25 June 2008
Security Council
SC/9373

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

5925th Meeting (AM)


SECURITY COUNCIL CONSIDERS SITUATION IN GUINEA-BISSAU, HEARING APPEALS


TO BOOST POST-CONFLICT DEVELOPMENT, COMBAT DRUG TRAFFICKING, CRIME


The Security Council today heard speakers call for greater international support to Guinea-Bissau to help the West African country in its post-conflict development and its fight against drug trafficking and organized crime.


Following a 10-year civil war in Guinea-Bissau, the United Nations Secretary-General had established a Peacebuilding Support Office (UNOGBIS) in order to assist the country in its post-conflict development.  A recent report on the situation in that country and the activities of UNOGBIS by the Secretary-General stressed that the economic and financial situation in Guinea-Bissau remains dire, despite some signs of possible improvement.


Introducing the report, Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of UNOGBIS Shola Omoregie addressed, among other things, economic trends, security sector reform and tensions in the run-up to parliamentary elections in November.  He said that, although the campaign against drug trafficking and organized crime had intensified recently, simultaneous initiatives were needed in neighbouring States, as regional and international cooperation was crucial in that area.


Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, drew the Council’s attention to the fact that Guinea-Bissau had become a centre of transnational drug trafficking, warning that it was not only a national issue, but an “acute threat” to the regional security in West Africa.  Rapid intervention had blocked the first manifestation in Cape Verde a few years ago, but the “metastasis” had now hit Guinea-Bissau and could soon spread elsewhere in the region. 


The Chair of the Guinea-Bissau configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, described the economic problems plaguing the country, including meeting its external debt.  A weak fiscal basis and recent rise in fuel and food prices hampered the Government’s ability to pay salaries and provide basic services.  She hoped that a new and more substantial allocation of resources could be announced as the country-specific configuration finalized the strategic framework for peacebuilding in Guinea-Bissau.


Before the Council retired into consultations on the matter, Guinea-Bissau’s representative noted that the people of his country were willing to work towards a better future, which included human rights, rule of law and inclusive democracy.  He thanked the Council for its attention to his country and its willingness to launch an appeal for further support from the international community.


The meeting started at 11:05 a.m. and adjourned at 11:55 a.m.


Background


The Security Council had before it the report of the Secretary-General on developments in Guinea-Bissau and on the activities of the United Nations Peacebuilding Support Office in that country (document S/2008/395), which stresses that the economic and financial situation in the country remains dire, despite some signs of possible improvement.  It calls for greater international support, including the strengthening of the Support Office, known as UNOGBIS, to help the West African country emerge from its predicament and fight drug trafficking and organized crime.


The report warns that, with legislative elections scheduled for November, rising prices of fuel and basic foods mean Guinea-Bissau’s overall fiscal situation is very fragile, and notes that the Government has introduced several measures -– such as tax exemptions on imports of fuel and rice, a staple food item for many people -– to try to mitigate the problems.


Cashew nut exports are forecast to grow by nearly 10,000 tons to 106,000 tons this year, while construction activity and agricultural production are both expected to rise as well, according to the report.  The gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to rise by 3 per cent in 2008.


“I am encouraged by reports of improved prospects for economic recovery and by the determination of the Government of Guinea-Bissau to take strong measures aimed at improving fiscal discipline and economic stability in the country,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon writes.


He states, though, that the Government’s current inability to pay salary arrears for public servants in the past few months could heighten existing political tensions ahead of the elections.  Adequate funding has also not yet been found for the legislative elections scheduled for November, with more than $5 million in extra money needed.


Also in the report, the Secretary-General urges the Government to take advantage of international mechanisms to fight drug trafficking and organized crime, and says the international community should show much greater support in this field as well.  He also commends the Government for its consistent and constructive collaboration with the Peacebuilding Commission, and calls on it to ensure sustained engagement at both the technical and political levels.


Statements


SHOLA OMOREGIE, Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of UNOGBIS, introduced the Secretary-General’s report and said that, since it was published, recent developments have shown a slight improvement in economic indicators.  If that trend continued, the country could be eligible for debt relief initiatives and other international fiscal programmes, which could accelerate improvements.  A package of fiscal reforms had already been put together by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).


