Guinea-Bissau | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2003

2003 Scores


Partly Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


President Kumba Yala faced mounting criticism of his erratic and increasingly autocratic rule in 2002. The country's Roman Catholic bishops in September called for national reconciliation, citing frequent leadership changes, human rights violations, and the failure to promulgate a new constitution, which parliament approved in 2001, as some of the reasons the country faced a crisis. The political opposition in October called for Yala to resign, accusing him of interfering with the judiciary and encouraging tribalism. Opposition leaders were particularly upset that Yala had appointed the leader of the Supreme Court. Yala's relationship with the army and parliament was increasingly strained in 2002. The president named a new prime minister in November, dissolved parliament, and called for early elections. The polls are scheduled for April 2003. Yala claims there have been three coup attempts or plots against him in as many years, and he stunned regional leaders in May when he accused neighboring Gambia of complicity in an alleged scheme to topple him.

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 named Joao Bernardo Vieira his prime minister, but Vieira toppled Cabral in 1980. Constitutional revisions in 1991 ended the PAIGC's repressive one-party rule. 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 Yala won the second round of voting. However, fighting broke out in 2000 between military supporters of Yala and those of Mane after Mane declared himself the head of the armed forces. Mane was killed.

The UN Security Council urged Yala to seek national dialogue, to encourage reconciliation and good governance, and to complete the demobilization and reintegration of former combatants. Civil servants had not been paid for five months toward the end of the year, and trade unions were planning walkouts.

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 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 Kumba Yala, of the Social Renewal Party (PRS), against Malam Bacai Sanha, of 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 5 of the 10 other parties that fielded candidates.

The judiciary has operated independently of the government, but its freedom has been increasingly limited by President Yala. He imposed his choice to head the Supreme Court in 2002, to the protest of opposition leaders, saying the court would soon be able to elect its own officers. Yala dismissed four members of the Supreme Court in 2001, and two of them face charges of misappropriation of funds. Judicial performance is often unpredictable owing to political interference, poor training, and scant resources. Traditional law usually prevails in rural areas. Police routinely ignore privacy rights and protections against search and seizure. Severe mistreatment of detainees is reported.

Freedom of speech and the press is constitutionally guaranteed, but journalists practice self-censorship and face some harassment. There are several private and community radio stations. Few private newspapers publish, and the lack of vibrant, independent media outlets may be more due to financial constraints than to governmental interference. The editor of the independent daily Correio de Bissau was detained for two days in June and accused of criticizing President Yala on the private radio station Radio Bombolom. Two private newspapers that had been ordered to stop publishing in 2001 were allowed to resume publishing in 2002.

The right to peaceful assembly and association is guaranteed and usually respected in practice. Nongovernmental organizations and human rights groups operate openly; however, their leaders sometimes face harassment. The London-based human rights group Amnesty International said in February that human rights activists and political opponents in Guinea-Bissau "faced a sustained clampdown" on their activities. The attorney general in April forbid all media from publishing information from the Guinean League of Human Rights. Two of the group's officers faced charges relating to alleged disrespect shown to the attorney general regarding a probe into misappropriation of funds. The head of the opposition Socialist Alliance of Guinea-Bissau, Fernando Gomes, was detained for a week for alleged misappropriation of funds.

Religious freedom is protected and is usually respected in practice. About half of Guinea-Bissau's population is Muslim.

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 (business) 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.