Dakar: Guinea`s security services used excessive lethal force and were implicated in gang-rape and widespread criminality while policing weeks of violent anti-government protests, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday.
The New York-based campaign group, citing hospital records, said at least two protesters were killed and 146 people wounded during the violence in the capital Conakry in April and May, including at least 37 who were shot.
In a report summarising interviews with more than 100 witnesses and victims in the wake of the violence, HRW said the city`s gendarmes were also implicated in the killing of one man.
The organisation said a woman of the Fulani ethnic group reported being gang-raped while in the custody of the city`s gendarmes, who told her: "We`ve seen you marching. This is for refusing to stay out of trouble."
The report said a 26-year-old protester was taken to a building, blindfolded, stripped, and raped by at least two men during a separate incident on April 14.
"First they shoved a baton into me, really hard, then two of them used me," it quoted her as saying.
"Given the present level of ethnic and political tension, and the potential for ongoing election-related violence, the government simply must take steps to address these abuses," Corinne Dufka, HRW`s west Africa director said in a statement.
HRW spent 10 days after the unrest visiting clinics and hospitals across Conakry interviewing Guineans from various ethnic groups and political parties who were either victims or witnesses to the violence.
A dispute over the timetable for elections sparked weeks of clashes between anti-government activists and security forces in Conakry and several provincial towns, with the opposition reporting that several people had been killed and dozens wounded.
The opposition is calling for local elections to be held before a presidential vote due in October in the impoverished west African country.
They have accused President Alpha Conde of refusing because he wants to keep his cronies in local government to help him rig the national election.
The president denies the claims, arguing that local officials will not be involved in the presidential polls.
The security forces say at least 77 police were wounded, 28 seriously, as they responded to the demonstrations.
"On numerous occasions, policemen, and to a lesser extent gendarmes, used excessive force, beat people who posed no apparent threat, and destroyed property," HRW said in a report on its findings.
"They also engaged in unprofessional conduct, including theft and banditry. Witnesses and victims said members of the security forces stole cell phones and cash, carted off merchandise from small businesses, smashed windshields, cut community water spigots, and threw food, trash, and belongings into wells."
HRW said protesters too engaged in theft and banditry, robbing bystanders and attacking pro-government activists.