19 April 2012
Security Council
SC/10614

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

Security Council

6754th Meeting (PM)


Head of Guinea-Bissau Peacebuilding Office Briefs Council on 12 April Political,


Military Coup, Says ‘We Could Have Done More.  And I Believe We Can Do More.’

 


Might Have Been Prevented with Quicker Resources for Security Sector Reform;

Foreign Minister Says ‘Wave of Persecution and Fear’ Gripped Nation After Incident


It was clearly a political-military coup and an act of military insubordination to the democratically elected civilian authorities, the Secretary-General’s top envoy in Guinea-Bissau said today of the 12 April events in the West African nation, which he said would be recorded in history as “one more coup that took place under the UN eye, and hence the whole international community”.


Addressing the Security Council via video-conference from Guinea-Bissau, Joseph Mutaboba, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau, said “We could have done more, and I believe we can do more,” voicing hope that all partners learned from the latest setback that “time is critical in whatever we intend to do”.  Had the international community moved quicker in providing the necessary resources for security sector reform, which would have allowed for the demobilization and retirement programmes to take off, today’s discussion might not be taking place, he said.


Guinea-Bissau’s Minister of Foreign Affairs described the “wave of persecution and fear” that had gripped the nation following this month’s coup.  Senior Government officials, including the President of the Supreme Court, had sought refuge in “uncertain locations”, while their properties were looted by uniformed and armed elements and their families were threatened.  He countered the main reasons given by the perpetrations of the coup, including allegations of election fraud and the omission of a considerable number of voters, and called the charge of the existence of a “secret agreement” aimed at annihilating the Armed Forces a “rash claim”.


His Government and people had no doubts as to the way forward, he said, beseeching the Council to authorize the deployment of a peacekeeping force to Guinea-Bissau with a broad mandate and over an extended period of time, in order to give the country the chance to “definitively turn the page and allow for the establishment of a legitimate democratic State”.


The Minister of State and Foreign Affairs of Portugal said the time had come to say “no” to the prominence of arms over votes.  At stake in Guinea-Bissau was a choice between a State based on constitutional rule or a failed State based on the power of drug trafficking.  It was up to the international community to seize this crucial moment in Guinea-Bissau’s history to put an end to the spiral of violence and disruption of constitutional order.


“We cannot miss this opportunity,” he said.  Conceding or compromising in that context would “send a terrible sign and set a dangerous precedent”.  With a clear and decisive action, it would be possible to establish a very important standard regarding future elections in Guinea-Bissau, and elsewhere.


On behalf of the Chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the representative of Côte d’Ivoire said it was “time to take urgent and appropriate measures to defuse the time bomb”.  The situation was “serious and complex”, and threatened to undo the achievements of the subregion.   Having carefully reviewed it, ECOWAS intended to immediately deploy a military contingent, under the United Nations principle of “subsidiarity”.  He requested Council support for that and other ECOWAS initiatives.


The coup, suggested Angola’s Minister of External Relations, had “interrupted the most virtuous period” in the country’s recent history.  It had taken place in the middle of the electoral process, which reflected a “total disregard for the democratic will and sovereignty of the people of Guinea-Bissau”.  The challenge to the international community was serious enough that, if it failed to find appropriate solutions, a people that had already suffered tremendously over the past 30 years might suffer even further.


Brazil’s representative and Chair of the Guinea-Bissau Configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission said nearly a month after she had briefed the Council on the progress Guinea-Bissau had been making in implementing the peacebuilding priorities, she had to return to brief on the forcible seizure of power from the legitimate Government.  The Council must act with resolve to assist Guinea-Bissau in “breaking away, once and for all, from the cycle of violence, coup d’etats, impunity and instability that has plagued the country for so long”.


Statements were also made by the representatives of Togo and South Africa.


The meeting began at 3:13 p.m. and adjourned at 4:43 p.m.


Background


The Security Council met this afternoon to consider the situation in Guinea-Bissau.


