Drugs and crime threaten recent stability in Guinea-Bissau, warn UN officials

Anonymous intermediary involved in drug trafficking in Guinea-Bissau

5 November 2009 – The prospects for political stability in Guinea-Bissau appear to be good but are threatened by drug trafficking and organized crime, United Nations officials warned the Security Council today.

“Although there seems to be a downward trend in the trafficking of cocaine through West Africa over the past few months, drug trafficking and organized crime remain a significant challenge for stability in Guinea-Bissau and the sub-region,” said Joseph Mutaboba, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s representative in the West African nation.

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), there has been a significant drop in drug seizures in West Africa over the past 18 months, corroborated by a similarly strong decline in European drug seizures with West Africa as the suspected source.

However, as UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa told the Council, international efforts may have caused the trafficking routes to move further south, or farther inland.

“The threat to Guinea-Bissau – though less obvious than in the past – is still serious,” he stated, noting that there have been reports of smuggling through many privately-owned islands of the Bissau archipelago.

“The Government needs greater assistance to gain control over these islands, which provide a safe haven for light aircraft and fast boats,” said Mr. Costa. “I therefore urge this Council not to be complacent.”

The Executive Director also highlighted three new “disturbing” trends in the region. The first is that a growing amount of the drugs coming into West Africa are being consumed locally. “This is new, though not surprising,” he said, noting that low prices and high supply of cocaine, particularly in Guinea-Bissau, cause havoc among youth who are already affected by other problems.

In addition, there are reports of drug use – as well as trafficking – affecting the military, and, since July, UNODC and Interpol have been investigating numerous West African sites where they found large amounts of chemicals used in drug processing.

“West Africa is now on the verge of becoming a source of drugs, not only a transit area,” said Mr. Costa. “Organized crime is growing indigenous roots.”

Mr. Mutaboba reported that along with drug trafficking and organized crime, stability in Guinea-Bissau is also threatened by “hegemonic politics” and intra-party divisions. “Much depends on the governing party’s ability to evolve away from exclusionary politics and develop inclusiveness and accountability.”

Presenting Mr. Ban’s latest report on Guinea-Bissau, Mr. Mutaboba noted that the Government has focused on managing the consequences of the high-profile assassinations that took place in March and June, and there is a perception that in other critical areas, limited progress has been made.

In March then president João Bernardo Vieira was assassinated amid tensions between the Government and the military forces in a country marked by decades of civil conflicts, coups d’état and uprisings.

Then in June presidential candidate Baciro Dabó and the former defence minister Helder Proença were assassinated on the eve of the official launch of the electoral campaign.

Despite the tensions that followed the killings, the country held peaceful elections and President Malam Bacai Sanhá was inaugurated on 8 September.

Mr. Mutaboba, who heads the UN Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNOGBIS), stressed the need for a “transparent and thorough” investigation of the assassinations, as well as the alleged coup d’état of June, to fight impunity, restore public confidence and establish truth.

Ambassador Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti of Brazil, who chairs the Guinea-Bissau Configuration of the UN Peacebuilding Commission, highlighted additional challenges facing the country, including reform of the security sector, and building State institutions that are able to address basic social needs, ensure security and promote human rights.

In a statement read out by Ambassador Thomas Mayr-Harting of Austria, which holds the Council’s rotating presidency for November, the 15-member body reiterated the importance of consolidating democracy, security, the rule of law, national reconciliation and the fight against impunity to ensure sustainable peace in Guinea-Bissau.

It took note of the ongoing consultations between the UN, the African Union (AU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries (CPLP), to assist the Government in investigating the political assassinations of March and June.

“The Security Council calls upon the Government of Guinea-Bissau to expedite this process, and calls on the above mentioned organizations and the international community as a whole, to bring their support to this end.”

The Council also urged the Government to take the necessary actions to, among other matters, combat drug trafficking and organized crime, and to ensure that the security sector is effective, professional and accountable.

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