11:00 A.M. EDT
MR. FITZGERALD: (In progress) We, the United States, almost immediately cut certain development assistance to Guinea. We felt that a democratic process should have happened almost immediately rather than basically a military junta to lead the country. And by late May, I think many of the people on the ground in Guinea, certainly within the international community, were having their doubts about President Camara.
In any case, August was the first mention that Dadis would run for president, again going back against his word. And he insists – when I met him recently, he insisted that he never said any such thing, but in fact, it was with a group of the International Contact Group based in Guinea at that time, the ambassadors or chargés of various missions. And they heard him distinctly say, in fact, he was going to run for elections. Also in August, he pushed the elections back to 2010. It’s now set for January 31st, in principle.
And then of course, this all led up to the September 28th massacre. I call it a massacre because at least 150 people died. And even more distressing was the horrific violence that the military and the armed forces perpetrated on women who were involved in that opposition protest. Again, there is a count of about 157 people who were believed killed. There were no warning shots fired. And these troops were members of the Presidential Red Beret at the Presidential Guard.
Now, I would argue that it’s the Presidential Guard that was quite different – that is quite different than the Presidential Guard that served to protect President Conte. And in fact, I would say that throughout the past year, I think the number of Forestier, the ethnicity, the ethnic group in Guinea, of which Dadis and many of his lieutenants belonged to, is the Forestier. They’re an ethnic group that’s based very close to the Liberian border. And he’s been bringing more and more Forestier into the military, and I would say that the majority of the Red Berets, those involved in the September 28th attacks, are – were, in fact, members of his ethnic group, the Forestier.
Now it’s a bit more complicated than that since there’s some Forestier clans who don’t agree with Dadis, but nevertheless, I think it’s fair to say that he continues to use ethnic tactics to divide, certainly, the military as well as the country.
In any case, the September 28th events were so shocking that you had Secretary of State Clinton shortly thereafter speak out certainly about the killings of at least 150 people, but I think she – even more, she was just shocked at the way the violence was carried out against women. And what we’re learning now – in fact, out of the Human Rights Watch investigation, recent one, I think it’s fair to say we’re finding out that the number of women who were attacked and abused, originally thought to be around 30, was in fact a number probably closer to 50 or more than 50. What we’re hearing now – very disturbing news – that a lot of these women were, in fact, kidnapped, taken back to the military camp or private houses and were abused over several days. Many of them died from their – from the trauma.
So it’s – I think the international community finally realized on September 28th that this wasn’t an ordinary – certainly not a peaceful transition to democratic rule, and we really wonder who is in charge of the military, if anyone was in charge of the military, in Guinea. Our policy up to that point had been one of – again, typically, when there’s a coup in a country, we cut off, we limit engagement.
But based on the September 28th attacks, the State Department sent me out to talk face to face with Dadis Camara and to explain where we were coming from and to explain our new policy and how, frankly, we were disgusted by the events of September 28th, and it was completely unacceptable, and that he bore primary responsibility.
I’m happy to talk about my meetings with Dadis later on, but as far as U.S. policy right now and since August, we have supported and coordinated very closely with ECOWAS, the sub-regional organization based in Abuja. We’ve also worked very closely with the African Union and their peace and security committee. We are very pleased that the United Nations – that ECOWAS invited the United Nations to come in to set up a commission of inquiry. And we are hoping and working with our UN colleagues to make sure that that commission gets set up and sent out to the field as quickly as possible. What we have to show is that there is no impunity and that this sort of impunity will not be tolerated, that this sort of impunity is unacceptable in the region, on the continent, and throughout the world.
Meantime, we’ve coordinated a lot of things with the AU and EU. For instance, EU earlier this week or late last week put on a visa ban, visa sanctions, and we’ve done the same. It was announced yesterday at the State Department that we have targeted visa sanctions. And legally or technically, I can’t give you the names, but I can tell you that we have targeted visa sanctions against the highest-ranking people in Guinea right now, as well as members of the CNDD, the military junta, high-ranking members of the government, and high-ranking people who surround Dadis – his economic advisors, his political advisors, people who have basically profited from this regime.
