Guinea-Bissau | Freedom House

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Freedom in the World 2009

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President Joao Bernardo Vieira in August 2008 dissolved the National Assembly, whose mandate had expired in April, after the Supreme Court ruled that an extension until the November legislative elections would be unconstitutional. Days later, navy commander Americo Bubo Na Tchuto was arrested and accused of plotting a coup. The elections were held on November 16, and were judged free and fair by international observers; the opposition African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC) won a large majority. Also during the year, Guinea-Bissau’s fragile military and civilian institutions continued to suffer from the growing influence of international drug cartels.

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 18 years. Luis Cabral became president in 1974 and made former guerrilla commander Joao Bernardo Vieira his prime minister; however, Vieira toppled Cabral in 1980. Constitutional revisions in 1991 ended one-party rule. Vieira won the country’s first free and fair presidential election in 1994, but he later came to be seen as the leader of a corrupt ruling class.

An army mutiny broke out in 1998 after Vieira fired General Ansumane Mane, accusing him of smuggling arms to separatist rebels in Senegal’s Casamance region. Senegal and Guinea sent about 3,000 troops to support Vieira, but a military junta led by Mane overthrew him in May 1999. Following a brief transitional period, the populist Kumba Yala of the Social Renewal Party (PRS) was elected president in early 2000. Fighting broke out that year between military supporters of Yala and Mane after the latter declared himself head of the armed forces; Mane was subsequently killed. In 2002, Yala dissolved the parliament, declined to promulgate a constitution approved in 2001, and governed by decree. Following a military coup in 2003, a transitional administration was established to overseea pledged return to elected government.

The PAIGC won 45 of 100 seats in 2004legislative elections that were considered free and fair by international observers, followed by the PRS with 35 seats, and the United Social Democratic Party (PUSD) with 17 seats; smaller parties captured the remainder.

During the campaign for presidential elections held in July 2005, Yala demanded that he be reinstated as president, and his supporters briefly occupied the presidential palace. While both Yala and Vieira had been barred from running, the Supreme Court cleared the way for their candidacies. Malam Bacai Sanha, a former interim president running for the PAIGC, led the first round of voting with 36 percent, followed by Vieira (who ran as an independent) with 29 percent, and Yala with 25 percent. The electoral commission said there had been some voting irregularities, but the Supreme Court judged the poll free and fair. Vieira won the runoff against Sanha with 52.4 percent, having gained Yala’s support.

Vieira dismissed the prime minister by decree in October 2005 and appointed a supporter, Aristides Gomes, to replace him in November. The move left the PAIGC, the largest party in the legislature, excluded from the cabinet. However, the PAIGC, PRS, and PUSD agreed to form a consensus government in March 2007, and Gomes later resigned after losing a confidence vote. The new coalition successfully installed Martinho N’Dafa Cabi as prime minister in April.

Legislative elections scheduled for March 2008 were postponed due to insufficient funds. In July 2008, the PAIGC withdrew from the government, accusing Cabi of sacking a number of officials without consultation. Vieira dissolved the National Assembly in August after the Supreme Court ruled that its mandate, which expired in April, could not be extended to the new election date in November. The president named a close ally, Carlos Correia, to serve as interim prime minister until the elections. Also in August, navy commander Americo Bubo Na Tchuto was detained on the orders of the army chief of staff, General Batista Tagme Na Wai, who accused him of plotting a coup. Na Tchuto escaped to The Gambia, where he was arrested and reportedly applied for political asylum. The legislative elections were held on November 16, and were judged free and fair by international observers. The PAIGC won a landslide victory, 67 seats out of 100, in what was widely seen as a rebuke to Vieira; PAIGC leader Carlos Gomes Junior became prime minister. The PRS won 28 seats, while a newly created party allied to Vieira, the Republican Party for Independence and Development (PRID), won three seats; two minor parties captured one seat each. A week later, shots were fired at the president’s residence in Bissau. Vieira said the presidential guard had foiled a coup attempt led by a nephew of Kumba Yala, but the motivation of the attack remained unclear.

Guinea-Bissau, one of the world’s poorest countries, received an initial grant of $6 million from the UN Peacebuilding Commission in April 2008. The funds were aimed at supporting security-sector reform, youth vocational training, and electoral preparations. The country also benefited during the year from International Monetary Fund (IMF) Emergency Post-Conflict Assistance and World Bank financing. Foreign investment appeared set to increase as the European Union entered into a four-year fisheries partnership, and Angola unveiled a $500 million bauxite mining project in the country.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Guinea-Bissau is an electoral democracy. The 100 members of the unicameral National People’s Assembly are elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms. The president is elected for a five-year term; there are no term limits.A national electoral commission oversaw the 2005 presidential election, which international monitors agreed was free and fair.Observers lauded the 2008 legislative elections, in which the opposition PAIGC won a large majority.

