Guinea-Bissau

Partly Free
44
100
PR Political Rights 17 40
CL Civil Liberties 27 60
Last Year's Score & Status
46 100 Partly Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.

header1 Overview

Guinea-Bissau’s political system has been hampered in recent years by divisions between the president and the parliament, and within the main political party. Conditions for civil liberties have gradually improved as the country has recovered from the aftermath of a military coup in 2012, though police continue to disrupt some demonstrations. Corruption is a major problem that has been exacerbated by organized criminal activity, including drug trafficking.

header2 Key Developments in 2020

  • In January, Domingos Simões Pereira appealed Umaro Sissoco Embaló’s victory in the 2019 presidential election, claiming that widespread fraud had taken place. Though the Supreme Court ordered the National Election Commission (CNE) to conduct a full audit of the results, the CNE refused and reconfirmed Embaló’s victory.
  • In February, Embaló held an inauguration for his presidency despite the ongoing court appeal, with key military chiefs and the outgoing president José Mário Vaz in attendance. The African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cabo Verde (PAIGC), which lost the presidential election but has a majority in the parliament, ignored Embaló’s ceremony and appointed an interim president, Cipriano Cassamá, resulting in a two-day period during which there were two presidents. Cassamá stepped down after one day, saying he feared for his safety.
  • In March, upon President Embaló’s request, military troops occupied the Supreme Court, other public institutions, and public broadcasting outlets, “in order to enable the formation of the new cabinet.” For multiple days, the state radio was silent, and the state television channel showed a blank screen. The troops left after Embaló’s new cabinet had been installed.
  • The government enforced a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which included restrictions that banned assemblies of more than 25 people, preventing protesters from gathering during a period of high political tension. However, in September, while assembly restrictions were still in force, President Embaló organized an event to celebrate the anniversary of the country’s independence with more than 15,000 people in attendance.

PR Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 2.002 4.004

The president is elected through a two-round voting system for up to two consecutive terms of five years. The prime minister is appointed by the president “in accordance with the election results” after consulting with the parliamentary parties, and the government must be dissolved if the parliament rejects its proposed budget.

Umaro Sissoco Embaló of the Movement for Democratic Alternation (Madem G15) party, supported by former president José Mário Vaz —who placed fourth in the first round—and a coalition of opposition parties, won the December 2019 presidential election’s run-off with 53.6 percent of the vote, defeating Domingos Simões Pereira of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cabo Verde (PAIGC) who won 46.4 percent of the vote. According to the National Election Commission (CNE), voter turnout was 72.7 percent. The African Union’s (AU) election observation mission found that the administration of the run-off vote was free and transparent, despite challenges with the first round of voting. Internationally bodies such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) acknowledged Embaló’s victory in April 2020.

However, in January 2020, Pereira contested the results in the Supreme Court, alleging widespread fraud. The CNE refused to conduct a full audit of the results as ordered by the court. In February, Embaló held an inauguration in a symbolic ceremony that was not constitutionally binding, as it was not conducted by the president of the parliament. Key military chiefs, including the Armed Forces chief of staff, as well as the outgoing president José Mário Vaz were in attendance at the ceremony. Meanwhile, the parliament appointed an interim president, Cipriano Cassamá, who then resigned after one day, saying he feared for his safety. A few days after Embaló’s ceremony, upon his request, military troops occupied the Supreme Court and several public broadcasting outlets “in order to enable the formation of the new cabinet.” Later, the court was unable to meet due to the COVID-19 pandemic and because the presiding judge had fled the country, saying he feared for his safety. The court ultimately rejected Pereira’s appeal in September.

In February 2020, Embaló appointed Nuno Gomes Nabiam as prime minister.

A2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 3.003 4.004

Members of the 102-seat National People’s Assembly are elected by popular vote for four-year terms. In the March 2019 elections, the PAIGC remained the largest single party with 47 seats, though it lost its outright majority. Madem G15 won 27, the Party of Social Renewal (PRS) took 21, the United People’s Assembly–Democratic Party of Guinea-Bissau (APU-PDGB) took 5, and the Union for Change (UM) and the Party for a New Democracy (PND) each secured a single seat. The PAIGC formed a majority coalition with the latter three parties, but APU-PDGB leader Nuno Gomes Nabiam renounced the deal, after PAIGC leader Pereira decided he would be the party’s presidential candidate.

The United Nations and European Union praised the 2019 parliamentary elections as peaceful and orderly, and an observation mission from the AU deemed them free and fair, though it noted some flaws in the process.

A3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 2.002 4.004

There are some problems with the country’s electoral laws and framework, including weak controls on campaign spending, vote buying, and a lack of legal provisions for domestic poll observers. Elections have been subject to delays in recent years, due in part to lack of funding and stalled voter registration processes.

