|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
6359th Meeting (AM)
Secretary-General’s Representative Calls for Urgent National Action, Sustained
International Attention to Bolster Guinea-Bissau’s Fragile Stability
Briefing Security Council, He Cites Threats
Of Drug Trafficking, Military Insubordination, Fragile State Institutions
Firm national action on security sector and other reforms, as well as sustained international attention to the Government’s performance and regional issues, could help overcome threats to stability in Guinea-Bissau, the senior United Nations official in that country said in a briefing to the Security Council today.
“The challenges in Guinea-Bissau are significant, but not insurmountable if addressed without delay,” said Joseph Mutaboba, Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS). Joining him in briefing Council members were Adelino Mano Queta, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Guinea-Bissau, and Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti ( Brazil), Chair of the Peacekeeping Commission’s Guinea-Bissau configuration.
Presenting the Secretary-General’s latest report on Guinea-Bissau, Mr. Mutaboba recalled that in his last briefing to the Council, he had foreseen an opportunity for progress this year, building on good economic news and perceived commitment to reform in the country. However, the events of 1 April 2009, in which military elements had briefly detained the Prime Minister and invaded United Nations premises, underlined the extreme fragility of the peacebuilding process and its vulnerability to reversals.
Institutional weakness, military insubordination to civilian leadership, critical development gaps, illicit drug trafficking and cross-border organized crime remained the key challenges to stability, he said. The Council of Ministers had urged the President to appoint a new Army Chief of Staff, but the subsequent appointment of Major General Antonio Indjai, a leading player in the insurrection of 1 April 2009, showed that the civilian authorities had yet to exercise full control over the Armed Forces. The appointment had been criticized by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the European Union, the United States and other partners, who had since held consultations with the authorities on the issue.
According to the Prosecutor General, the inquiry into the assassination of President João Bernardo Vieira and Chief of Staff Tagme Na Waie was nearing completion, he said, adding that he had informed that official that international assistance in furthering the process would suppose that prior guarantees had been obtained as to the credibility of the investigations conducted so far. Another development had been the convening of an international sensitization conference on security sector reform on 23-24 June, he said.
On the economic front, he reported that from 17 to 25 June, a mission from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had expressed satisfaction with Guinea-Bissau’s economic performance for having met structural benchmarks. That could lead to further progress in the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) process if the performance was sustained, which, in turn, depended on stability.
Ms. Ribeiro said the Guinea-Bissau Configuration had met on 26 April to discuss the situation on the ground, and had sent a letter to Foreign Minister Queta, expressing concern over the 1 April events and regret that they had occurred as the country had been making important progress in many areas. The letter stressed the importance of joint efforts by the Government and the military leadership to strengthen State institutions, promote economic development, uphold the rule of law, fight impunity, and combat drug trafficking and organized crime. It also called on both the civilian and military authorities to engage in a genuine national dialogue, and stressed the need for the release or prosecution of the former Chief of Staff and other officers arrested in April.
She said Mr. Queta had responded by reiterating his Government’s commitment to the peacebuilding process and security sector reform, and stating that it had taken action to restore constitutional order and the normal functioning of State institutions. The Foreign Minister’s response had also expressed his expectation that the upcoming high-level event to mobilize resources for the creation of a military pension fund would strengthen the Government’s relations with the Peacebuilding Commission and generate support for urgent projects.
The Peacebuilding Commission remained firmly committed to Guinea-Bissau’s peace consolidation efforts, based on mutual accountability and the consolidation of democratic institutions required to sustain peace and stability, she said. The 1 April events perpetrated by the military reflected a pattern of addressing political disputes by force and should, therefore, be strongly condemned. “Events such as these send a wrong message of disrespect for the rule of law,” she said, noting they were a “setback to the peace-consolidation process and tend to discourage partners from deepening their engagement with the country.”