President Joao Bernardo Vieira was elected in 2005 as an independent candidate but benefited from the support of the PRS and PUSD. A new party, the Republican Party of Independence and Development (PRID), was formed in March 2008 by former prime minister Aristides Gomes, a onetime PAIGC member who later backed Vieira. Over twenty parties contested the November 2008 legislative elections, though only five captured seats; the largest party in the legislature is the opposition PAIGC.

Guinea-Bissau ranked 158 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index. In recent years, widespread corruption has reportedly helped international drug cartels infiltrate the military, the civilian administration, and the judiciary.

The law provides for freedom of the press, but journalists occasionally practice self-censorship and face some harassment. There are a number of private and community radio stations. Several private newspapers publish sporadically, largely due to financial constraints. Internet access is unrestricted. In 2007, a local reporter faced charges and another fled the country after receiving death threats, both for reporting on alleged official involvement in the drug trade.

Religious freedom is legally protected and usually respected in practice. Academic freedom is similarly guaranteed and upheld.

The rights to assembly and association are protected by law and generally respected by the authorities. Nongovernmental organizations operate openly. However, security forces have occasionally suppressed public demonstrations; in January 2007, security personnel reportedly killed at least one demonstrator during riots sparked by the assassination of a former navy chief. Workers are legally allowed to form and join independent trade unions. However, since most residents work in subsistence agriculture, only a small percentage are in the wage-earning sector. The law provides for the right to strike, and workers—particularly teachers and civil servants—frequently exercise this right. According to the U.S. State Department, the law does not protect the right to bargain collectively, but the National Council for Social Consultation has in the past conducted collective consultation on salary issues.

Poor training, scant resources, and corruption seriously challenge judicial independence, and traditional law usually prevails in rural areas. In December 2007, the parliament passed an amnesty for perpetrators of political violence between 1980 and 2004, drawing criticism from human rights advocates. Police routinely ignore privacy rights and protections against unreasonable search and seizure. Because Guinea-Bissau lacks formal prisons, most inmates are held in “makeshift detention facilities” on military bases, according to the U.S. State Department.An audit of security forces completed in 2008 revealed that the army has more officers than soldiers, a severe lack of young recruits, and large numbers of aging veterans of the war for independence, the Reuters news agency reported. A restructuring plan backed by international donors aims to reduce the size of the army and overhaul the police and judiciary.

With its poorly funded institutions unable to police the porous coastline, Guinea-Bissau has become a transit point for Latin American drug cartels moving cocaine to Europe. Segments of the government and military are apparently involved in the trade. In a sign of crippling internal divisions in law enforcement, members of an elite police unit broke into the headquarters of the judicial police in April 2008 and murdered a counternarcotics officer who was being held on accusations of killing one of the unit’s members. In July, the military reportedly hampered investigations by the judicial police and the United Nations into an aircraft suspected of carrying cocaine. The European Union in 2008 announced plans to train and equip a special police unit to combat the cartels. The UN Office of Drugs and Crime, which has drawn attention to the drug-smuggling problem in Guinea-Bissau, also expressed concerns about infiltration by terrorist groups after two suspected Al-Qaeda militants were arrested in the country in January 2008.

Insecurity stemming from ongoing conflict in Senegal’s Casamance region has periodically affected Guinea-Bissau. In 2006, the military launched a month-long offensive against Senegalese rebels based in northern Guinea-Bissau, displacing thousands of civilians.

Ethnic identity is an important factor in politics and governance; the military is dominated by the Balanta ethnic group, the country’s largest. All major ethnic groups were represented in government at the start of 2008, according to the U.S. State Department.

The prevalence of organized crime groups, including drug trafficking syndicates, impedes private business activities.        

Women face significant traditional and societal discrimination, despite some legal protections. They generally do not receive equal pay for equal work and have fewer opportunities for education and jobs in the small formal sector. Women of certain ethnic groups cannot own or manage land or inherit property. According to a UNICEF study released in May 2008, 27 percent of women in rural areas are involuntarily married before age 18. Domestic violence against women is common, and female genital mutilation, which is not prohibited by law, is widespread.