Monday, October 26, 2009

Guinea Crisis Seen As “Litmus Test”

The international community as a whole has reacted sharply to the crisis in Guinea. The Economic Community of West African States held a special summit and imposed an arms embargo on the Guinea regime after condemning the “atrocities” committed against demonstrators on September 28th. France, the former colonial power, also imposed an arms embargo. The European Union as a whole has condemned the violence, and its development chief has called for Guinea leader Captain Moussa “Dadis” Camara to be prosecuted for crimes against humanity. The International Criminal Court is investigating such charges in the wake of the deaths of an estimated 157 people and the wounding of more than 1,000 others in the incident. The United Nations Security Council authorized an independent commission of inquiry on the incident. Even China is distancing itself from the Guinea regime, reportedly backing away from a US$7 billion deal with the China International Fund.

The one actor that has been slow to take the Government of Guinea to task is the African Union. The African regional body imposed a deadline on Camara to renounce his ambitions to run for President in the next elections. Not only has Camara failed to meet the deadline, but he now all but guarantees his candidacy, saying: “No one can stop me.” Still, the threatened AU sanctions have yet to materialize. In fact, the AU President, Libyan leader Muamar Ghadafi, issued a statement condemning the AU probe into last month’s government-sponsored violence.

“The African Union strongly rejects this intervention, which it considers as interference in the internal affairs of an independent country.”

Certainly, Ghadafi is well-known for taking an independent stance on African issues, but the AU has not contradicted this view, and combined with the lack of actual action on Guinea, it is sending a message of weakness when other global organizations are taking a strong position in support of Guinea’s beleaguered citizenry. At a time when the Guinean military are engaging in post-incident banditry and brutality, the AU is awaiting further investigation before acting. Rather than condemning the UN investigation, the Camara regime itself is pledging to cooperate. Why then is the AU so passive on this matter?

Of course, Camara’s regime is simultaneously trying to minimize its culpability in this tragedy. Camara claims the incident, which his government says saw only 57 deaths caused largely by trampling by an over-excited crowd, was caused by overly-zealous military forces and an opposition that held an illegal rally. He has at times claimed to be a prisoner of his own army and sounded defiant about what the international committee can do about it. Despite the killings (however many the government is responsible for), the continuing open robberies by soldiers and the untold numbers of women and girls who allegedly have been and still are being raped by soldiers, Camara’s regime has arrested or prosecuted no one.

Recently, the Government of Guinea has reached out to Washington to recruit a team to conduct a fact-finding mission. However, they have received a cool response from those unwilling to take part in a whitewash of the September incident or its continuing aftermath. In the past, the Government of Sudan, the Government of Zimbabwe, the Government of Nigeria under Sani Abacha and other rogue regimes have found it much easier to identify those willing to take a paid trip to see what the government in question wanted them to see and return to the United States as apologists for that regime’s crimes and abuses. The situation in Guinea, however, has been so widely seen as egregious that previously successful appeals are now falling on deaf ears. Even if a team could be put together, it likely would ruin the reputations of those participating rather than help redeem the Camara regime’s reputation. A strongly critical report would be difficult to document if the government does not facilitate a genuine examination, and such an independent probe is not in their interest.

EU development chief Karel de Gucht said the global response to the Guinea situation is “a litmus test on the seriousness of the international community.” The AU would do well to heed his words as other parts of the international community are choosing to isolate the Camara regime – not defend it or postpone action against it.

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