SECURITY COUNCIL URGED TO ‘SEND A SIGNAL’ TO GUINEA-BISSAU’S SECURITY FORCES, GOVERNMENT ON RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT HUMAN RIGHTS AHEAD OF JUNE ELECTIONS

8 April 2009
SC/9630

SECURITY COUNCIL URGED TO ‘SEND A SIGNAL’ TO GUINEA-BISSAU’S SECURITY FORCES, GOVERNMENT ON RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT HUMAN RIGHTS AHEAD OF JUNE ELECTIONS

8 April 2009
Security Council
SC/9630
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

6103rd Meeting (AM)

SECURITY COUNCIL URGED TO ‘SEND A SIGNAL’ TO GUINEA-BISSAU’S SECURITY FORCES,

GOVERNMENT ON RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT HUMAN RIGHTS AHEAD OF JUNE ELECTIONS

Top UN Official in Country Says ‘Sound Commission of Inquiry’ Needed

On Assassinations of President, Army Chief to End Cycles of Violence, Impunity

The top United Nations official in Guinea-Bissau today urged the Security Council to “send a signal” to the country’s security forces and Government that they were responsible for protecting and upholding the human rights of their citizens, especially ahead of upcoming legislative elections called in the wake last month’s double assassinations of the President and the Army Chief of Staff of the West African nation.

“While the patience of the people of Guinea-Bissau is seemingly endless, one has to recognize that disillusionment is setting in and a feeling of frustration that any promise quickly evaporates with another cyclical crisis,” said Joseph Mutaboba, Representative of the Secretary-General and head of United Nations Peacebuilding Support Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNOGBIS).

In his first briefing to the Security Council since taking over the leadership of the mission last month, he said tensions within the military and political infighting had culminated in the “tragic” assassinations of both President João Bernardo Vieira and General Batista Tagme Na Waie within hours of each other on 1 and 2 March, forcing the Government to focus its energies on managing the resultant political crisis.  The Government was also dealing with a “precarious” fiscal situation and faced enormous difficulties in clearing salary arrears and tackling social issues it had promised to resolve.

Further, he said the country’s “volatile” security conditions required the international community to consider how best to bolster the security of the State, if called upon, in what could be considered “a rapidly changing environment”.  He, therefore, urged Council members to contribute their part to the broader efforts under way to support the elections -- set for 28 June 2009 -- programmes aimed at ending impunity and security sector reform in Guinea-Bissau.

Mr. Mutaboba noted, however, that many were questioning the appropriateness of holding elections so soon after major violence and before the socio-political environment had had time to settle.  “[We] must take on board those perceptions and be aware that there is a growing disconnect between the population and the democratic process,” he cautioned.  In the eyes of many, that process treated the people of the country as political fodder, while giving them nothing in return.  It was important for the wider citizenry to see some quick improvements in their lives, if democracy was to mean anything to them, he said.

“A sound commission of inquiry is essential to end the cycles of violence and impunity in the country,” he said, noting that officials told him time and again that they feared the current inquiry would fail like so many others had.  Further, as part of the security sector reform plan, he was currently working with the Government to develop projects which would use military labour and land allocated to the armed forces, to grow and process food, build homes and schools, and provide other social services.

Briefing the Council in her capacity as Chair of the Guinea-Bissau configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti (Brazil) stressed that the assassinations and subsequent developments, including episodes of violence and intimidation against key Government and military officials, were a reminder of how fragile Guinea-Bissau was and the need for the international community to muster political and financial support.  It was also a reminder of the need for the Government and society of Guinea-Bissau to take full benefit of the international willingness to assist them in overcoming the manifold challenges they faced.

Among them, she singled out two where the Peacebuilding Commission could make a significant contribution in the short term.  The first of those was the organization of the June presidential elections.  The cost was estimated at $5 million, and an effort would be made to help mobilize the funds needed to fill the gap.  Echoing one of Mr. Mutaboba’s chief concerns, she called for comprehensive reform of the security and defence sectors.  Such reform should not be seen merely as a way to reduce the number of military personnel, but rather as a process that would allow Guinea-Bissau to rely on professional and republican armed forces.

