|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
6149th Meeting (AM)
HEAD OF UNITED NATIONS GUINEA-BISSAU OFFICE CALLS ON INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY
TO PROVIDE MUCH-NEEDED SUPPORT FOR COUNTRY’S 28 JUNE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
Says Preparations on Track, But Fragile Security Means Setting Not Ideal;
Chair of Peacebuilding Commission’s Guinea-Bissau Configuration Also Briefs
With presidential elections in Guinea-Bissau less than a week away, the top United Nations envoy there, concerned that the people of the poverty-stricken West African nation were gripped by paranoia and the Government was paralysed following a wave of recent political assassinations, today appealed to the Security Council and the international community to provide much-needed support for the ballot, as well as for much-needed institutional and governance reforms.
As he briefed the Council, Joseph Mutaboba, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the United Nations Peace-building Support Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNOGBIS), said the there had been four major violent incidents or alleged coup attempts since 2008. The general security situation was fragile and insecurity was palpable among the elite, as well as the general population, he continued, warning: “This is not an ideal setting for peaceful elections.”
Also briefing the Council, and echoing many of Mr. Mutaboba’s concerns, was Luiza Ribeiro Viotti (Brazil), Chair of the Guinea-Bissau configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission. She stressed that every effort must be made to ensure that the 28 June elections were free, fair and transparent. If properly conducted, the vote might pave the way for a true dialogue among the main political forces, which was crucial for peacebuilding.
“The challenges in Guinea-Bissau are enormous,” Mr. Mutaboba said. Although the Government and the people of the country had the primary responsibility to address those challenges, the international community must stay engaged and must provide the much-needed support for critical reforms in the justice, defence and security sectors, as well as public administration reform, for the work of the Commission of Inquiry, and most urgently, for the conduct of peaceful presidential elections.
Describing a country grappling with social and political uncertainty, he told the Council the apparent calm following the double assassinations in early March of President Joao Bernardo Vieira and Chief of Staff Tagme Na Waie, had been shattered in the early morning hours of 5 June, when Baciro Dabo, Minister of Territorial Administration and candidate in the upcoming presidential elections, had been killed in his home. Moreover, Helder Proenca, a leading Member of Parliament and former Minister of Defence had been killed, along with his driver and bodyguard, when his car was ambushed at roughly the same time.
Mr. Mutaboba said the State Intelligence Services had reported that both men were resisting arrest over involvement in an alleged coup attempt. There had also been other arrests, including of a former Prime Minister, Faustino Imbali, in connection with that alleged coup. Those violent events had taken place on the eve of the official launch of the presidential election campaigns and threatened to disrupt the polling schedule. Further, one candidate had withdrawn from the race, bringing the number of candidates down to 11 from 13.
He went on to say that widespread panic had broken out when rumours spread of the death of the Interim Chief of Staff. That official had been forced to give a radio interview to prove the rumour was unfounded, not only to assuage the fears of the general population, but also of his supporters in the Armed Forces. There was also a high degree of mistrust and scepticism, particularly over reports that Mr. Dabo and Mr. Proenca had been killed because they had resisted arrest.
“However, let me stress that the preparations for the organization of the elections, as well as for the international observation, remain on track,” he said, adding that Interim President Raimundo Pereira had confirmed during the recent visit to the country by Political Affairs Under-Secretary-General B. Lynn Pascoe, that elections would take place as scheduled.
Investigations into the double assassinations were ongoing, he said, turning to other hopeful developments. The parallel military investigation into the bomb blast that had killed General Tagame had been completed and the report handed over to the Government. The Commission of Inquiry, headed by the Prosecutor General, had questioned the validity of the military investigations and lack of cooperation by the military.
He informed the Council that the Government had sent a letter to the Secretary-General requesting the establishment of an international commission of inquiry into the double assassinations. It had also requested the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries and the Community of Sahel-Saharan States be invited to assist in such a commission.
