Guinea-Bissau progresses on path towards stability after last year’s unrest – Ban

The residence of the Prime Minister in Bissau. Photo: IRIN/Kate Thomas

22 February 2011 – Guinea-Bissau is countering the effects of last year’s unrest, and the United Nations is helping to promote security sector reform in a country that has been dogged by war, coups and assassinations in recent years, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says in his latest report.

“I am encouraged by the noticeable progress that Guinea-Bissau has made to reverse the negative effects of the civil-military events that took place on 1 April 2010,” he writes, referring to the brief detention of the Prime Minister, Chief of General Staff and other senior military officers by some members of the armed forces, which he has previously called “a major setback” to promoting stability and implementing key reforms.

“I note the positive steps taken by the leadership of Guinea-Bissau, especially the President and Prime Minister, to demonstrate its renewed commitment to resolve contentious issues through dialogue and consultations and to consolidate State institutions.”

In a report covering events since the end of October, Mr. Ban cites the continuing rift between President Malam Bacai Sanhá and Prime Minister Carlos Gomes, but notes that compromises over certain appointments, and Mr. Sanhá’s assurance that the Government would serve until the end of the legislative session in 2012 have helped ease tensions. His Special Representative Joseph Mutaboba has continued to promote permanent dialogue between the two, he adds.

The UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS), which Mr. Mutaboba heads, has been cooperating with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries (CPLP) to promote defence and security sector reforms, and Mr. Ban commends the important role played by regional and international stakeholders to encourage constructive dialogue among the political and military leadership.

UNIOGBIS was set up last year as a successor to the UN Peacebuilding Support Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNOGBIS), which had been in the country since 1999 as part of international efforts to help it recover from civil war in which thousands were killed, wounded or forced from their homes. In the years that followed, the country was still plagued by coups, coup attempts and, in 2009, the assassination of President João Bernardo Vieira.

Citing continuing instability, the Security Council in November extended UNIOGBIS’ mandate until 31 December 2011. Guinea-Bissau is one of six countries currently on the agenda of the Peacebuilding Commission – along with Burundi, Guinea, Sierra Leone, the Central African Republic (CAR) and Liberia – established in 2005 to help countries emerging from conflict make an irreversible transition from war to sustainable peace.

Mr. Ban notes that, together with the Defence Ministry, UNIOGBIS has organized awareness-raising seminars on the rule of law, human rights, gender, democracy and military justice to enhance the capacity of military officers in consolidating peace and the rule of law, prevent impunity and renew public trust in the armed forces.

The mission has also been helping with police reform and, with national and international partners, has assisted national authorities in promoting dialogue and cooperation among and between law enforcement agencies, magistrates and prosecutors.

UNIOGBIS and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) continue to help national authorities tackle the growing problem of illicit drug trafficking, organized crime and drug abuse in West Africa as part of an ECOWAS regional action plan.

“If you have strong police, if you have a strong criminal justice system, it will raise the capacity of the state to tackle the issue of impunity,” UNIOGBIS Senior Police Adviser Nelson Werlang Garcia told the UN News Centre in a separate interview. “By addressing impunity, you’re creating confidence by the population in the police, in the state, and helping them to feel more secure and protected by the state.”

On human rights, Mr. Ban notes that the mission has joined with the Interior Ministry in organizing sensitization workshops on gender issues to promote full respect for the principles of equality within law enforcement to prevent, identify and investigate gender-based violence.

He sounds a positive note on the economy, noting that despite continuing structural fragility, Guinea-Bissau has continued to pursue important reforms enabling it to make significant progress in managing its debt burden, thus opening up opportunities to stabilize the economy and promote economic growth.

But, he warns: “Political stability is essential if the country is to use the window of opportunity presented by the recently announced debt relief arrangement to build on the positive momentum created.

“It is especially important for the people of Guinea-Bissau, in particular political and military actors, to reflect on the high cost of the wasted years and to focus on working collectively in the national interest towards building a national consensus on the priorities for socio-economic development and long-term stability,” he concludes.


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