Guinea-Bissau’s fragile post-election period requires strong, sustained support from all partners to prevent any backsliding of hard-won gains along the path to a peaceful transition of power, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General told the Security Council today.
Briefing the 15-member Council on recent challenges and achievements in that country, Rosine H. Sori-Coulibaly, who also serves as Head of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS), commended national authorities for strengthening institutions, fighting organized crime and completing its electoral cycle, despite the challenges at hand. Indeed, renewed political tensions between the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde, known as the PAIGC, and the Movement for Democratic Change following legal challenges to November voting results make it unlikely that the eventual swearing in of a new president will foster stability.
However, should national stakeholders demonstrate the required political will and commitment, she went on to say, the upcoming post-electoral period, including the Supreme Court’s expected announcement on 15 February about voting results, could instead represent a window of opportunity for sustainable peace and stability, national cohesion and reconciliation. This is critical at a time when UNIOGBIS is planning its withdrawal by 31 December 2020, she stressed, commending the ongoing work of the five international organizations represented in the country — the African Union, Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), European Union and the United Nations — and other key partners. She also urged the Security Council and partners to remain poised to promote and accompany Guinea-Bissau in implementing reform and moving forward to a stable future.
Brazil’s representative also briefed the Council in his capacity as Chair of the Guinea-Bissau configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, saying that as the situation is still volatile, political developments must also be monitored. However, 2020 will be landmark year, with a peaceful transition of power permitting the consolidation of democracy and a focus on peacebuilding priorities. The United Nations role will be to ensure a coordinated approach to advancing policies and programmes that address the causes of instability and promote peace and development. In addition, the 2020 peacebuilding architecture review will allow for taking stock of and reflecting on remaining challenges.
Council members commended progress, encouraged all actors to work to resolve differences and pledged a commitment to future initiatives, including support for the UNIOGBIS drawdown. Some, including the representative of Germany, said efforts must focus on avoiding the creation of a political vacuum following the mission’s withdrawal. Similarly, Tunisia’s delegate, saying that a lack of political stability might ripen conditions for terrorist groups to move in, called for sustained support in this area and in Guinea-Bissau’s drive to combat drug trafficking and organized crime.
Niger’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, whose country holds the ECOWAS chairmanship, said: “I urgently appeal to this Council for us to work together” so that Guinea-Bissau does not relapse into instability and become a base for terrorists. With UNIOGBIS drawing down, the ECOWAS mission in Guinea-Bissau’s assistance will be needed to reform the security sector, he said, reiterating the African Union’s call for continued United Nations and European Union financial support until national forces can ensure security. Despite some progress, bilateral and multilateral partners must apply the Conakry agreements and the ECOWAS road map, and work for the continuation of sanctions.
The representative of the Russian Federation emphasized that the sanctions long ago achieved their purpose, with their continued existence, especially in light of the drawdown, being “all the more bewildering”. In fact, the current situation is “a far cry” from events in 2012, he said, adding that the armed forces are staying out of politics.
The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, among other members, observed a need to address socioeconomic development to improve living conditions for Bissau-Guineans. Delegates, including the representative of South Africa, said that the most vulnerable groups, particularly women and youth, must be involved in all processes aimed at making the society fairer and more inclusive.
The delegate from Guinea-Bissau encouraged the Council to remain positive that, after the electoral process is settled, there will be a new beginning for her country and that the reconfigured United Nations mandate will focus on advancing the development agenda. While there have been many challenges in consolidating peace, “we have a hope that sustainable peace for the country is reachable”, assisted by the United Nations, the Peacebuilding Commission and the Peacebuilding Fund, whose projects allowed women and young people to participate in the elections and other peacebuilding efforts.
Despite political tensions, she said, a Government led by Aristides Gomes of PAIGC — the party with the largest number of seats in Parliament — was formed and remains confident that by 15 February, the Supreme Court will render its final decision, in accordance with the Constitution. Given the structural changes and UNIOGBIS drawdown, continued United Nations involvement remains necessary to ensure that reforms are carried out and that “you are there to help us in consolidating our democracy”, she said.
Also delivering statements were representatives of Dominican Republic, France, Indonesia, China, United States, Estonia, Viet Nam, United Kingdom and Belgium.
The meeting began at 10:01 a.m. and ended at 11:37 a.m.