As acknowledged in the strategic framework, she said, security sector reform should not be undertaken in isolation, nor should it be considered a panacea.  Stability would require a broader effort aimed at consolidating institutions.  Needless to say, strengthened institutions were also key in the fight against illicit drug trafficking.  She recalled the support provided by the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries for Guinea-Bissau to become a pilot country in the implementation of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Praia Action Plan agreed upon last year.

In his remarks, Alfredo Lopes Cabral (Guinea-Bissau) said that, despite the tragic events in his country, the Security Council must not consider Guinea-Bissau a “lost cause” or that the ongoing assistance provided by the international community was not achieving the desired results.  Rather, the people of the country, “in spite of the brutality of all that had happened”, were peace-loving and had decided that they must “reconcile themselves with themselves”.  He urged the Council not to give up on the people and called for support to ensure sustainable development.

“We need the international community to help us deal with major challenges,” he continued, calling again on the Council to assist with the establishment of a climate conducive to ensure the peaceful holding of elections this coming June.  In spite of difficulties in harmonizing positions, he said, the various political parties were, nevertheless, committed to holding credible and transparent elections that would provide an opportunity for all the people of Guinea-Bissau to make sound choices about who they chose to lead them.  To that end, the Council’s assistance was absolutely necessary.

At the same time, while there was a national consensus on making progress on political and security matters, he said the country needed the financial wherewithal to implement agreed plans.  Moreover, the Government needed to meet the daily needs of the people.  He, therefore, urged the Council to not only focus on the elections, but to help create minimum conditions for a normal life for the people.  The people of Guinea-Bissau were prepared to make all the necessary sacrifices to establish sustainable peace, once and for all.  Nevertheless, the country would need the help of the international community to carry out the joint efforts undertaken to ensure Guinea-Bissau achieved lasting peace and development.

The meeting began at 10:20 a.m. and ended at 11:06 a.m.

Background

The Security Council met this morning to consider the situation in Guinea-Bissau and hear a briefing on the activities of the United Nations Peacebuilding Support Office in that country (UNOGBIS).

Statements

Introducing the Secretary-General’s latest report on the activities of UNOGBIS (document S/2009/169), JOSEPH MUTABOBA, Representative of the Secretary-General in that country, said that the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) had won an absolute majority in the legislative elections of November 2008, and that President João Bernardo Vieira had invited the PAICG leader, Carlos Gomes Júnior to form a Government, which had taken office on 8 January 2009.

Continuing, he said that, on the evening of 1 March, a bomb blast had killed the Army Chief of General Staff, General Batista Tagme Na Waie and, a few hours later, President Vieira had also been assassinated.  The next day, the Council of Ministers had instructed the Prosecutor General to establish a commission of inquiry into both assassinations and, on 3 March, the Speaker of Parliament, Raimundo Pereira, had been sworn in as interim President, in keeping with the principles of the Constitution.  He had been tasked with organizing anticipated presidential elections.  Reaction to the assassinations had been swift, and several countries and organizations, including the African Union, the European Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) had condemned the events and called for a transparent investigation.

The commission of inquiry into the double assassinations had started work on 12 March, he said.  The Prosecutor General and Minister of Justice had requested technical and financial support.  At the same time, the Prosecutor had expressed concerns about the lack of security for members and witnesses against threats and intimidation, and over the lack of cooperation from the military with regard to information exchange on the military inquiry.  A parallel inquiry had been set up by the military to investigate the assassination of General Tagme.  That commission had detained a number of military personnel and civilians, and, according to the Guinea-Bissau League of Human Rights, some of those detainees showed signs of physical mistreatment.

“On 2 April, the Prosecutor General called on the international community to intercede so that these impediments could be resolved and conditions created for the inquiry to proceed,” he said.  Turning to other matters, he said that, on 6 April, the Chairperson of the Commission of the African Union had announced the appointment of João Bernardo de Miranda as the African Union’s Special Envoy for Guinea-Bissau.

Regarding the presidential elections, a constitutional crisis had been averted after talks between the interim President and parliamentary and non-parliamentary parties, as well as civil society, which had resulted in broad consensus to hold elections on 28 June.  He added that the budget for the elections was estimated to be close to $5 million and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Coordinator had indicated that the organization of the polls currently faced a gap of some $2.5 million.