Briefing


JOSEPH MUTABOBA, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau, via video-conference from the country, said that following the 12 April military coup, which was unanimously condemned by the international community, some members of the Armed Forces claiming to be a “Military Command” took responsibility for the actions and explained its reasons:  the alleged existence of a secret agreement between the Government and Angola to legitimize an intervention by the Angolan armed forces.  The Military Command had stressed that it did not want power and had been forced to act in defence of attempts by the Government to annihilate the Armed Forces.  A document was later circulated by opposition parties on 18 April purporting to be a copy of a letter from the Prime Minister addressed to the Secretary-General, requesting an extraordinary session of the Security Council to discuss the internal situation following the non-acceptance of the election results and the deployment of a peacekeeping force.


He said the Military Command on 13 April had also outlined its immediate goals:  removing obstacles to security sector reform; fighting drug trafficking and consumption; tackling impunity; and ensuring continuity in building a democratic State based on respect for human rights and freedom of speech.  The coup, although claimed by a “Military Command”, was endorsed by the Armed Forces General Staff.  Also on that day, the Military Command had invited political parties to consult on restoring constitutional normality.  Two days later, 16 of 23 parties that had participated opted for the non-constitutional proposition and some “abandoned the table”.  A major point of discord had also been the transition period, with some having argued for a two-year transition, and others wanting it to last until November, when legislative elections were planned. 


The major parliamentary party, known as PAIGC, had issued a statement on 14 April condemning the coup, calling for the unconditional release of its leaders and their reinstatement, he continued.  On 16 April, the five presidential candidates contesting the electoral process had also issued a statement condemning the coup.  There had been some attempts by the population and civil society to protest, but marches by youth and women had been met with a harsh reaction from the military, which had restricted freedom of assembly and expression.


Overall, he said, while Bissau and the rest of the country appeared calm, with life apparently returning to normal, the environment remained tense and volatile, leading to a reportedly “unusual exodus” of people from the countryside.  A continued crisis would “fatally impact” the cashew trading season, which was crucial to the economy and livelihoods.  “A humanitarian crisis is a distinct possibility,” he said.


He noted strong voices of condemnation of the coup from multilateral and bilateral partners — all unanimous in calling for the restoration of the constitutional order and the release of detained leaders.  Many had also called for the conclusion of the interrupted electoral process.  A visiting mission of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on 16 April said subsequently that it had transmitted a clear message that the Community stood by its “zero tolerance” policy towards unconstitutional takeover of power.  ECOWAS had also clarified that Guinea-Bissau would be suspended from the organization should it fail to restore the constitutional order.  The President of the ECOWAS Commission said that the military had undertaken to comply with the requests, and ECOWAS stood ready to assist with the modalities.


On 18 April, an agreement was signed between the Armed Forces and political parties for a two-year transition, which included the maintenance of military leadership.  Withdrawal was ongoing by the Angola Military Technical Assistance Mission, known as MISSANG.  The Angolan Government promised to notify international partners when the mission departed.  He paid tribute to Angola for a successful mission, which had unfortunately become a “casualty of the deep-rooted political and military conflicts” in Guinea-Bissau.  However, Angola had contributed, not only to maintaining stability there, but also to infrastructure support for the Armed Forces as a contribution to security sector reform.


“This is clearly a political-military coup,” he stressed.  Irrespective of the motives of the perpetrators, “this act will go to history books as one more coup that book place under the United Nations eye and hence of the whole international community”.  It would also be described as an act of military insubordination to the democratically elected civilian authorities, almost two years after the ECOWAS/CPLP road map was adopted.  “We could have done more, and I believe we can do more,” he said, voicing hope that all partners learned from this latest setback that “time is critical in whatever we intend to do.”  Had the international community moved quicker in providing the necessary resources for security sector reform, which would have allowed for the demobilization and retirement programmes to take off, “we might not now have been discussing this matter today”.


He concluded by stressing that it was vital not to exclude part of the population or important national stakeholders.  Any solution that excluded the PAIGC and other parliamentary parties was “a recipe for a future crisis and would be a negation of the will of the people through elections in 2008”.


