ambassador to Guinea, Alimamy Bangura.