And I think what we’re trying to do – I know what the U.S. is trying to do – and what we’re coordinating with our partners is to keep the pressure on. ECOWAS, of course, has also named a mediator. Burkinami President Blaise Compaore – we support President Compaore’s efforts to try to mediate this difficult period. He is trying to start up talks between Dadis Camara and the junta with the Force Vives combination of the trade union’s opposition parties and civil society that is very active and has been very active in Guinea.
The AU recently – I think it was yesterday, in fact – also passed sanctions against Guinea, financial sanctions, financial asset sanctions, which is a major step. I would also say that the U.S. is exploring that as well. The State Department, in coordination with the Treasury Department, are examining what sort of financial or asset freezes we can bring into place to keep the pressure on.
When I sat down with Dadis, I said the United States wants you to step aside and we want you to allow the transition that you called for earlier on to go forward, and that we can have open and transparent elections starting with local elections and then followed by presidential elections. But we have no illusions. I mean, Guinea – part of the reason we – I think we are all reacting to the situation in Guinea beyond even the really horrific violence of September 28th is you look at Guinea, the first independent country in Africa – certainly the Francophone countries in West Africa in 1958 – from 1958 to 2008, they had a total of two leaders. Both served approximately 25 years, both were authoritarian, and both completely ruled the country. There was little democracy or no democracy.
And that’s an important thing. We believe, the U.S. Government believes, that the Guineans now have the right and really merit the opportunity to have a democratic election. Fifty years of authoritarian rule is – has been debilitating to the country. Money that went to the armed forces that could have been or should have been spent on health and education, services, social services was basically squandered. In any case, the time is right now for democracy, for the people of Guinea to get the elections that they were hoping for.
I think I’ll leave it at that. Again, we’re also working very closely with the European Union, and we continue to work with our partners to try to assist this transition to move forward. Thank you. I’m happy to take questions.
MODERATOR: Just remember to please state your name and your organization.
QUESTION: Yes, I’m Clothilde Le Coz. I’m working for Reporters Without Borders.
MR. FITZGERALD: Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you for – especially about democracy, and we are, of course, defending journalists there, and as you know, they aren’t so well, and they have been threatened.
MR. FITZGERALD: Absolutely.
QUESTION: I guess I got two questions. The first one would be: Would the U.S. do something to protect free speech and freedom of expression in the country? And the second one is, our organization ask the UN to extend the investigation not only on what happened on the 28th, but afterwards? And especially to take into account what happened with journalists. Would you support such a call?
MR. FITZGERALD: Two very, very good questions. Yes – well, let me take the second one first because I didn’t discuss that and probably I should have. What we’ve seen since – and I would make an argument that the events of September 28th were a crackdown on the opposition. There’s no question about it. President Dadis Camara knew of the march, spoke with one of the march leaders early in the morning, 1:00 or 2:00 a.m., and told him not to go forward.
But following September 28th, there’s also been massive intimidation, not only against the opposition parties. We’ve had at least – we’ve seen at least four people killed under mysterious circumstances who were members of the opposition. We’ve seen 10 hunger strikers, young democracy activists, arrested. We don’t know what’s happened to them. We’ve seen reporters – the repression of free speech, which, again the United States holds as unacceptable.
There is no question that the intimidation continues. One could argue that the September 28th attacks, in fact, were a form of intimidation. Let’s be honest with what happened, certainly, against the women. And many of you know Guinea probably better than I do, but I’ve served in Africa and I’ve served in African countries with large Muslim populations. The women in Guinea played an important role – have played and continue to play an important role in society. And they have respect, a great deal of respect, from their fellow citizens.
But what we saw were rapes and sexual abuse, sexual assaults in broad daylight against such a valued part of the population. It was unprecedented in Guinea and really shocking. It was almost like there were two degrees – when I met with the Force Vive at the Embassy shortly after I arrived, it was two degrees of separation. I mean, so many of the people there knew people who had been attacked, raped or sexually assaulted. And they seemed almost – and they were very traumatized by it, that they had never seen anything like this.