Statements


MAMADU SALIU DJALÓ PIRES, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guinea-Bissau, reviewed the “wave of persecution and fear” resulting from the events of the night of 12 April.  The President of the Supreme Court had found refuge in a diplomatic mission, several Government authorities and individuals who said they opposed that “arbitrariness” were in uncertain locations, while their properties had been looted by uniformed and armed elements, and while their respective families had been violated.


Submitting to the Council what they deemed were the main arguments of the “self-proclaimed military command, the political parties that support it and the opponents of the electoral process that was abruptly stopped”, he said there were allegations of election fraud and the argument that the process had omitted a considerable number of voters who had turned 18 years of age after the last census.  He countered those arguments, as well as the “second accusation” of the perpetrators of the coup that it related to the existence of a “secret agreement” aimed at the annihilation of the Armed Forces of Guinea-Bissau.  That, he said, was a “rash claim”.  The list of “indiscipline and insubordination acts” by the military towards the political power was more extensive.


He provided a summary of those acts, which included, among several other examples, the summary executions of Government leaders, the beating of public order police, and the invasion of United Nations premises on 1 April 2010.  It was urgent that concrete steps be taken; the current context inevitably required “immediate and compulsive reform of those involved in the coup”, as well as the re-launching of the defence and security sector reform programme under United Nations coordination and with the participation of Guinea-Bissau’s partners, the restoration of the legitimate constitutional bodies, and the conclusion of the electoral presidential process.  He welcomed the “clear, specific and unambiguous” condemnation by the international community of the 12 April coup.


The Government and people of his country “have no doubts as to the way forward”, and, for that reason, he said, “I beg that the following be done:  the deployment of a peacekeeping force to Guinea-Bissau with a broad mandate and over an extended period of time, in order to allow the country to definitively turn the page and allow for the establishment of a legitimate democratic State”.


GEORGES REBELO CHIKOTI, Minister of External Relations of Angola, said the reasons for the Council’s “emergency meeting” were extremely serious for Guinea-Bissau and its people, as well as for the African continent and the international community as a whole.  In effect, the military coup of 12 April had “interrupted the most virtuous period” in the country’s recent history of relative political stability, good governance and significant economic growth.  The military coup had taken place in the middle of the electoral process, which reflected a “total disregard for the democratic will and sovereignty of the people of Guinea-Bissau”.  Thus, it had violated all the principles of democratic life and constituted the most basic violations of the African Union Charter on elections and good governance.  Further, it cast its authors and accomplices under political condemnation, sanctions and prosecutions.


He said that Angola, like all members of the Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries and the international community, wanted to see Guinea-Bissau consolidate peace, stability and development.  Guinea-Bissau had deep-rooted problems affecting a large part of its political and military class.  The increase in drug trafficking could affect not only the neighbouring nations, but also the entire region, with consequences for regional stability and security.  The permanent instability now facing the country was marked by successive military uprisings, which affected not only the institutions, but the entire political class in the country, and was the result of impunity and the increase in drug trafficking.


Guinea-Bissau needed “adequate therapy” with the aid of the Council and the Peacebuilding Commission, the African Union, ECOWAS, the Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries and other actors.  He, therefore, called on the Council to consider adopting appropriate measures, with a view to restoring constitutional order, ensuring the unconditional release of arrested leaders, creating a peacekeeping force for Guinea-Bissau, concluding the electoral process, and providing a system of penalties for breaches of such measures.  The challenge to the international community was serious enough that, if it failed to find appropriate solutions, a people that had already suffered tremendously over the past 30 years might suffer even further.


YOUSSOUFOU BAMBA (C ôte d’Ivoire), on behalf of Chairman Alassane Ouattara of the Authority of ECOWAS Heads of State and Government, recalled that, on 31 March, he had dispatched an ECOWAS mission to Guinea-Bissau, with a view to calming the situation.  Unfortunately, its advice had not been heeded.  On 12 April, the Guinea-Bissau military began operations that soon developed into a coup d’état.  On 16 April, the Chairman dispatched a second ECOWAS mission to the country, during which several concerns were raised.  Among others, it was held that the political class and democratic institutions had, since independence, evolved under persistent political instability, to the extent that no elected President had ever served a full term in the country.  Governance institutions had been dysfunctional and, among other things, it was felt that the “psychosis” generated by the “threat” of an Angola-led intervention and the possible confrontation between MISSANG and the Guinea-Bissau army had led to acute fear and an exodus of the population from the capital towards Senegal and other neighbouring countries. 


