Freedom in the World
You are here
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Guinea received an upward trend arrow for an easing of repression of the press and fewer attacks on refugees.
Guinea held parliamentary elections in June that had been delayed for two years. The country's most influential opposition parties boycotted the vote, which was marked by low turnout. Although the government of President Lansana Conte created an electoral commission that it said would be independent, the leading Union for Progress party said conditions still did not exist for holding a free and fair vote. The ruling Progress and Unity Party and its allies swept the poll for the National Assembly's 114 seats. Human rights conditions improved slightly in 2002; there were fewer attacks on the press and on refugees from Liberia and Sierra Leone. Many of the Sierra Leonean refugees returned to their country during the year.
Under Ahmed Sekou Toure, Guinea declared independence from France in 1958. Alone among France's many African colonies, it rejected the domination of continued close ties with France. Paris retaliated quickly, removing or destroying all "colonial property" and enforcing an unofficial but devastating economic boycott. Sekou Toure's one-party rule became highly repressive, and Guinea was increasingly impoverished under his Soviet-style economic policies. Lansana Conte seized power in a 1984 coup and was nearly toppled by a 1996 army mutiny. Amid general looting in Conakry, he rallied loyal troops and reestablished his rule.
Guinea's economy has suffered from a world drop in the price of bauxite. The country is the world's second-largest producer of the mineral and is also rich in gold, diamonds, and iron ore.
The Guinean people's constitutional right to freely elect their government is not yet respected in practice. Guinean politics and parties are largely defined along ethnic lines. Lansana Conte was returned to office in a 1998 presidential election that lacked credible opposition, as state patronage and the media strongly backed the incumbent. His reelection to another five-year term, with 54 percent of the vote, was unconvincing, although broad manipulation of the electoral process and opposition disunity probably made more blatant forms of vote rigging unnecessary. Although the polls were an improvement over past elections, hundreds of people were arrested after the vote, including the official third-place finisher, Alpha Conde.
The June 2002 National Assembly elections were not considered fair because of the government's preparations for the vote and the opposition's boycott. The ruling Progress and Unity Party easily won the two-thirds majority required to enact constitutional changes. The EU refused to send observers and financial aid for the vote.
Guinea held a referendum in 2001 on extending presidential terms from five to seven years, allowing for unlimited terms in office, and eliminating presidential age limits. The provisions in the referendum were approved in a flawed vote that was boycotted by members of the opposition and marked by low turnout. Conte's term expires in 2003, but there is little doubt that he will run for president again. The referendum also granted Conte the power to appoint local officials and Supreme Court judges.
While nominally independent, the judicial system remains infected by corruption, nepotism, ethnic bias, and political interference, and lacks resources and training. Minor civil cases are often handled by traditional ethnic-based courts. Arbitrary arrests and detention are common, and persistent maltreatment and torture of detainees is reported. Prison conditions are harsh and sometimes life threatening. Security forces commit abuses, including torture and extrajudicial execution, with impunity. Vigilantism is a problem.
Several statutes restrict freedom of association and assembly in apparent contravention of constitutional guarantees. The government may ban any gathering that "threatens national unity." Nevertheless, human rights groups and many nongovernmental groups operate openly.
The government has wide powers to bar any communications that insult the president or disturb the peace. All broadcasting outlets, as well as the country's largest and only daily newspaper, are state controlled and offer little coverage of the opposition and scant criticism of government policy. The print media have little impact in rural areas, where incomes are low and illiteracy is high. Several weekly newspapers in Conakry offer sharp criticism of the government despite frequent harassment. A restrictive press law allows the government to censor or shutter publications on broad and ill-defined bases. Defamation and slander are considered criminal offenses.
Constitutionally protected religious rights are respected in practice, although the main body representing the country's Muslims, who constitute 85 percent of the population, is government controlled.
Women have far fewer educational and employment opportunities than men, and many societal customs discriminate against women. Constitutionally protected women's rights are often unrealized. Violence against women is said to be prevalent. Spousal abuse is a criminal offense, but security forces rarely intervene in domestic matters. Female genital mutilation is illegal; women's groups are working to eradicate the practice, but it is still widely carried out.
The constitution provides for the right to form and join unions. However, only a very small formal (business) sector exists. Several labor confederations compete in this small market and have the right to bargain collectively.