However, jockeying for political advantage among the parties threatened to exacerbate tensions in the run-up to elections.  A review of the Political Stability Pact had been requested, and opposition political parties had stepped up their criticisms of the Government, though some salaries in arrears had been paid.  Still, voter registration and information campaigns might be delayed, and he urged all involved to try and help speed that process, which UNDP and the European Union were assisting. 


Under the Peacebuilding Fund, four projects covering elections, criminal justice and other crucial areas had been approved, and an overall Peacebuilding Framework was being created, he noted.  The consultations for that purpose had been intense, focusing on public administration, rule of law, vulnerable groups and other basic building blocks of stability.  UNOGBIS and its partners had also been holding workshops aimed at enhancing the participation of women in the peacebuilding process.


He said that the security reform programme assisted by the European Union was a major step forward, and the armed forces rationalization plan was progressing with retraining of officers and demobilization schemes.  A resource-mapping exercise for the security sector, assessing the abilities of the Ministries of Interior and Justice to combat terrorism and transnational organized crime had been conducted in May.  Although the campaign against drug trafficking and organized crime had been intensified recently, initiatives in neighbouring States should be carried out simultaneously.  Regional and international cooperation was crucial in that area.  For that reason, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) would soon hold a conference on the issue, assisted by international organizations. 


He said he had asked the High Commissioner for Human Rights to help enhance the human rights capabilities of UNOGBIS.  The United Nations system as a whole should continue to support the security sector, through a holistic approach that linked diverse agencies and ministerial departments.  There was also an urgent need to cover a shortfall of more than $12 million in the current anti-narcotic effort, which included initiatives to prosecute, as well as name and shame, traffickers.  There was also a shortfall of nearly $4.5 million in election preparations, if unfulfilled pledges were not counted.  Challenges also remained in many social, legislative and economic areas.


ANTONIO MARIA COSTA, Executive Director, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said that the situation in Guinea-Bissau was not only a serious drug issue, but “it is the acute threat that transnational organized crime is posing to regional security in West Africa”.  The first manifestation had appeared in Cape Verde a few years ago, which had been blocked by rapid intervention.  In the past couple of years, however, the “metastasis” had hit Guinea-Bissau and could soon spread elsewhere in the region.  The Council must reassure the people of West Africa that the international community had not abandoned them.


He said the Council deliberations would motivate the entire world community to assist West Africa to withstand the onslaught of trafficking in drugs, arms and people.  Based on decisions taken at a conference on Guinea-Bissau in Lisbon last December, UNODC had moved quickly to provide assistance.  Its Project Office had been established, and last week a project to disburse European Union funds had been signed.  The Government of Guinea-Bissau had strengthened its legal basis for fighting drugs and crime by ratifying the United Nations Conventions against Organized Crime and Corruption and had put in place management structures for the oversight and implementation of the Emergency Anti-Narcotic Plan and projects to combat organized crime.


A year ago, he said, he had briefed the Council on the state of disarray of the country’s prison system.  The Peacebuilding Commission had dealt with the most urgent needs of the Ministry of Justice, and the Peacebuilding Fund had approved an urgent project on prison rehabilitation.  Prisons were being refurbished, and reform of the penitentiary administration was under way, as was the training and equipping of a Special Task Force of the Judicial Police. 


He said that the drug trafficking problem was being mainstreamed into the work of UNOGBIS, adding, “This is a good example of the United Nations ‘delivering as one’”.  Like anywhere else, organized crime could best be neutralized by a strong and efficient judicial system.  “I invite you all to strengthen the capacity of Guinea-Bissau’s judicial system to prosecute organized crime, particularly drug trafficking, with the aim of having a core group of having good and honest prosecutors and judges.”