So if anything, I think it was a signal to the opposition that – don’t run, don’t show any opposition to my candidacy – and I think this is Dadis Camara’s view. Now, Dadis Camara also told me, “I didn’t have anything to do with it. I was at the military base at the time. I was in my office. Yes, I knew they were going to march. I had heard something about that. So immediately, I tried to go out there and prevent any sort of violence and bloodshed.”
And I told him, quite frankly, I said, “Mr. President, that doesn’t work. You are the head of the junta. You call yourself the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and yet you did nothing to stop it. You were unable to stop it. The responsibility rests with you. The buck stops with you, Mr. President, whether you like it or not. And you have explaining to do to the international community.”
To give you also an idea of the way that Dadis’s mind – that I found Dadis Camara – I found him to be very erratic, very impassioned about his thoughts, but not very clear. On the one hand, at one point, he told me, “Look, look, I’ve only been in charge for eight months. The two leaders who preceded me were in power for 50 years. They failed in training the army. Even I can’t control – after eight months, even I can’t control the army.” But then, two beats later in another statement he says, “But I can’t leave power because I’m the only one who can control the army.”
So it’s that dissonance that exists within Dadis Camara’s own mind, I think, that is very troubling. Freedom of expression is a critical human right that we believe strongly in and that needs to return to Guinea.
MODERATOR: I would like to recognize the reporter from New York, please.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. My name is (inaudible) and thank you for inviting me. I actually have two questions, and the first one is that – in just a week, you just mentioned that the U.S. and the European Union, the African Union, and the (inaudible) have all adopted sanctions, there are going to be sanctions against the members of CNDD and the military junta.
MR. FITZGERALD: Correct.
QUESTION: But I know that these are (inaudible) sanctions, but while we speak, we know that there are a lot of, still, women who are held in prison in Guinea where they are used as sexual slaves. I wonder, is there any (inaudible) that United States can take to free those women and then prevent them from another mass rape?
MR. FITZGERALD: Well, again --
QUESTION: That is my question.
MR. FITZGERALD: Thank you. Do we want to go one by one or --
MR. FITZGERALD: Another question or you want me to answer that?
MR. FITZGERALD: Okay.
MODERATOR: Just one question first, thank you.
MR. FITZGERALD: All right. I understand your question. I think you’re probably right that there are women still being held against their will. That’s certainly a strong possibility. I’d say that our most immediate way to help those women is through the mediation of Blaise Compaore. He is meeting frequently with members of – the advisors who are around Dadis Camara. I think the early deployment of the UN Commission of Inquiry will also help. They will follow up on rumors.
I would underline that I think the UN commission – I don’t want to speak for the UN, but I would imagine it’s less forensic. In other words, they’re not going to be exhuming bodies, or likely not, but more of a fact-finding mission dealing with eyewitnesses, dealing with victims of the violence on September 28th. I think that they will also try to track down rumors, and I would – the United States would like to work with them to help them to carry this out.
So I think what we have right now to do is to get the team on the ground as soon as possible and also to work through the mediator who is in daily contact with the junta about these disappearances.
MODERATOR: New York?
QUESTION: The second question is (inaudible).
MODERATOR: Excuse me, New York, before you continue, can you just give us your name and your organization?
QUESTION: Oh, thank you. My name is Abdulay Diallo. I work for Guinea News.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
QUESTION: It’s a newspaper online news organization. My second question is that yesterday I was at the briefing at the State Department, Mr. DAS mentioned the fact that the U.S. Congress is working on a piece of legislation on the situation in Guinea. You mentioned (inaudible). Are there some more details about that situation?
MR. FITZGERALD: I believe it’s a resolution condemning the Guinean Government and Captain Dadis Camara for the mistreatment – the violence of September 28th, and in particular, the mistreatment and sexual attacks against the women of Guinea. It’s a resolution, it is a piece of legislation, but it carries – it’s basically the sense of the congress.
MODERATOR: Yes, please. Your name and your organization?
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you very much. My name is Williams Ekanem and I work for Business World in Nigeria. Of your interactions with him, hopefully, you met with him and formed reports. You must look at (inaudible) any immediate way out. In the event of Camara still being adamant, what do you think you – what will be the way forward? That is the first question.
And number two, you talked of visa restrictions. Somehow, unconfirmed reports has it that Toto Camara, the deputy, is in the U.S. Is this restriction affecting you or any of – how are you going to deal with that? Thank you.
