Camp Boiro Memorial

Amnesty International
Annual Report - 1978
Guinea (the Republic of)

During 1977 and the first half of 1978, relations between Guinea and other countries towards whom Guinea has been hostile for most of the 20 years since independence improved considerably. In particular, Guinea drew closer to France, with French firms playing an increasing part in the Guinean economy, and with a possible state visit by the President of France, Giscard d'Estaing, scheduled to take place in the latter part of 1978. In March 1978, a summit conference in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, brought together six West African heads of state to mark Guinea's reconciliation with its neighbours, particularly Ivory Coast and Senegal.
In the past, President Sekou Toure of Guinea has directed insults against both President Houphouet-Boigny of Ivory Coast and President Senghor of Senegal, accusing them of plotting to invade Guinea and to overthrow him. The meeting between President Sekou Toure, so long an enemy of France, with Presidents Houphouet-Boigny and Senghor, both known to support France, has been the clearest sign so far of Guinea's rapprochement with France.
As well as making peace with former enemies abroad, the Guinean Government made several attempts to appease critics of the human rights situation in Guinea during 1977 and 1978. Severe criticism was directed at Guinea by, in particular, the International League for Human Rights which published a report about human rights violations in Guinea in June 1977. In late 1977, a United States aid agreement was delayed for three months until December, when Guinea agreed to accept a new human rights clause in the US Food for Peace program. This amendment was applied to Guinea and four other countries receiving US aid, all of which the United States considered to be responsible for consistent violations of human rights. These countries may receive United States food aid only if they agree to its distribution to poor people who would be seriously short of food without it. Guinea has become increasingly dependent upon food imports to feed the population, and the United States has been the main supplier of rice in recent years. In February 1978, Guinea ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (a treaty legally binding under international law) which it had originally signed in 1967. By ratifying this Covenant, Guinea committed itself to guaranteeing a number of basic human rights, many of which have been violated in recent years.
Guinea's realignment with Western countries and their supporters in Africa come at a time when, despite growing Western involvement in the country, the plight of Guinea's economy, and particularly food shortages, were causing increasing unrest within the country. During 1977, there were a number of demonstrations against the Government's economic policies. The most serious of them took place in four towns at the end of August 1977. In Conakry a crowd of women marched on President Sekou Toure's palace, protesting at market regulations and the activities of the "economic police" who enforced them. Soldiers are reported to have been called in to restore order and eventually ordered to open fire. An unknown number of women are reported to have been killed, although President Sekou Toure later denied that there had been any deaths. He denied also reports that a number of soldiers had been executed for refusing to open fire on the unarmed women demonstrators. After this incident, President Sekou Toure is reported to have offered to resign his post as President of Guinea and Secretary General of the country's only legal political party, the Guinea Democratic Party (Parti Démocratique de Guinée - PDG), if the people no longer wanted him as leader. He also accused "counter-revolutionary elements" of being behind the demonstrations which occurred in Conakry and the three other towns in August. However, shortly afterwards, in early October, another series of protests were reported in six different towns, and more people are said to have been killed.
As a result of the anti-Government demonstrations in August and October, the Guinean authorities arrested a number of people who were alleged to have been behind the protests. Just as after previous crises the President had ordered the arrest of members of his own Government, so, in October 1977, at least two ministers were arrested