In the run-up to the first round of the 2019 presidential election, the PAIGC-led government decided to review the voter registry in order to include some 25,000 people who were not able to vote in the parliamentary elections due to technical errors. The PRS and Madem G15 claimed that the changes were fraudulent, but ECOWAS rejected the opposition’s demand for a new registration process.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 3.003 4.004

There are no major constraints on party formation. Dozens of political parties are active in Guinea-Bissau, and 21 competed in the 2019 parliamentary elections, up from 15 in 2014. However, the political crisis since 2015—when former president Vaz dismissed then prime minister Pereira—has led to some instances of violence and intimidation among partisan groups.

After President Embaló dismissed former prime minister Aristides Gomes in February 2020, several members of the Gomes administration were prevented from leaving the country. Former minister of justice and human rights Ruth Monteiro took refuge in the Portuguese embassy in Bissau, claiming that the new regime was using security forces to harass and threaten members of the Gomes government. Gomes himself took refuge in the United Nations headquarters in Bissau in March, fearing for his own safety. PAIGC leader and former presidential candidate Pereira also fled the country. In December, the prosecutor general issued a warrant for his arrest.

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 2.002 4.004

Guinea-Bissau has a limited record of democratic power transfers between rival political parties, as the PAIGC or military rulers have governed for most of the period since independence. In 2014, Vaz succeeded an independent who had served as acting president in the wake of the 2012 coup. Nevertheless, opposition forces increased their representation in the 2019 legislative elections. President Embaló of the new party Madem G15 succeeded former president Vaz of the PAIGC, who lost in the first round of the 2019 presidential election. However, Embaló’s use of the military to complete his installation in office raised concerns.

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? 1.001 4.004

The military has apparently refrained from interfering in politics since 2014, though they were used by President Embaló to complete his installment in office. The choices of voters and politicians continue to be influenced by corruption and patronage networks. Organized crime linked to drug trafficking and money laundering has contributed to the country’s political instability in recent decades.

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 2.002 4.004

Women enjoy equal political rights, but their participation is limited in practice by cultural obstacles, and they are underrepresented in leadership positions. Just 14 women won seats in the March 2019 parliamentary elections, the same number as in 2014. A 2018 law requires 36 percent of candidates on party lists to be women.

Ethnicity plays a role in politics, reducing the extent to which all groups’ interests are represented. For example, one of the larger groups, the Balanta, has traditionally dominated the military and cast votes for the PRS.

C Functioning of Government

C1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 1.001 4.004

Governance has been impaired by the political crisis that began in 2015, and election delays have undermined the democratic legitimacy of incumbent officials. The original term of the parliament that was replaced by the March 2019 elections had expired nearly a year earlier. The full legislature has convened only sporadically in recent years.

In late February and into March 2020, a constitutional crisis emerged when Embaló organized his inauguration unconstitutionally. The PAIGC, which has a slim parliamentary majority but lost the presidential election, ignored Embaló’s inauguration and appointed an interim president, Cipriano Cassamá. However, Cassamá resigned after one day in office, saying he feared for his safety. Embaló was eventually recognized by the parliament.

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 1.001 4.004

Corruption is pervasive, including among senior government figures. Both military and civilian officials have been accused of involvement in the illegal drug trade. Critics of past corruption investigations targeting former high-ranking officials have argued that they were politically motivated.

In February 2020, minister of justice and human rights Monteiro and director of the Judiciary Police Filomena Lopes—who had been instrumental in the country’s anticorruption efforts and praised by the United Nations for their work—were fired by President Embaló.

C3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 0.000 4.004

There are no effective legal provisions to facilitate public access to government information, and government officials do not disclose their personal financial information as required by law. The political impasse and related parliamentary dysfunction have further obstructed oversight of government spending in recent years. The lack of transparency contributes to chronic budget shortfalls, frequent delays in public-sector wages, and doubts about the management of foreign assistance.

CL Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 1.001 4.004

The constitution provides for freedom of the press, and there is some media diversity. However, journalists regularly face harassment and intimidation, including pressure regarding their coverage from political figures and government officials.

In late February and early March 2020, soldiers occupied the facilities of the state radio and television broadcasters for several days. The stations were closed and under armed guard at the request of President Embaló. For multiple days, the state radio was silent, and the state television channel showed a blank screen.

In July, armed men in national guard uniforms smashed equipment and vandalized the property of the privately owned Radio Capital FM station, which is allied to Embaló’s opposition, the PAIGC, temporarily silencing the broadcaster. Before the July attack, the station, which had received threats for years, was warned to stop a talk program in which listeners called in to express their opinions on matters including the government.

Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 due to the use of armed forces to intimidate media outlets, including soldiers’ occupation of the national television and radio stations and an extralegal attack on a popular private radio broadcaster.