He said the ECOWAS mission had managed to secure an undertaking by the Military Command to restore constitutional order immediately.  The Junta had requested ECOWAS to assist in the development of the modalities for the transition.  Further, ECOWAS had demanded the immediate release of the Prime Minister, the Interim President and other political detainees.  The situation in Guinea-Bissau was “serious and complex”, threatening to undo the achievements of the subregion.  It also threatened international peace and security.  “This is the time to take urgent and appropriate measures to defuse the time bomb.” 


Having carefully reviewed the situation, ECOWAS intended to immediately deploy a military contingent, under the United Nations principle of “subsidiarity”, he said.  The mission would ensure the protection of “VIPs” and institutions, as well as the envisaged transition and electoral process.  In the medium term, it would ensure protection of witnesses during the investigation of acts of impunity and implementation of the defence and security sector reform.  The Community would convene a meeting on 26 April to further consider the situation, including the restoration of order and the deployment of ECOWAS troops.  He requested Security Council support for those initiatives.


MARIA LUIZA RIBEIRO VIOTTI (Brazil), Chair of the Guinea-Bissau Configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, said it was most unfortunate that 22 days after she had briefed the Council on the progress Guinea-Bissau had been making in implementing the peacebuilding priorities, she had to return to brief on the “forcible seizure of power from the legitimate Government of Guinea-Bissau” on 12 April.  The Configuration condemned that act in the strongest terms, as well as the arbitrary detentions, and it called on all parties to resolve their disputes through political and peaceful means, within the framework of the country’s democratic institutions.  It opposed any attempt to change the Government through unconstitutional means, and encouraged it, and all stakeholders, to work together to pursue political dialogue, so as to preserve the country’s stability and promote national reconciliation.


She said that the solution to the current crisis required the immediate release of all authorities detained by the coup perpetrators.  She, meanwhile, welcomed the engagement of the regional and subregional organizations, urging continued support for efforts towards the restoration of constitutional order.  “It is not the first time that the constitutional order is broken in Guinea-Bissau,” she said.  The country’s recent history had been marked by upheavals and crises.  However, the 12 April coup was particularly regrettable, because it happened at a moment in which progress towards a more stable and prosperous society was under way.  The people and Government of Guinea-Bissau had been implementing reforms to steer the country in the right direction.  Political stability, improved governance and management reforms had led to economic recovery and the revival of trust in the country by national stakeholders and foreign partners.  Security sector reform was ongoing, paving the way for a more professional armed forces.  Progress had also been made to combat drug trafficking.


The international community must urgently act to address the current scenario, she said.  It was very important that the hard-won socio-economic gains of the recent past be protected and built upon, in an environment of respect for the rule of law and democracy.  The Council, and the international community as a whole, must act with resolve to assist Guinea-Bissau in “breaking away, once and for all, from the cycle of violence, coup d’états, impunity and instability that has plagued the country for so long”.


PAULO PORTAS, Minister of State and Foreign Affairs of Portugal, said one month ago, Guinea-Bissau was on the path to complete a full democratic legislature for the first time in decades.  In the first round of the presidential elections, internationally recognized as regular, transparent and free, Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior had received 49 per cent of the vote and the second round was scheduled.  Today, that man was illegally detained, as is the interim President; the electoral process had been violently cancelled; the Government had been forcefully seized; ministers were in refuge and their families under threat; journalists were detained and beaten; and looting by the military was ongoing.  Had it not been for the clear and unified message of the international community, the senior officials would probably be dead by now and there would be no hope of restoring basic freedoms.