MR. FITZGERALD: Yes. Thank you for your questions. On the way forward, again, our response would be we’re working very closely with the sub-regional organization ECOWAS, who would be in the best position, frankly, to help the Guinean state if Dadis Camara were to step down. I think it’s quite clear that nobody controls the military in Guinea, and obviously, a strong leader from within the Guinean armed forces would be necessary, I think, to work with a civilian transitional government to ensure that the military remains in the barracks while campaigning and the functioning of government goes on. But it’s very difficult.
As far as Toto Camara, Toto Camara, of course, was beaten in the streets by soldiers, mugged, and nothing ever happened to the soldiers. I think Toto Camara, who is very well-respected – I think he served as the defense attaché for Guinea in the United States for a number of years, and he’s well known in the United States – but I think what we’re seeing here in Guinea, and it’s a problem, I think, that we’re going to face throughout Africa as the population grows younger and younger – Dadis Camara, his defense minister, Sekouba Konate represent the younger generation of officers.
So Toto Camara probably doesn’t – the fact that he was beaten up and nothing really happened to him, probably has his supporters within the military. But right now, what we’re seeing is that the younger guard, the younger group of officers have seized control and seized power in Guinea. So while it’s possible that Toto Camara could play a role, we’re dealing with a new set of characters in charge of the military.
QUESTION: Okay, (inaudible).
MR. FITZGERALD: Yes.
QUESTION: Yes, Menelik Zeleke from PGTV News. Two questions: The first one is that after the atrocity in September, we have reports that the Chinese are still investing money into Guinea even though that the international partners have restricted the ideal of it. What are we looking at as communicating the efforts with China not to do anything in contrast? Number one question.
The second question is: The elections in Guinea about to be held, and secondary is that we see that we know that there are atrocities and things of this magnitude which perhaps in the future might hinder the fact that a fair election to be placed in Guinea. Are the United States and its allies are in a position to go into Guinea or to make sanctions or any other process to Guinea to make sure that the election be held there?
MR. FITZGERALD: Right. As we’ve seen in other countries like the DRC with the UN peacekeeping force there and others – both very good questions. On the Chinese, yes, it’s true, I believe they are increasing their investments in Guinea. As you know, they – the Chinese have played a major role inside of Africa in recent years, and this is very difficult, no doubt about it, that anyone should be supporting the Dadis Camara regime and accepting it as the legitimate government of Guinea.
We do talk with the Chinese. In particular, most recently, there was a UN Security Council resolution that passed. The Chinese didn’t block it. I believe the French were the ones, the main ones, who worked with the Chinese to find acceptable language, but it’s a pretty strong resolution, and again, the Chinese did not block it.
As far as the elections in theory, the last time we heard from Dadis Camara, the elections were slated for January 31st. That is very soon. A lot of the election preparations have already begun. There are voter rolls and a number of our partners are working, and in fact, one of the things that we didn’t cut off was election funding when we decided to shut down our development assistance. Because we have a strong hope that in fact, the elections will take place. But you’re right; right now, there is no political space. The opposition is shut down in the same way that the journalists have been harassed and driven to silence. I think the opposition is in a very difficult spot.
Can you have credible elections tomorrow? Absolutely not. Can you have credible elections if Captain Dadis Camara runs? No. I’d say you can’t have credible elections. The people of Guinea deserve more. Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: I just wanted to do a follow-up. This is James Butty, Voice of America. The program is Daybreak Africa. He mentioned, I think, the deputy to Toto Camara?
MR. FITZGERALD: Yes.
QUESTION: He mentioned that he is in the United States?
MR. FITZGERALD: I don’t know that.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks. And then the election funding you say is still continuing?
MR. FITZGERALD: Yes.
QUESTION: If Dadis Camara decides tomorrow that he is going to run – I mean, he’s being persuaded now not to run, but if he still want to run, are we going to continue to support the election funding?
MR. FITZGERALD: I mean, we’d have to take a look, a long careful look, review our options. But certainly, as I said to the other gentleman, the credibility of elections where you have a junta leader basically controlling the transition, it would be very difficult to see how elections like that would be fair – extremely difficult.