Currently, the United Nations was working with ECOWAS and the African Union to ensure that appropriate international expertise and logistical support was provided to the national commission. International support would be needed, in recognition of the fact that the responsibility to address impunity and bring perpetrators to justice must rest with the national authorities and be seen by the population as a national undertaking.
“This is the only way we can contribute to making the Guinea-Bissau justice system credible in the eyes of the citizens and the international community,” he said, adding that the presence of international experts naturally had security implications which needed to be considered.
On human rights, he said that six people, including three civilians, were currently being detained at various military sites in Guinea-Bissau in connection with the alleged coup, including the Director-General of Intelligence Services, who had refused to sign a 5 June order admitting knowledge of the existence of a coup attempt. The military had not handed over evidence, or the detainees, to the judicial authorities, despite various Government requests that it do so. The detainees were being held illegally, he said, adding that the three civilians had access to the Red Cross, but no free access to relatives, lawyers or doctors.
Mr. Mutaboba was also was concerned because the Government, which had won an overwhelming victory seven months ago in the legislative elections, had been weakened by the paralysis over the March and June events, as well as by mounting administrative and security challenges. As a result, it had pulled back from its promises of paying civil service salaries, and improving social services and infrastructure. Disgruntlement over continuing arrears, teachers’ strikes and the political and military instability had considerably eroded the political capital that the Government had once enjoyed.
All that meant that the elected president, irrespective of what party he came from, must work with the party that had won the 2008 legislative elections in the interest of creating a political environment for a stable Government and for the rest of the legislatures. That would require a selfless spirit among the political class, in particular, and a healthy spirit of collaboration between the institutions of the State. “Continued instability is the desire of spoilers who benefit from a weak State, organized crime and drug trafficking,” he added.
Highlighting the Secretary-General’s proposals for the creation of an integrated peacebuilding office in Guinea-Bissau, he said such a move recognized the need to strengthen and enhance the effectiveness of the United Nations presence in the country “at this critical time of rampant poverty, political tension and instability”. The proposed integrated office would support the efforts of the Guinea-Bissau authorities and would focus on the reform of the defence and security sectors, promotion of the rule of law and human rights, enhancing political dialogue and national reconciliation and strengthening the national institutions. It would also support the work of the Peacebuilding Commission and, in particular, coordinate the many security sector reform initiatives currently under way in the country.
“Only through coordinated, coherent and concerted efforts will we be able to make a real difference in the reform of the security sector, which is a condition sine qua non for peace consolidation in the country,” he said, appealing for the Council’s full support in ensuring that the office would be well resourced and fully staffed to effectively carry out its mandate and make a real difference in the lives of the people of Guinea-Bissau.
For her part, Ms. Viotti said it was also crucial to mitigate the serious socio-economic problems and to ensure the adoption of a long-term development strategy for Guinea-Bissau. The international community must take an integrated approach to peacebuilding in the country, as the political and economic sides of the equation were mutually supportive.
She said the political instability in Guinea-Bissau had shown the need for the country-specific configuration to redouble its efforts. A round table on security sector reform in Cape Verde on 20 April had pointed to the need for a pension fund for the military. A short-term plan of action was expected to be developed in order to guide future actions. It would be important to re-engage with national stakeholders in tackling the priorities outlined in the strategic framework, especially security sector reform, youth employment and the fight against drug trafficking.
Ms. Viotti said she intended to launch a discussion about a recommendation on a second tranche of the Peacebuilding Fund and carry on consultations regarding a donors’ conference later in the year. She welcomed the recent approval of the Interim Strategy Note of the World Bank, as well as the approval of a new credit line to the country.
The success of peacebuilding in Guinea-Bissau required a stronger and more coherent United Nations presence on the ground, she said. That was why the recommendation concerning the transformation of UNOGBIS into an integrated office deserved support. Giving such an office a robust mandate with the corresponding resources was the most politically wise and financially cost-effective decision the Council and the General Assembly could make in support of the country.
The meeting began at 10:16 a.m. and ended at 10:35 p.m.
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