He said it could not be business as usual in Guinea-Bissau:  “the time has come to draw the line.  The time has come to say no — no to the prominence of arms over votes”.  The zero-tolerance principle regarding access to power through unconstitutional means must be fully upheld.  Otherwise, he asked, what message would be conveyed to the people of Guinea-Bissau and to the region?.  The crisis had wider and very relevant implications related to the serious increase in the instability of the Western African situation.  The threats, which were connected, were:  increased proliferation of and trafficking in arms and drugs; the growing threat of the “maghrebi” version of Al-Qaida; and indications of serious internal problems in other countries in the region.  Clearly, regional peace and stability were at stake.  At stake in Guinea-Bissau was “a choice between a State based on constitutional rule or a failed State based on the power of drug trafficking”. 


It was up to the international community to seize this crucial moment in the history of Guinea-Bissau as an opportunity to put an end to the spiral of violence and disruption of constitutional order, and to move effectively forward with the reform of the security sector, he said, adding, “We cannot miss this opportunity”.  Conceding or compromising in that context, allowing for anything less than the full restoration of the constitutional order and of the legitimate authorities, as well as the completion of the electoral process, would “send a terrible sign and set a dangerous precedent”.  With a clear and decisive action, it would be possible to establish a very important standard regarding future elections in Guinea-Bissau, and elsewhere.


Furthermore, he said, an illegal seizure of power must not go unpunished.  The European Union, beyond suspending its cooperation with Guinea-Bissau, would be ready to move forward with sanctions on individuals who continued to obstruct the peace.  He called on the Council to consider similar targeted measures.  He also believed the Council should assume its responsibility and seriously consider the call of the legitimate Government of Guinea-Bissau for a United Nations-mandated stabilization mission — in the form of a comprehensive and combined effort to tackle the root problems.  The international community and Portugal were side-by-side with the people of Guinea-Bissau and its legitimate Government to pursue a resolution of the crisis and allow the country to finally follow its path to peace, justice and development.  As it was said in Guinea-Bissau:  “we stand together”.  As it was said at the United Nations:  “Let’s act together”.


KODJO MENAN (Togo) said he rejected the use of force as a means of settling political problems, particularly as a means of assuming power.  The coup called into question the order which it claimed to establish.  It was a violation of constitutional order and freedom of expression, and a source of ongoing instability.  It threatened recent progress, made possible thanks to the commitment of the political class to respect basic conventional rules, and to the international community, regional and subregional organizations, and various bilateral partners.  No one could ignore the work carried out by the United Nations in the country.  The Council had frequently noted its concern, given the various threats to development, regularly asking all political leaders to demonstrate moderation, and for the army to avoid interfering in political life.  So, it was right for the Council to condemn this “umpteenth” coup d’etat.


He said the events of 12 April stymied the country’s political life and handicapped its economic development.  The threat hanging over the country would likely undermine recent progress in areas crucial to reform and to preventing a return to chaos.  The coup came “hot on the heels” of that in Mali, extending the list of ills already confronting the region, such as arms and drug trafficking, organized crime, the activities of radical armed groups, piracy and refugee flows.  Given that very bleak picture, it was the responsibility of the Council to find the best approach and to help ensure that each coup in Guinea was not the penultimate one.  The 15-member body must do all it could to ensure investments in the country bore fruit and avert more unnecessary suffering there.


BASO SANGQU (South Africa) said the unlawful act threatened peace and security, and completely undermined international law and principles enshrined in the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.  Only a return to constitutional order and release of the leaders would guarantee respect of the people’s will, as expressed in the 2008 elections.  The international community must convey a strong message that there would be zero tolerance for impunity, and it must bolster and not weaken recent gains.  The African Union and others had suspended Guinea-Bissau’s membership, pending restoration of order there.  That decision was a strong expression of political commitment to respect for, and preservation of, democratic principles, human rights, rule of law and good governance in Africa.


He said his country firmly rejected any further attempt to undermine the constitutional framework and rule of law in Guinea-Bissau, and it called for the unconditional and immediate release of the acting President and all other detained leaders.  Following that, the electoral process should be concluded, in accordance with the ruling of the country’s Supreme Court.  South Africa supported the coordinated efforts of the African Union, ECOWAS and others, including the Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries and bilateral partners in addressing the key challenges to development, good governance, democracy and security, and in combating drug trafficking and related activities.  The United Nations should support such efforts.  The perpetrators of the coup and their supporters must be held accountable for their actions.


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