DESPITE ECONOMIC, SOCIAL PROBLEMS, ‘TANGIBLE PROGRESS’ MADE BY GUINEA-BISSAU THIS YEAR IN PEACEBUILDING EFFORTS, SECURITY COUNCIL TOLD

26 March 2008
SC/9285

DESPITE ECONOMIC, SOCIAL PROBLEMS, ‘TANGIBLE PROGRESS’ MADE BY GUINEA-BISSAU THIS YEAR IN PEACEBUILDING EFFORTS, SECURITY COUNCIL TOLD

26 March 2008
Security Council
SC/9285
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

5860th Meeting (AM)

DESPITE ECONOMIC, SOCIAL PROBLEMS, ‘TANGIBLE PROGRESS’ MADE BY GUINEA-BISSAU

THIS YEAR IN PEACEBUILDING EFFORTS, SECURITY COUNCIL TOLD

 

Briefed by Secretary-General’s Representative, Peacebuilding Commission;

Ambassador Says 16 November Elections Will Decisively Strengthen Democracy

Despite the palpable distress and adverse living conditions in Guinea-Bissau, the Government had made tangible progress in the first quarter of the year in engaging the international community in peacebuilding efforts, the Security Council was told today in briefings by the Secretary-General’s Representative and the Chair of the Guinea-Bissau configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission.

Presenting the Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation was Representative Shola Omoregi, who said that the arrival of missions from the Peacebuilding Commission -- which had placed the country on its agenda on 19 December 2007 -- and of teams of technical assistants from the European Union was creating expectations among the population of tangible peace dividends.

He cautioned, however, that failure to manage those expectations would result in disillusionment and could ultimately jeopardize the long-term commitment necessary for implementing much needed reforms.  There was also a danger that the eagerly awaited upsurge in donor activity might mask the reality that the Government’s poverty reduction and security sector reform strategies were still massively underfunded.  He urged the international community to remain engaged.

Noting the announcement by the President last night that legislative elections would be held on 16 November, Mr. Omoregi said that news would no doubt significantly reduce tensions that had been building in the country in the past few days.  Touching on several other items of concern, he said that, while everyone knew that security sector reform was a key structural reform, Guinea-Bissau still faced massive social problems requiring urgent solutions.  It was important that the international community earmark assistance to enable the Government to implement its poverty reduction strategy.

In that connection, he stressed the need for better donor coordination in all sectors receiving official development assistance, as well as the need to strengthen the existing coordination structure.  As a follow-up, it might be necessary for the donors to consider creating a multi-donor “security sector reform trust fund” in order to ensure a strategic coherence, identify gaps and develop a common donor vision.  He also noted the Government’s concern about the emerging threat of terrorism in the country, suggesting that subregional cooperation should be encouraged, especially in light of the porous borders.

The Chair of the Guinea-Bissau configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti of Brazil, recalled that the objective of the country-specific configuration’s work was to assess the main challenges and priorities for peacebuilding, in close contact with the Guinea-Bissau authorities, and to launch a strategic framework to address the most critical peacebuilding issues.

She said the challenges in Guinea-Bissau included the areas identified by the Security Council, such as building governmental capacity, public sector and security sector reform, strengthening the rule of law and assisting the electoral process.  Challenges also included salary arrears, improving the living conditions of the military, combating drug trafficking and organized crime, promoting human resources development and youth employment, addressing the needs of vulnerable groups, rehabilitating the infrastructure, in particular the energy sector, and adopting measures to jumpstart the economy’s revival.

The Commission intended to tackle peacebuilding in Guinea-Bissau through a two-track approach, interweaving immediate projects and rapid actions with medium- and long-term perspectives, she explained.  There was a growing recognition that, given the daunting array of challenges, the peacebuilding priorities should be ranked according to the degree of urgency, importance and value added to the peace consolidation efforts.  The strategic framework would outline the Government’s commitments and those of the various other stakeholders.  It would also provide a basis for further engagement with the country.