A message of strong commitment to the rule of law was required, she continued, emphasizing that the population must perceive Government institutions as legitimate bodies that worked within the framework of democracy and constitutional order. She welcomed the recent statement by President Malam Bacai Sanhá exhorting the Armed Forces to remain subordinate to the rule of law. She underscored the important role of ECOWAS, the African Union and the wider international community in supporting implementation of the ECOWAS Regional Action Plan and the West Africa Coast Initiative. Such steps were necessary to strengthen the ability of the national police to fight drug trafficking, she said, adding that support was also needed for capacity-building to spur socio-economic development and help revitalize the economy.
Mr. Queta said the briefings illustrated the complexity and seriousness of the problems facing his country. “Time is of the essence and we, Guineans, have to set our country on a path to sustainable peace and stability,” he stressed, pointing out, however, that the country would not be able to overcome its challenges on its own. The recent tragic developments, in particular the assassinations of the President, the Army Chief of Staff and other high-ranking officials, had shaken the social fabric and contravened cultural values. The events of 1 April were unacceptable and should not be repeated, he added.
He went on to say that the conference on security sector reform had demonstrated the will of the defence and security corps to undertake much-needed reforms. Thanking Guinea-Bissau’s international partners for their support, he said further assistance was needed for the establishment of a military pension fund. Finally, he reaffirmed the country’s determination to fight drug trafficking. “In spite of persistent crises, Guinea-Bissau should not be considered a lost cause,” he cautioned. “We understand the preoccupation and queries of the international community, but I can assure you that the authorities are committed to consolidating democracy and the rule of law, fighting impunity and creating an environment conducive to sustainable peace and development. We count on your support.”
The meeting began at 10:16 a.m. and ended at 10:48 a.m.
As it met today, 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 Integrated Peacekeeping Office in that country (document S/2010/335) covering the period since his report of 24 June (document S/2010/335).
Emphasizing that Guinea-Bissau’s progress since the 2009 political crisis could be in jeopardy without major reforms in the defence and security areas, the report says recent months have witnessed rising political and security tensions, and recalls the series of political assassinations that threatened security and stability in 2009. Order was restored with the election of Malam Bacai Sanhá in the June 2009 presidential election. However, the brief detention of the Prime Minister, and of the Chief of General Staff and other senior military officers by members of the Armed Forces on 1 April constituted “a major setback” to the process of consolidating stability and implementing key reforms, the report adds.
It goes on to describe the violation of United Nations premises on 1 April by elements of the Armed Forces as “unacceptable and condemnable”, urging the national authorities to comply with their obligation to protect the Organization’s installations, personnel and assets. The President, the Prime Minister and other key national stakeholders must take concrete actions to preserve the gains made so far and to consolidate the State-building process, the Secretary-General writes, stressing the crucial need for civilian and military authorities to agree on a rapid and acceptable solution to the sensitive issue of the country’s military leadership.
“I call on the Armed Forces to demonstrate their resolve to remain subordinate to the civilian leadership, who enjoy legitimacy as a result of fair and transparent elections,” the Secretary-General appeals, going on to stress also the fundamental importance of continued dialogue and functional relationships among all State institutions, which would help in the avoidance of future situations similar to those of 1 April 2009. Dialogue should also aim to seek a broad national consensus on other major issues, including security sector reform, while paving the way for the convening of a national conference planned for 2011. Full respect for the separation of powers would also ensure the proper functioning of State institutions.
The report warns that without security sector reform, efforts to launch resource mobilization initiatives, such as the Peacebuilding Commission’s planned high-level event on security sector reform and the donors’ round-table conference on development assistance, would be severely undermined. Guinea-Bissau is one of four countries currently on the agenda of the Peacebuilding Commission — alongside Burundi, Sierra Leone and the Central African Republic — which was established in 2005 to help countries emerging from conflict make an irreversible transition from war to sustainable peace.
In conclusion, the report warns of the growing influence of transnational crime, including drug trafficking, in some sections of the military and the State apparatus, as well as in the economy, which threatens to compromise the fragility of the State even further and undermine efforts to restructure the defence sector. Drug trafficking, which affects the entire West African subregion, must be addressed by national, bilateral and multilateral partners through well-coordinated and more robust strategies and initiatives, the Secretary-General says.
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