On human rights matters, he said the lawyer of Rear Admiral Americo Bubo Na Tchuto, Pedro Infanda, had been detained and tortured by the military.  Mr. Infanda’s arrest had followed his public criticism of what he considered as unconstitutional nominations to military leadership posts.  The military had claimed those comments were a threat to peace and security.  Among other incidents, Mr. Mutaboba reported that the former Prime Minister and current Audit Court President, Francisco José Fadul, had been attacked in his residence in the early hours of the morning of 1 April by armed men in military uniforms, after he had made comments critical of the military on a radio programme.  Finally, the President of the League of Human Rights had gone into hiding last week after the League staff reported threats by an armed individual in plain clothes.

He said that, although the people of Guinea-Bissau had voted “maturely and massively for hope and change in their lives”, they had subsequently faced ruling party infighting before the tragic double assassinations in March.  Those events had forced the Government to focus its energies on managing the resultant political and military crisis.  The Government was also dealing with a “precarious fiscal situation” and it faced enormous difficulties in clearing salary arrears and tackling social issues it had promised to resolve.

“While the patience of the people of Guinea-Bissau is seemingly endless, one has to recognize that disillusionment is setting in and a feeling of frustration that any promise quickly evaporates with another cyclical crisis,” he said.  While the people of the country were being asked to go to the polls on 28 June to elect a President, many questioned the appropriateness of elections so soon after major violence and before the socio-political environment had time to settle.

“We support elections as part of the democratic process and respect for the Constitution, but we must take on board those perceptions and be aware that there is a growing disconnect between the population and the democratic process,” he said, adding that, in the eyes of many, that process treated the people of the country as political fodder, while giving them nothing in return.  It was important for the wider citizenry to see some quick improvements in their lives if democracy was to mean anything to them.

“A sound commission of inquiry is essential to end the cycles of violence and impunity in the country,” he said, noting that officials told him time and again that they feared the current inquiry would fail like so many others.  Moreover, the Prosecutor General had, on several occasions, argued that the current inquiry did not have the necessary material or technical support.  Recently, that official had claimed a lack of cooperation from the military in that matter.  At the same time, asking investigators and witnesses to carry out their duties and be brave when there was no safety net only added to the distinct possibility of failure.

Those pessimistic assessments were an argument for the creation of an international commission of inquiry and the provision of protection for witnesses and national officials involved in such an exercise, he stressed.  In his assessment, the security environment in Guinea-Bissau was volatile and the international community must consider how best to bolster the security of the State, if called upon in what could be considered “a rapidly changing environment”.  Finally, he stressed that security sector reform was going to be crucial, especially as national stakeholders had lost faith that the international community could kick-start that process.

There were indeed programmes needing funding, and now was the time to get some “quick wins” by implementing those initiatives that particularly affected veterans and other servicemen above the age of retirement.  As part of the security sector reform plan, he was currently working with the Government to develop projects which would use military labour and land allocated to the armed forces, to grow and process food, build homes and schools, and provide other social services.  Such projects, he said, would address the need for creating a modern republican army endowed with the basic rights of food, shelter and education.  The success of such projects would impact positively on security sector reform and on the relationship between the civilian population and the military.  It was expected that, ultimately, the military would become partners in the attainment of development and political stability in Guinea-Bissau.

“I would finally like to call on all members of the Council to send a signal to the security forces and the Government of Guinea-Bissau that they are responsible for protecting and upholding the human rights of the people of [the country],” he declared.  He also urged each member of the Council to play their part in the efforts being made by the international community to support the elections, programmes aimed at ending impunity, and security sector reform in Guinea-Bissau.

MARIA LUIZA RIBEIRO VIOTTI (Brazil) speaking in her capacity as Chair of the Guinea-Bissau configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, observed that, since her last briefing to the Council in October 2008, there had been encouraging, as well as deeply disturbing developments in Guinea-Bissau, including the assassinations on 1 and 2 March 2009 of President João Bernardo Vieira and Army Chief of Staff General Batista Tagme Na Waie.  Both those tragic events had marred the progress that had been achieved up to that point.

The country-specific configuration had joined the international community, including the Security Council, in strongly condemning the assassinations, and also invited all its partners and friends of Guinea-Bissau to maintain their commitment to the country, in particular through assistance for organizing the presidential elections called for in the national Constitution.  Fortunately, in the aftermath of those events, the Speaker of Parliament had taken over as interim President, in accordance with the Constitution, and a commission of inquiry had been promptly set up.