He said that, for the medium term, a counter narcotics intelligence-sharing platform was being developed, with the assistance of Interpol -- forthe region, and between West Africa and Europe.  The model being applied had been tested in West Asia, with excellent results.  A priority was to strengthen international legal cooperation in the whole of West Africa through extradition, mutual legal assistance and confiscation of the proceeds of crime.  Together with ECOWAS and the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA), UNODC was preparing a ministerial conference on Narcotic Trafficking and Organized Crime in West Africa, scheduled for next October in Cape Verde.


The drug trafficking problem throughout Guinea-Bissau was still small, but growing exponentially and threatening to turn the region into an epicentre of lawlessness and instability.  “That is the last thing that Africa needs,” he said.  “By working together now, we may still act in a preventive mode.  Yet any day or week lost might have dramatic consequences for the future, adding a security crisis in a region already facing mass poverty, hunger and despair.”


MARIA LUIZA RIBEIRO VIOTTI ( Brazil), Chair of the Guinea-Bissau configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, said that a Peacebuilding Commission delegation had visited Guinea-Bissau in April and had established contacts with Government officials, international partners, members of Parliament, civil society and the private sector.  Thematic discussions had been held on key areas for the consolidation of peace, including on the upcoming elections, public administration reform, reactivation of the economy, strengthening of the justice sector, security sector reform and the fight against drug trafficking.  An integrated strategic framework for peacebuilding was being prepared.


She said that one of the immediate concerns was the organization of the parliamentary elections to be held in November, for which a considerable financial gap still needed to be filled.  Guinea-Bissau also lacked the necessary resources to fight drug trafficking.  Although the Government, with the assistance of UNODC and bilateral partners, had taken initial steps to implement an anti-narcotics plan, further assistance was badly needed.  The country needed to build capacity in order to ensure control of its more than 80 islands, its maritime borders and airspace and to strengthen its judicial and criminal systems. 


Security sector reform remained a priority for the Government, she continued.  The conclusion of the military census had been encouraging.  Support provided by the European Security and Defence Police Mission and the provision of financial and technical assistance by various partners was crucial, but the reform plan remained seriously underfunded.  The reintegration aspect of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration had been emphasized by Government authorities and civil society representatives during discussions.  Adequate and careful planning for reinsertion into society of the demobilized contingent would be a key factor in ensuring a successful reform.


The Government was committed to controlling fiscal expenditures and promoting further public administration reforms, she said.  A weak fiscal basis and recent rise in fuel and food prices continued to hamper the Government’s ability to pay salaries and provide basic services.  The external debt, with its interest payments, was another huge burden.  Creative solutions should be considered to enable the country to benefit from the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Debt Initiative, with the urgency that the situation required.  Much could be done to add value to the main export product, cashew nuts.  The current food crisis could be turned into an opportunity if agricultural production were reactivated and diversified through adequate support.


She said that measures to help the Government overcome structural bottlenecks included:  updating legal frameworks; creating an enabling environment for the private sector; establishing a sound banking and financing system; and rehabilitating the infrastructure, especially in the energy sector.  Four projects had already been approved by the Peacebuilding Fund, which had put into practice the “two-track approach”, combining strategic long-term analysis with short-term projects, which could have a direct and immediate impact.  She hoped a new and more substantial allocation of resources could be announced as the country-specific configuration finalized the strategic framework for peacebuilding in Guinea-Bissau.


ALFREDO LOPES CABRAL ( Guinea-Bissau) said that progress had been made in his country, despite all the difficulties it had been facing.  The authorities had to make more of an effort, so that the people could work on those difficulties together in an inclusive democracy.  While citizens of the country were well aware of their responsibilities, the support of the international community was critical for further progress.


Regarding the elections, he appealed to the international community to make up the financial shortfall as soon as possible, so that all phases could occur on schedule.  The country had already made much progress in combating drug trafficking, but as long as traffickers knew it did not have adequate resources to fight them, it would still be prey to their criminal activity.


He said that recent missions to his country had showed that the people were willing to work towards a better future, which included human rights, rule of law and inclusive democracy.  He thanked the Council for the attention it was giving to his country and its willingness to launch an appeal for further support from the international community.


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For information media • not an official record