QUESTION: I have a question.
MR. FITZGERALD: Yeah, please.
QUESTION: Frederick Nnoma Addison, AMIP News. In view of how the U.S. has handled situations like this in the past, how can anybody be assured of consistency? And this is what I mean by that: This is not the first time a situation like this is happening on the continent. A typical example would be Ghana, about 20 years ago --
MR. FITZGERALD: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- where President Rawlings came into office through the barrel of a gun. Very similar situation – he actually executed heads of state, previous heads of state. And at the time, the U.S., together with the international community, condemned it. Five, 10 years down the line, the same President Rawlings became a darling of the United States. He was hosted by President Clinton in a state dinner. So that’s one scenario where somebody came into office through the barrel of a gun, was condemned, but later on became a good ally.
Now how can we be consistent that this hard line that the U.S. has taken against Guinea is going to continue that way and not change?
MR. FITZGERALD: Well, that’s a very good question. I can tell you that we will be consistent on Guinea. That’s the most important thing at this point. I can’t control Jerry Rawlings from 1980 or in the ‘70s when he took power, but I can tell you that our policy is based – our Africa policy is very straightforward. I’d ask you to reread President Obama’s remarks in Accra in Ghana. It’s very straightforward.
And when I met with President Dadis Camara, he didn’t seem to understand that, and he said, “You know, I am very eager to work with the United States. We’re doing a lot of stuff in counternarcotics, we’re doing a lot of stuff to keep Islamic extremist groups out of here,” and I said, “No, no, no, you’ve got to go back to the speech. You’ve got to go back to President Obama’s speech.” Our goal, our number one objective, is to strengthen democratic institutions and to ensure the basic human dignity and human rights of people on the continent. And he missed the point.
I would also say the concern that many have in the international community is that the people of Guinea – that the people of Guinea have put up with such authoritarian leaders in the past, 25 years at a time – Sekou Toure and then President Conte – my concern is the longer that Dadis is in office, the more likely the Guinean people used to such authoritarian leaders are going to say, well, he’s there, we’re just going to have to get on with our lives.
So I think – and that’s why we’re calling on the UN to have the commission of inquiry on the ground as quickly as possible, we’re calling on Blaise Compaore and we’ve been working with him that he needs to conduct the mediation quickly. And we would call on Captain Dadis Camara to step down and allow a legitimate government to take Guinea to elections next year.
QUESTION: This is James Butty again. So how far is the United States willing to go in case Dadis Camara continue to be in power? I think there was talk about ECOWAS and the military blockade, or somebody was suggesting that. Are we willing to …..?
MR. FITZGERALD: We haven’t talked about any sort of military blockade. Again, we’re working very closely with ECOWAS. If ECOWAS deems that it’s necessary for military observers to go in, for instance, to support the UN commission of inquiry, I mean, certainly, the United States would – we’d have to take a look at what they’re planning. But we probably would support something like that to ensure the security of the investigators.
But let’s be honest. I mean, Dadis Camara himself has accepted the commission of inquiry. Getting him to accept military observers and political observers is another step, and it would be very difficult if he doesn’t accept those military observers to actually force them on the country.
QUESTION: Could you explain that again? It would be difficult if he does not accept ECOWAS military --
MR. FITZGERALD: In other words, Dadis Camara has accepted that a commission of inquiry the UN made up of various investigators and other people to come into the country to investigate the massacres of September 28. Typically, in other African countries when such a commission has gone in, it has had its own security force to protect and to prevent the sort of intimidation that Dadis and his cronies are visiting upon the Guinean people at this point.
But it would be very difficult, for instance, at this point in time, to put in an intervention force, which frankly, many Guineans are calling for. They’re calling for an ECOWAS peacekeeping force to basically provide a buffer between them and the security forces with whom they no longer have trust. That’s a very big next step, and it would require the Government of Guinea – Dadis Camara’s government – to accept them. In other words, such an intervention force, if it were to go in tomorrow, is not going to fight its way in. So that’s a big step.
QUESTION: Yes, Menelik Zeleke again from PGTV News. I know that the briefing here is in regards to Guinea –