  1. the Minister of Transport, Chaikou Thiam and
  2. the Minister of Rural Development for the Kindia Region, Kouramodou Doumbouya.
A number of other people connected with the transport business were arrested also.
The Guinean authorities have continued to refuse to answer questions about the fate of particular political prisoners in Guinea. In June 1977, for example, the Guinean Minister of Foreign Affairs, Fily Cissoko, declined to say what had happened to Diallo Telli, the former Secretary General of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), who was arrested in July 1976. He was answering questions at an OAU meeting in Libreville, in Gabon, but he refused to say whether Diallo Telli was alive or dead: in his words,
"Those who wish to think he is dead are free to do so, and those who want to think he is alive are free to do so."
When the report on Guinea by the International League for Human Rights was published in June 1977, Guinea's Ambassador to the United Nations condemned it and suggested that it was part of a campaign to assist "stateless Guineans who have been paid to do some dirty jobs" to overthrow Guinea's revolutionary Government. When a member of the French Socialist Party (who also belongs to a Guinean opposition organization in exile) condemned the situation in Guinea at a party congress in Nantes in June 1977, President Sekou Toure responded by accusing the French Socialist Party of fascism and comparing its leader, Francois Mitterand, a former ally, to Hitler. The Guinean Government also continued to press for the extradition of Jean-Paul Alata, a former political prisoner in Guinea, who, after being released from prison and sent to France, wrote a book about his experiences in Camp Boiro entitled Prison d'Afrique. The book was seized by the French Government when it appeared in November 1976.
Throughout 1977 and the first half of 1978 Amnesty International continued to express its concern about the large number of political prisoners in Guinea. It is impossible to estimate accurately how many of them there are as so little information about arrests, detentions and trials is made available by the authorities. However, unofficial estimates in early 1978 suggested there were probably between 2,000 and 4,000. The Government has not officially denied these figures, although it has continued to abuse human rights organizations which have publicized political imprisonment in Guinea. Amnesty International has decided against adopting individual prisoners in Guinea because, although there are many prisoners of conscience there, the Guinean authorities seemed unlikely to respond favourably to appeals on behalf of individual prisoners from international organizations such as Amnesty International. Consequently, in April 1978, Amnesty International launched a program of "Prison Adoption" whereby instead of adopting individuals, Amnesty International groups adopted two entire prisons, believed to contain the majority of Guinea's political prisoners: Camp Boiro in Conakry, which holds about 1,500 prisoners, and the Keme Bourema prison camp at Kindia, which probably holds more than 1,000. Conditions are reported to be extremely harsh in both these prison camps. There is serious overcrowding, prisoners receive inadequate food and water, are allowed no exercise, given almost no medical attention and permitted no contact with their families or the outside world. In addition, many of them have been tortured or ill-treated in other ways. As a result, the death rate among prisoners is reported to be very high: many of those who were arrested and imprisoned in 1971, for example, following an attack on Conakry by Portuguese colonial forces and some Guinean exiles in November 1970, are believed to have died while in detention.
The program of "prison adoption" is intended, in the first place, to achieve far-reaching improvements in prison conditions by pressing for the implementation of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. Adoption groups working on the prison cases have also been attempting to publicize the conditions in the two prison camps and bring to international attention the human rights situation in Guinea.
In December 1977, Conakry Radio announced the release of 300 political prisoners. Three of them, all of Lebanese origin, had French nationality and were immediately flown to France. Informed sources suggested that the actual number of prisoners freed was nearer 40 or 50, although some criminal prisoners may have been released in the amnesty to boost the figures. After the meeting in March 1978 between President Sekou Toure and other West African leaders, it was reported that Guinea's most prominent political prisoner, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Conakry, Raymond Marie Tchidimbo, was about to be set free. Monseigneur Tchidimbo had been sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labour in January 1971, together with 67 others convicted of complicity in the raid on Conakry in November 1970. However, although a number of political prisoners and long-term detainees were released on 14 May 1978, the anniversary of the founding of the PDG, Archbishop Tchidimbo was not released; together with most other long-term prisoners, he remained in prison. Among those who were set free was the former Minister of Transport, Chaikou Thiam, whohad been arrested in October 1977.
In June 1978, Amnesty International published a Guinea Briefing Paper. It described the political situation in the country which has led to the present scale of political imprisonment and human rights violations there, In particular it concentrated on five different human rights issues:
  1. the widespread use of prolonged detention, incommunicado and without trial, of suspected opponents of President Sekou Toure's Government;
  2. the inadequacy of judicial procedures and the use of summary and often secret courts to try political prisoners;
  3. the harsh conditions of imprisonment and starvation of political prisoners;
  4. the torture of political detainees both to extract "confessions" and generally to intimidate Government opponents;
  5. the use of the death penalty.

These issues were also at the centre of a campaign launched by Amnesty International to coincide with the publication of the Briefing Paper. In a letter to President Sekou Toure in June 1978 Amnesty International's Secretary General explained the aims of the organization's actions as regards Guinea and appealed to the President to grant an immediate amnesty to political prisoners and to release all long-term detainees. He suggested also that there should be an official public inquiry into reports of torture and the maltreatment of prisoners in Guinea.