D2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 3.003 4.004

Religious freedom is legally protected and usually respected in practice. Government licensing requirements are not onerous and are often disregarded. Some Muslims have reportedly raised concerns about the influence of foreign imams who preach a more rigorous or austere form of Islam, threatening religious tolerance.

D3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 3.003 4.004

Academic freedom is guaranteed and generally upheld, though the education system is poor in terms of access, quality, and basic resources. Public schools were closed for much of 2018 and 2019 due to ongoing teachers’ strikes, and in 2020 as a consequence of COVID-19 restrictions.

D4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 3.003 4.004

Individuals are relatively free to express their views on political topics in the private and social sphere, though some more public figures have faced the threat of arrest or charges in retaliation for their remarks in recent years.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 1.001 4.004

Freedom of assembly is frequently restricted. The authorities repeatedly interfere with demonstrations linked to the political tensions between the presidency and the legislature. The state of emergency enforced due to the COVID-19 pandemic banned assemblies of more than 25 people. The restrictions were prolonged by President Embaló for nearly six months and prevented protesters from gathering during a period of high political tension. However, the restrictions were not equally enforced: in September, Embaló organized an event to celebrate the anniversary of the country’s independence that was attended by more than 15,000 people. Embaló also held several rallies during the lockdown. Restrictions were only partially lifted in December 2020.

Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 because authorities used the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to curtail assembly rights for political opposition groups.

E2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 3.003 4.004

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are generally able to operate. Some groups have faced intimidation and other obstacles, particularly those that are associated with street demonstrations, but no major cases of repressive measures against NGOs were reported during 2020.

E3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 3.003 4.004

Workers are allowed to form and join independent trade unions, but few work in the wage-earning formal sector. Private employers sometimes engage in improper interference with union organizing and other activities. The right to strike is protected, and government workers frequently exercise it, although the prolonged state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic restricted this right.

F Rule of Law

F1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 1.001 4.004

Judges are highly susceptible to corruption and political pressure, and the court system as a whole lacks the resources and capacity to function effectively.

F2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 0.000 4.004

Corruption is common among police, and officers often fail to observe legal safeguards against arbitrary arrest and detention. Very few criminal cases are brought to trial or successfully prosecuted, partly due to the limited material and human resources available to investigators. Most of the population lacks access to the justice system in practice.

F3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 2.002 4.004

Conditions in prisons and detention centers are often extremely poor, and law enforcement personnel generally enjoy impunity for abuses. Because of its weak institutions and porous borders, Guinea-Bissau has become a transit point for criminal organizations trafficking various types of contraband. The armed forces and some other state entities have been linked to drug trafficking. In recent years, authorities have made some progress in combating the drug trade and organized crime. Violence associated with political unrest has continued to recede since the restoration of elected civilian rule.

A low-intensity conflict in Senegal’s Casamance region occasionally affects security across the border in Guinea-Bissau, where the Senegalese rebels sometimes operate.

F4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 2.002 4.004

Women face significant societal discrimination and traditional biases, despite some legal protections. They generally do not receive equal pay for similar work and have fewer opportunities for education and employment.

There are virtually no effective legal protections against discrimination on other grounds, including ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity, though same-sex relations are not specifically criminalized.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 2.002 4.004

There are few formal restrictions on freedom of movement, but widespread corruption among police and other public officials can limit this right in practice, as can criminal activity. At times, Senegalese rebel activity may restrict movement in the border area.

G2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 1.001 4.004

Illegal economic activity, including logging, by organized groups remains a problem. The quality of enforcement of property rights is generally poor, and the formal procedures for establishing a business are relatively onerous.

Women, particularly those from certain ethnic groups in rural areas, face restrictions on their ability to own and inherit property.

G3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 1.001 4.004

There are multiple constraints on personal social freedoms. Early and forced marriages remain common, especially in rural areas. The government, international organizations, and community leaders have worked to eliminate female genital mutilation (FGM), though nearly half of the country’s women have suffered from such violence. Despite the existence of legislation to address gender-based violence, the problem is reportedly widespread; victims of rape and domestic abuse rarely report the crimes to authorities.

G4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 1.001 4.004

Guinea-Bissau is one of the world’s poorest countries, with most families relying on unstable employment in the informal economy or remittances from migrant workers abroad. Public services have deteriorated in recent years amid irregular payment of public-sector workers.

Boys are vulnerable to organized exploitation through forced begging and to forced labor in sectors including mining and agriculture. A rising number of Muslim children from Guinea-Bissau are trafficked by money-making schemes disguised as religious Koranic schools, particularly into Senegal.

Girls are frequently victims of sexual exploitation or domestic servitude. Government officials have been accused of complicity in trafficking activity, including sex tourism schemes in the Bijagós islands.

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  • Global Freedom Score

    44 100 partly free