Senior UN human rights official urges Guinea-Bissau to boost fight against impunity

Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonovic. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

11 July 2013 – A senior United Nations human rights official today urged the Government of Guinea-Bissau to strengthen its fight against impunity, as he completed his first mission to the West African nation.

Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović noted that the analysis undertaken by his office of the consequences of the 2008 Amnesty Law clearly shows that the number of gross human rights violations has increased since its promulgation.

“The human rights situation has in fact significantly worsened after the coup in 2012, which further contributed to the culture of impunity in Guinea-Bissau,” he noted in a news release.

Soldiers in Guinea-Bissau – which has had a history of coups, misrule and political instability since it gained independence from Portugal in 1974 – seized power in April 2012. Constitutional order has still not been restored in the country, where a transitional government is in place until national elections – slated for November 2013 – are held.

Mr. Šimonović insisted that amnesties can only be given in accordance with international law, and are impermissible for gross violations of human rights and serious violations of international humanitarian law.

“Devising strategies for the future should take into account not only the need for a fresh start but also the justice aspect,” he said. “Dealing with this justice aspect is necessary for both addressing past human rights violations and preventing future ones,” he added.

“Guinea-Bissau continues to be all too well known for the repeated coups d'état and associated human rights violations, including political assassinations, abductions, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention of political opponents and civil society representatives alike,” he stated.

“The acknowledgement by both my governmental and non-governmental interlocutors that impunity is the main challenge to the protection of human rights and stability of the country is a positive sign,” he said.

“The struggle to combat corruption, drug trafficking and political violence takes time, but every long journey begins with a first step and OHCHR is here to assist you on that journey,” he added, referring to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

During his 7 to 11 July visit, Mr. Šimonović participated in a National Conference on Impunity, Justice and Human Rights, organized to help with the establishment of a roadmap to end impunity in Guinea-Buissau.

“This conference is particularly timely as it creates positive momentum in the combat against impunity before legislative and presidential elections, and paves the way for further strengthening the rule of law after the elections,” he said.

Noting that general elections are planned for this November, he stated that free, fair, transparent and credible elections are only possible if a certain number of human rights prerequisites are in place, such as freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and the absence of acts of intimidation against political figures, the media and civil society organisations.

In addition to meeting with a wide range of stakeholders, Mr. Šimonović visited Mansoa prison, the Judiciary Police detention centre, Simao Mendes Hospital in Bissau and the law faculty of Bissau University.

While in Simao Mendes Hospital, Mr. Šimonović was “disturbed” by the poor infrastructure and the lack of medicine, which hamper much needed treatment.

“It is appalling to see how political instability and corruption is negatively affecting social and economic rights of people,” he said. “I have seen a hospital with little equipment or stocks of medicine where up to three sick babies have to share the same bed due to the lack of space and a proper paediatric unit. Medical doctors do not have critical life saving equipment.

“If national resources were more efficiently used and if international support, suspended after the coup, was to be re-established, dramatic health and education needs could be more adequately addressed,” he stated.


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