She said she had the impression from her mission to the country that there was a general expectation that the Commission could be a turning point in the political and economic transition.  As many authorities had emphasized, the country had great potential and was confident that, with international support, it would be able to attain political stability and sustained economic growth.

Guinea-Bissau’s Ambassador thanked Security Council members for their positive response to his Government’s request to include the country on the Peacebuilding Commission’s agenda.  The Secretary-General, in his report, had recognized that efforts had been made in Guinea-Bissau, which had led to substantial progress.  Indeed, the process of consolidating democracy was moving in the right direction.  There was an inclusive Government, although he agreed with the Secretary-General that work remained to be done to consolidate democracy.

The elections would be decisive in strengthening democracy, but Guinea-Bissau was a poor country with many difficulties, he said.  That required international assistance in such areas as security sector reform.  Renewed momentum was also needed for public sector reform and, in the area of human rights, everyone needed to have access to “real, genuine justice”.  Guinea-Bissau welcomed the collaboration with the Peacebuilding Commission and, more specifically, with the country-specific configuration, whose professionalism and sensitivity were evident.  Joint efforts with the international community would lead to better living standards, lasting peace and democracy.

The meeting began at 10:07 a.m. and was adjourned at 10:38 a.m.

Background

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 Peacebuilding Support Office in that country (UNOGBIS) (document S/2008/181), which focuses on developments since the Secretary-General’s last report on 6 December 2007.  In particular, the report provides details on the Government’s progress in various resource mobilization efforts.  The report concludes that the Government of Guinea-Bissau has continued to make tangible progress in engaging the international community in its efforts to put in place the urgent reforms necessary for sustainable political and economic stabilization, enabling the people of Guinea-Bissau to have a better life.  The inclusion of Guinea-Bissau on the Peacebuilding Commission’s agenda and the signing of the emergency post-conflict assistance programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) show the international community’s renewed commitment in supporting Guinea-Bissau’s peacebuilding efforts.

In the report, the Secretary-General states he is encouraged by the momentum generated since the country was placed on the Commission’s agenda on 19 December 2007.  The Commission’s engagement with Guinea-Bissau will provide valuable assistance in post-conflict reconstruction and peace consolidation.  Noting that Guinea-Bissau has been declared eligible for funding from the Peacebuilding Fund, the Secretary-General urges the Government and its partners to engage actively to move the process forward, especially by setting up the national steering committee and by implementing quick-impact projects.  He appeals to the international community for continued and increased support for Guinea-Bissau’s multifaceted peacebuilding challenges.

The report notes the importance of having various initiatives to assist the country dovetail, in order to use limited resources effectively to achieve the expected results.  Government and donors must coordinate efforts in that regard.  The strategic framework for peacebuilding must be nationally owned and the Secretary-General urges the Peacebuilding Support Office to ensure wide consultation with all stakeholders, including civil society, to elaborate the framework.

The 2008 legislative elections would be a major benchmark for the state of democratic governance in the country, according to the report, and the Secretary-General encourages authorities to set a date for the polls as a first step towards creating a climate of confidence in the credibility of the process.  He urges the international community to provide resources for elections, including funds to cover arrears from past democratic elections.  He says he has directed the United Nations to continue to provide the necessary technical support to prepare for the elections.  The report also commends the authorities for launching the security sector reform process, a key element in a wider public administration reform programme.  This long-term, complex process will require cooperation among all stakeholders, including international cooperation partners, and will affect the State’s ability to achieve its poverty reduction strategy.

