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Strategies for Community-Led Violence Prevention and Transitional Justice in Guinea

9 Apr 2020 8:21

Strategies for Community-Led Violence Prevention and Transitional Justice in Guinea

Written by: Sarah Case, Program Manager: Global Transitional Justice Initiative, International Coalition of Sites of Conscience

 “The absence of memory is the cause of repeating cycles of violence in our country; we don’t like to talk about the past, especially if it’s not a positive one. This is why our work matters.” Mamadou Boussouriou Diallo, COJEDEV

Since March 2017, the Global Initiative for Justice, Truth and Reconciliation (GIJTR)—a consortium of nine organizations offering a multidisciplinary, grassroots approach to transitional justice—has been working collaboratively with civil society organizations and survivors in Guinea to confront the country’s legacy of human rights violations and develop community-led truth, justice and reconciliation strategies to prevent violence from recurring. Like all GIJTR programs, the Consortium’s work in Guinea is rooted in local needs and local partners’ knowledge of the communities they support.[1] The dual focus of the project, simultaneously promoting community healing by addressing past violence while looking forward to create a more just and peaceful future, reflects the intersecting goals of transitional justice and atrocity prevention has yielded useful lessons learned for both fields.

Religious leaders participate in a GIJTR training on transitional justice and violence prevention in Conakry. Photo credit: International Coalition of Sites of Conscience

Religious leaders participate in a GIJTR training on transitional justice and violence prevention in Conakry. Photo credit: International Coalition of Sites of Conscience

Since the country’s independence in 1958, Guinea has faced multiple waves of widespread human rights violations under repressive regimes, frequently occurring around elections or in response to protests. Individuals have been targeted based on ethnic or political affiliation, which are often linked, with specific ethnic groups supporting specific political parties. In the wake of this violence, a culture of impunity has flourished, allowing perpetrators to go unpunished, truths to be buried, tensions to linger and survivors’ stories to remain unheard.[2] While the current government initially demonstrated its willingness to support a broader transitional justice process, the nascent process has been placed on hold indefinitely.  In the meantime, lives continue to be lost through clashes between citizens and security forces, and many young people lack a nuanced understanding of the human rights violations in their country’s recent past.

Within this context, the GIJTR has been working with its Guinean partners to raise awareness on the various transitional justice mechanisms that have been proposed, their importance and the active roles that civil society organizations and marginalized groups like survivors, women and youth can play in their design and implementation. Through targeted training, regional exchanges and the provision of technical and financial support for sub-grant projects, the GIJTR has supported its civil society partners to advance truth-telling, memorialization, psychosocial support and social cohesion at a local level, while advocating for the government to follow-through on its commitment to launching a cohesive national reconciliation process.

Recently, in the lead up to the legislative elections and contentious constitutional referendum that was held on March 22, 2020, the Guinean partners held screenings of a documentary film that highlighted survivor testimonies and organized exhibitions of body maps that gave survivors an opportunity to share their stories directly with youth in all four regions of the country.[3]  A key goal underlying both of these activities was to humanize the suffering that has taken place and combat the divisive, ethnocentric language circulating on social media by demonstrating that it is not simply one ethnic group that has been affected by violence or one that is responsible. At the same time, the local partners have been organizing town hall dialogues with religious leaders, members of the media and other influential figures in their communities to introduce them to key transitional justice concepts and discuss local violence prevention strategies.[4] These strategies have focused on the recent political violence as well as issues specific to each region, such as clashes with mining companies and high rates of sexual and gender-based violence. Many the dialogue participants have committed to joining CONAREG--the National Coalition in Support of Reconciliation in Guinea that was formed by the local project partners—and organizing themselves locally to continue raising awareness about these issues and establish clear channels of communication around the identification of mass violence risk factors and prevention strategies.

The strength of this program comes from the unity of these diverse actors and their recognition that, by focusing on their common goals and actively supporting each other, they can amplify their voices and broaden the reach of their message. It comes from the inclusive and participatory approaches they have developed to violence prevention and transitional justice, which invite individuals to play an active role in envisioning solutions for their communities. It comes from the GIJTR’s long-term commitment to building the capacities of its partners and those partners’ recognition that it will likely take multiple generations to achieve the change they seek. And it is grounded in their understanding that they will not be able to prevent mass violence sustainably without reckoning with the violence in their past.

Participants at a GIJTR body mapping workshop in Conakry. Photo credit: International Coalition of Sites of Conscience

[1] The GIJTR’s work in Guinea is led by the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience (ICSC) in partnership with the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR), and Guinean partners the Guinean Human Rights Organization (OGDH), the Association of Victims, Parents and Friends of the September 28 Massacre (AVIPA), and the Youth Consortium for the Defense of the Rights of Victims of Violence (COJEDEV). The GIJTR also supports the Association of Victims of Camp Boiro (AVCB), the Association of Victims of the Repression (AVR), and Humanity for the Protection of Women and Children (HPFE).

[2] The September 28, 2009 Stadium Massacre and the delays survivors have faced in their quest for justice illustrate the larger challenges Guineans face in confronting the culture of impunity. More information here.

[3] A body map is a life-size drawing created in a week-long workshop that utilizes both symbolic illustrations and text to represent a survivor’s painful memories and contextualize them within their larger life’s journey.

[4] Read more about one of these town hall dialogues.