However, the political situation was once again disturbed by recent episodes of violence and intimidation against known figures in the country, including the President of the Audit Court and the lawyer for a former navy chief of staff, she said.  Also, detentions of other persons, including senior military officers, had not yet been fully explained, all events that were extremely important to the Commission’s work.  The assassinations and the latest developments were a reminder of the fragility of Guinea-Bissau and the need for the international community to muster political and financial support for the country.

Continuing, she said it was also a reminder of the need for the Government and society in the country to take full benefit of the international willingness to assist them in overcoming the manifold challenges they faced.  Among them, she singled out two where the Peacebuilding Commission could make a significant contribution in the short term.  The first of those was the organization of presidential elections, which could take place on 28 June, according to a political agreement recently achieved.  The cost was estimated at $5 million, and an effort would be made to help mobilize the funds needed to fill the gap.  Another issue of critical importance was the reform of the security and defence sectors.  The reform of those sectors needed to be undertaken in a holistic manner and should not be seen as merely a means of reducing the number of the military, but rather as a process that would allow Guinea-Bissau to rely on professional and republican armed forces, she said.

As acknowledged in the strategic framework, she said, security sector reform should not be undertaken in isolation, nor should it be considered a panacea, stability would require a broader effort aimed at consolidating institutions.  Needless to say, strengthened institutions were also key in the fight against illicit drug trafficking.  She recalled the support provided by the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries for Guinea-Bissau to become a pilot country in the implementation of the ECOWAS Praia Action Plan agreed upon last year.

Concluding, she stressed that the scenario for peacebuilding in Guinea-Bissau remained challenging and that the situation called for sustained political and financial support by the international community, as well as further and better technical support.  To that end, she said, a strengthened United Nations presence on the ground was absolutely indispensable.

ALFREDO LOPES CABRAL ( Guinea-Bissau) said the Council had been considering the situation in his country for many years.  The fact that the current United Nations office there was nearly 10 years old demonstrated the seriousness with which the 15-member body took the situation.  He took the floor today with a “heavy heart” owing to the tragic events that had taken place in Guinea-Bissau, including the assassinations last month of the President and the Army Chief of Staff.  Those acts had done much to exacerbate the ongoing deprivation the people faced.

But, however tragic those events might have been, the Security Council must not consider Guinea-Bissau a “lost cause”, or that the ongoing assistance provided by the international community was not achieving the desired results.  Rather, the people of the country, “in spite of the brutality of all that had happened”, were peace-loving and had decided that they must “reconcile themselves with themselves”.  He urged the Council not to give up on the people and called for support to ensure sustainable development.  “We need the international community to help us deal with major challenges,” he continued, calling again on the Council to assist with the establishment of a climate conducive to ensure the peaceful holding of elections this coming June.

In spite of difficulties in harmonizing positions, he said, the various political parties were, nevertheless, committed to holding credible and transparent elections that would provide an opportunity for all the people of Guinea-Bissau to make sound choices about who they chose to lead them.  To that end, the Council’s assistance was absolutely necessary.  He also asked for the Council to assist with security sector reform, so that soldiers and other military personnel could have a dignified existence, especially as the conditions in which many currently lived were deplorable and degrading.  Some of the barracks did not even have roofs and, during the just ended rainy season, many soldiers and officers had been regularly exposed to the elements.  The army had decided that it would play a critical role in the reform of defence and security, he added.

So overall, while there was a national consensus on making progress on political and security matters, the country needed the financial wherewithal to implement agreed plans.  Moreover, the Government needed to meet the daily needs of the people.  He, therefore, urged the Council to not only focus on the elections, but to help create minimum conditions for a normal life for the people.  “Give back hope to the people of Guinea-Bissau” by demonstrating faith in their ability to form a constructive dialogue leading to lasting peace.

He said that the people of Guinea-Bissau were prepared to make all the necessary sacrifices to establish sustainable peace, once and for all.  The international community needed to help the country improve its justice system by making it more credible and respectful of international law.  In the meantime, Guinea-Bissau, mindful of its obligations and aware of the challenges it faced, was determined to tackle them all to build a better society.  Nevertheless, the country would need the help of the international community to carry out the joint efforts undertaken to ensure Guinea-Bissau achieved lasting peace and development.

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