Comprehensive and effective security-sector reform will also serve as a long-term framework for a concerted strategy against drug trafficking in the country, the Secretary-General states.  The report appeals to the international community to support and train Guinea Bissau’s law enforcement and criminal justice system, within the wider framework of security sector reform and the fight against organized crime, drug trafficking and terrorism.  The report commends the Government and international partners for organizing the December 2007 Lisbon International Conference on Drug Trafficking in Guinea-Bissau.  The Secretary-General urges the Government and international partners to work together to formulate an effective follow-up process to the Lisbon Conference, especially aimed at mobilizing additional resources to comprehensively implement the operational plan.  He also notes the importance of integrating Guinea-Bissau’s national anti-narcotic effort into a subregional approach.  Guinea-Bissau has made important progress in the period under review, but much more remains to be done to make the reform process irreversible, says the report.  Success will depend on continuing collaboration between the Government and its partners, as well as on the resolve of the people of Guinea-Bissau to put national interests above narrow personal or partisan ambitions.

Statements

SHOLA OMOREGIE, Representative of the Secretary-General in Guinea-Bissau, introducing the Secretary-General’s report on Guinea-Bissau and the activities of UNOGBIS, updated the Council on developments since the report had been published.  He said that, last night, President João Bernardo Vieira -- who had been ambivalent about the date of the next legislative elections -- had announced that the elections would be held on 16 November 2008.  That announcement would no doubt significantly reduce tensions that had been building in the country in the past few days. 

Meanwhile, preparations for the forthcoming legislative elections were moving very slowly, he said.  It was only recently that the Government had opted for the biometric voter identity card registration process.  Its decision had been backed on 16 March by the signatory parties to the Political and Government Stability Pact, on which the Government was based.  A voter registration exercise involving the issuing of biometric cards would take five to six months.  The voter registration exercise, which should have been carried out in January and February, was still behind schedule, mainly because of the impasse over payment of arrears, estimated at $1.7 million, from previous elections to the national and regional electoral commissions.

He said that, on 9 March, the central committee of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde had declared null and void the 29 February decision by its leader, Carlos Gomes Jr., to withdraw political confidence from Prime Minister Martinho N’Dafa Cabi, the African Party’s third Vice-President.  The central committee’s decision and support by the other two members of the Stability Pact had alleviated disquiet among national and international actors that uncertainty over Mr. N’Dafa Cabi’s position might impact the positive momentum of the cooperation activities under way with the international community.  The African Party would be holding a leadership contest at its congress from 3 to 6 April.  That contest’s outcome would determine whether the current momentum would be sustained or seriously undermined.

The Peacebuilding Commission and the Government, with support from UNOGBIS and the United Nations country team, were working closely on preparing short-term projects for early funding -- in April 2008 -- from the Peacebuilding Fund, under the framework of the Peacebuilding Priority Plan for Guinea-Bissau, he continued.  That was the initial phase designed to implement projects that would help build national partners’ confidence, yield immediate and visible dividends in the peace consolidation process and serve as a catalyst or impetus for the Peacebuilding Commission’s medium- to long-term assistance under the Strategic Framework for Peacebuilding in Guinea-Bissau.

The National Assembly had passed the amnesty bill after a second reading on 4 March, he said.  It would now be submitted to President Vieira for ratification.  That law had been seen by proponents as facilitating reconciliation and paving the way for security sector reform.  President Vieira and the military had worked very hard for the amnesty bill.  The census of active personnel in the Armed Forces, funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), had ended on 19 March.  That data was being processed and was expected to be ready by month’s end.  The data would inform decisions on the scope of future demobilization and retirement programmes.  The census was a precondition for the full support of donors for security sector reform.  The census of the veterans and security bodies would also need to be conducted.

On 17 March, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), financed by the United Kingdom, had organized a security sector reform consultation for the Security Sector Reform Steering Committee, which included the United Nations and key multilateral and bilateral donors, to raise knowledge capacity and assess the need for updating the Government’s security sector reform strategy, he said.  That meeting’s conclusions concerned the need to update the strategy in order to, among others, enhance capabilities for combating narcotics and organized crime.

OECD had followed that with consultations on 18 and 20 March with the technical coordinating committee that focused on raising capacity and applying security sector reform best practices to the Guinea-Bissau context.  The consultation exercise had identified several challenges to implementing security sector reform.  Those challenges included a weak parliamentary oversight and control system, the need for better aid coordination and national capacity-building in key sectors, a lack of support for civil society organizations and the need to link security sector reform more coherently with the national anti-narcotics and Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers frameworks.

