Guinea-Bissau | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2002

2002 Scores


Partly Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Trend Arrow: 

Guinea-Bissau received a downward trend arrow because of the general deterioration in civil liberties linked to the government's increasing instability and attempts to retain its grip on power.


President Kumba Yala increasingly exhibited authoritarian tendencies during the year, although his supporters contend that he is rooting out endemic corruption and threats to democratic rule. More than two dozen people were detained, including two former senior military officers, in December after what the government said was a coup attempt. No shots were fired and opposition members of parliament, who are in the majority, demanded proof of a plot to overthrow Yala. They also demanded the release of the supreme court's president and vice president, who were detained in November in connection with allegations of misappropriation of funds. Yala at one point threatened to sack most civil servants and replace them with members of his own ethnic group. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned in October that Guinea-Bissau had become "dangerously unstable." He recommended the extension of the UN peace-building office in Guinea-Bissau until December 2002.

Guinea-Bissau won independence from Portugal in 1973 after a 12-year guerrilla war. The African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC) held power for the next 13 years. Luis Cabral became president in 1974 and made Joa Bernardo Vieira his prime minister, but Vieira toppled Cabral in 1980. Constitutional revisions in 1991 ended the PAIGC's repressive one-party state. Vieira won the country's first free and fair presidential election in 1994, but he eventually came to be seen as the leader of a corrupt ruling class.

An army mutiny broke out in 1998 after Vieira sacked General Ansumane Mane, accusing him of smuggling arms to rebels in the southern Casamance region of neighboring Senegal, which for years had complained that Guinea-Bissau was backing the rebels. Encouraged by France, about 3,000 troops from Senegal and Guinea intervened on behalf of Vieira. They were eventually replaced by fewer than 600 unarmed West African peacekeepers, which made Vieira vulnerable to his overthrow in May 1999 by Mane. Legislative and presidential elections were held in November 1999, and populist Kumba Yala won the second round of voting for the presidency. However, fighting broke out in 2000 between military supporters of Yala and those of Mane, who was considered a hero in the country's independence struggle, after Mane declared himself the head of the armed forces and revoked military promotions that Yala had made; Mane was killed.

The vast majority of Guinea-Bissau's one million citizens survive on subsistence farming. Cashew nuts are a key export. There are hopes for substantial oil reserves offshore.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

The people of Guinea-Bissau were able to choose their government freely for the first time in 1994, and both direct presidential polls and legislative elections were judged free and fair by international observers. Voting in the November 1999 legislative and presidential elections was declared free and fair by international observers despite widespread delays, isolated cases of violence, and other voting irregularities. The January 2000 runoff pitted Yala, of the Social Renewal Party (PRS), against Malam Bacai Sanha, of the PAIGC. In legislative voting, the opposition PRS obtained 38 of the 102 seats, followed by the Resistance of Guinea with 29 and the PAIGC with 24. The 11 remaining seats went to five of the ten other parties that fielded candidates.

Freedom of the judiciary suffered an apparent setback in 2001. President Yala dismissed four members of the supreme court in September and detained two of them after the court ruled as unconstitutional Yala's expulsion of senior members of a moderate Muslim group. The members were from Pakistan. The sackings led to a month-long strike by judges and a ten-day strike by prosecutors. Judicial performance is often unpredictable owing to political interference, poor training, and scant resources. Traditional law usually prevails in rural areas. Police routinely ignore rights of privacy and protections against search and seizure. Severe mistreatment of detainees is reported.

Freedom of assembly and freedom of expression are constitutionally guaranteed and generally respected. Freedom of speech and of the press is constitutionally guaranteed, but journalists practice self-censorship. There are several private and community radio stations. Few private newspapers publish, and the lack of vibrant independent media may be more due to financial constraints than to government interference. Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres in November 2001 said press freedom was deteriorating in Guinea-Bissau. The daily Diario de Bissau and the weekly Gazeta de Noticias were closed in October after journalists were accused of threatening peace and stability after published reports linked Yala with corruption. The director of Diario de Bissau was detained in November.

Religious freedom suffered a setback in 2001 when President Yala ordered the expulsion of the Pakistani leaders of the Ahmadiyya Muslim group, whom he accused of contributing to political instability. The supreme court ruled the expulsions unconstitutional. About half of Guinea-Bissau's population is Muslim. While official registration is required, no religious group has been denied registration since 1982.

Women face some legal and significant traditional and societal discrimination, despite constitutional protection. They generally do not receive equal pay for equal work and have fewer opportunities for education and jobs in the small formal sector. Domestic violence against women is common, and female genital mutilation is widespread. The government has formed a national committee to discourage the practice.

Eleven labor unions operate, and workers have the right to organize and to strike with prior notice. Most people, however, work in subsistence agriculture. Wages generally are established in bilateral negotiations between workers and employers.