In conclusion, he said that the first quarter of the year had seen a great deal of activity that illustrated the tangible progress being made by the Government in engaging the international community.  In particular, the arrival of missions from the Peacebuilding Commission and teams of technical assistants from the European Union was creating expectations among the population of tangible peace dividends.  Failure to manage those expectations would result in disillusionment, which might ultimately jeopardize the long-term commitment necessary for implementing reforms.  There was also a danger that the upsurge in donor activity might mask the reality that Government poverty reduction and security sector reform strategies were still massively underfunded.  The international community, therefore, must remain engaged.

While everyone knew that security sector reform was a key structural reform, Guinea-Bissau still faced massive social problems requiring urgent solutions, he said.  It was important that the international community also earmark assistance to enable the Government to implement its poverty reduction strategy.  Better donor coordination in all sectors receiving official development assistance was needed, and the existing coordination structure must be strengthened.  As a follow-up, it might be necessary for the donors to consider creating a multi-donor security sector reform trust fund, in order to ensure strategic coherence, identify gaps and develop a common donor vision.

Depending on the outcome of a mapping resource meeting at Headquarters in April, he said, he envisioned the possibility of a multi-component assessment mission to the country in the near future to evaluate the situation on the ground and identify the nature of any assistance that could be rendered.  The Council would be informed of the outcome of the assessment mission.

The legislative elections were a key benchmark of the level of democratic maturity in the country, and it was disappointing that preparations had been impeded because of resource problems, he said.  Now that the date of the elections had been announced, it was important that the country’s partners provide the resources needed to prevent national stakeholders from using the lack of funds as a pretext to not move forward.

Finally, he noted that the Government was very concerned about the emerging threat of terrorism in the country.  The recent case in January, when two Mauritanian nationals had been arrested in Guinea-Bissau in connection with the murder of four French tourists in Mauritania, as well as subsequent threats of reprisals against Guinea-Bissau, had led to concern that there was a terrorist threat.  The Government had requested international assistance to strengthen its capacity to control its borders, in order to combat that emerging threat.  The arrest of the Mauritanians was an example of coordinated criminal intelligence exchange between the authorities of Senegal and Guinea-Bissau, and also demonstrated the risk posed by porous borders.  Subregional cooperation should be encouraged in addressing terrorist threats, especially in a region with porous borders.

MARIA LUIZA RIBEIRO VIOTTI (Brazil), Chair of the Guinea-Bissau configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, reporting on the current status of the Commission’s work in Guinea-Bissau, recalled that the objective of the country-specific configuration’s work was to assess the main challenges and priorities for peacebuilding, in close contact with the Guinea-Bissau authorities, and to launch a strategic framework to address the most critical peacebuilding issues in the country.

She said that, soon after the configuration’s establishment, she had conducted an exploration mission to Guinea-Bissau, with the aim of getting first-hand information on the current situation and initiating a dialogue with the Government and relevant stakeholders on the peacebuilding priorities.  The mission had also been aimed at explaining the process and purpose of the Peacebuilding Commission’s engagement with the country and ensuring that the principle of country ownership had been observed since the very outset of the process.  She had left the country with the impression that there was a general expectation that the Commission could be a turning point in the country’s political and economic transition.

While in Guinea-Bissau, she said, she had had the opportunity to witness the distress and adverse living conditions, which sadly threatened ongoing efforts to sustain peace and stability.  On the other hand, as many authorities had emphasized, the country had great potential and was confident that, with international support, it would be able to attain political stability and sustained economic growth.  After reporting on her field mission to the Commission, discussions had been held on the mapping of resources and on peacebuilding gaps, which had proved very useful.  Additionally, a high-level delegation headed by the Prime Minister had travelled to New York to address the Commission, which was another illustration of the Government’s willingness to work together towards consolidating peace and stability.

On that day, the Commission had unanimously decided to advise the Secretary-General to declare Guinea-Bissau eligible for support from the Peacebuilding Fund, she said.  The declaration of eligibility, officially announced by the Secretary-General, had triggered the process of establishing a national steering committee in the country, in charge of analysing the specific projects to be financed by the Fund.

She said that, following the various interactions with the Government and the preliminary discussions in the Commission, the latter was gaining a better understanding of the priorities.  The challenges included the areas identified by the Security Council, such as building governmental capacity, public sector and security sector reform, strengthening the rule of law and assisting the electoral process.  Challenges also included salary arrears, improving the living conditions of the military, combating drug trafficking and organized crime, promoting human resources development and youth employment, addressing the needs of vulnerable groups, rehabilitating the infrastructure, in particular the energy sector, and adopting measures to jumpstart the economy’s revival.

In setting a strategic framework for peacebuilding, she said, the Commission would now define the specific mix of measures and the sequencing of actions it would undertake within each of the priority areas to support existing strategies and programmes, identify gaps and generate synergies among programmes, taking into account the progress achieved thus far.  It was widely acknowledged that the key to addressing the peacebuilding challenges was the need to strengthen the Government’s capacity to break a vicious cycle, in which recurrent institutional, political and economic instabilities were intricately linked.

She said the Commission intended to tackle peacebuilding in Guinea-Bissau through a two-track approach, interweaving immediate projects and rapid actions with medium- and long-term perspectives.  There was a growing recognition that, given the daunting array of challenges, the peacebuilding priorities should be ranked according to the degree of urgency, importance and value added to the peace-consolidation efforts.  The strategic framework would outline the Government’s commitments and those of the various other stakeholders.  It would also provide a basis for further engagement with the country, a mechanism for effective coordination and a means of marshalling vital additional resources.  As part of developing the strategic framework, the Commission would conduct a further field mission to the country in early April.  As its work evolved, she trusted that the Commission would make a difference in ensuring a brighter future of political stability and economic prosperity for the people of Guinea-Bissau.

ALFREDO LOPES CABRAL ( Guinea-Bissau) thanked Security Council members for their positive response to his Government’s request to include Guinea-Bissau on the Peacebuilding Commission’s agenda.  The Council’s response today meant the country was considered worthy of the attention of the international community and the Commission, and that efforts to find ways to work together to improve the situation would continue.  He was also gratified that the Ambassador of Brazil had been chosen to chair the country-specific configuration, and he had learned from the briefing the extent to which that had been useful so far.  The Secretary-General, in his latest report on the situation, had recognized that efforts had been made in Guinea-Bissau, which had led to substantial progress.

Indeed, he said, the process of consolidating democracy was moving in the right direction.  There was an inclusive Government, in that it included several parties and political players, and work was under way to construct an inclusive participatory democracy.  He agreed with the Secretary-General that there was still work to be done to consolidate democracy, for which several factors needed improvement.  Guinea-Bissau was a poor country facing many difficulties.  That required international assistance in such areas as security sector reform.  Renewed momentum was needed in the area of public reform and, in the area of human rights, it must be demonstrated that human rights was not just a theory -- everyone needed to have access to “real, genuine justice”.

He explained the amnesty law’s recent passage in the National Assembly.  In no way had that been intended to instil a policy of immunity, he said.  On the contrary, it was part of the national reconciliation effort.  Those who committed crimes would be brought to justice, and the punishment would fit the crime.  Regarding the forthcoming elections, it was not up to the President to unilaterally set the date.  That was determined via a democratic process.  The national electoral commission had made a proposal to the President, following which, yesterday, the President had decreed that the elections would be held on 16 November.

He welcomed the collaboration with the Peacebuilding Commission and, more specifically, with the country-specific configuration, whose professionalism and sensitivity were evident.  The elections would be a decisive stage in strengthening democracy.  The joint efforts with the international community would improve the situation in the country, leading to improved living standards, lasting peace and democracy.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.