ROSINE H. SORI-COULIBALY, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS), provided an update on recent developments amid a backdrop of renewed tensions among political stakeholders that are hampering the Government’s ability to focus on the country’s economic performance and on improving living conditions. Following the November presidential elections that saw Movement for Democratic Change candidate Umaro Sissoco Embaló win, the results and a court-ordered recount were legally challenged by Domingos Simões Pereira, candidate of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde, or PAIGC, with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) holding a summit in Addis Ababa inviting the Supreme Court to finalize its work on the matter by 15 February. Given the tensions between the two political camps, the swearing in of the future President will unlikely bring out stability, making it essential that the Security Council, international community and civil society remain engaged.
She said that despite challenges to the voting outcome, Guinea-Bissau should be commended for completing its electoral cycle. In addition, State institutions have also shown resilience and progress in fighting drug trafficking and organized crime, including the prosecution of a landmark case involving the seizure of 1.8 tons of cocaine in September. The upcoming post-electoral period could represent a window of opportunity for sustainable peace and stability, national cohesion and reconciliation, if national stakeholders demonstrate the required political will and commitment. Underlining an urgent need for a far-reaching cross-sector reform agenda in the country’s stability pact, she said that national authorities should renew efforts to build a culture of accountability. As progress in human rights and gender mainstreaming represents key peacebuilding components, political stakeholders must set the tone to curb discrimination and hate speech, with the establishment of an independent national human rights institution remaining a key pillar following UNIOGBIS’ withdrawal.
Recalling that Security Council resolution 2458 (2019) endorsed a three-phase mission transition and drawdown, she said that UNIOGBIS is working towards its exit by 31 December 2020, having closed three regional offices in 2019. Calling on national stakeholders to enhance their involvement with the transition process, she said forward steps include a set of benchmarks for the withdrawal, continued engagement with key partners and the convening of a joint UNIOGBIS-United Nations country team meeting in March to help streamline efforts. However, adequate funding is required to allow the country team to take on critical peacebuilding activities following the mission’s withdrawal.
Regarding the Mission’s present activities, she said efforts have shifted to support the reform agenda, but a lack of constructive dialogue among political stakeholders poses a serious threat to implementing provisions, particularly regarding the Constitution review, which remains at the heart of the country’s recurring instability. During this period, all political forces and civil society organizations should be encouraged to commit to dialogue and building consensus on national priorities to consolidate peace and stability, with regional and international stakeholders remaining engaged in the process. Noting that UNIOGBIS continues to support the convening of a national conference on peace, reconciliation and development, she encouraged the Council to call on relevant actors to firmly engage with this agenda. The international community must also remain engaged, she said, adding that she intends to establish a high-level platform for national and global partners to regularly discuss, promote and accompany Guinea-Bissau in implementing its reform agenda. In this regard, she commended the work of the group of five international partners represented in Guinea-Bissau, comprising the African Union, Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries, ECOWAS, European Union and the United Nations.
Recalling the United Nations considerable investment in Guinea-Bissau over the past 20 years, she said that the international community has a collective responsibility ahead of the reconfiguration of the Organization’s presence in the country to safeguard the democratic and peacebuilding dividends. “We must collectively step up our efforts for inclusive and sustainable development,” she said. This includes focusing on the needs of the most vulnerable, particularly women and youth, she said, emphasizing that: “without opportunities, they could become spoilers rather than peace agents.” She also encouraged Bissau-Guinean political leaders, following the legacy of Amilcar Cabral, to engage in constructive dialogue to overcome differences and respect their national institutions to rebuild their country for the next generation.
RONALDO COSTA FILHO (Brazil), speaking in his capacity as Chair of the Guinea-Bissau Configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, congratulated Guinea-Bissau on the conduct of legislative and presidential elections in 2019, and its partners for providing the necessary financial and logistical support. Explaining that their conduct was only the first step towards political stability, he expected that any pending issues will be decided in accordance with the Constitution. A peaceful transition of power will allow for the consolidation of democracy and a focus on peacebuilding priorities. Indeed, 2020 will be a landmark year. Once the voting results are settled, Guinea-Bissau will see an elected President handing over office to another elected President for the first time. UNIOGBIS meanwhile will transfer its tasks to an empowered resident coordinator office and the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), as mandated by the Council, he said, clarifying that this should not be a United Nations-centred process.
Indeed, the Organization’s role will be to ensure a coordinated approach to advancing policies and programmes that address the causes of instability and promote peace and development, he said. Guinea-Bissau must be assisted in reforming its institutions, supporting women and youth in peacebuilding, and promoting and protecting human rights. It is essential for UNIOGBIS to facilitate an inclusive political dialogue. As the situation is still volatile, political developments must also be monitored. For its part, the Commission is prepared to provide the Government and UNIOGBIS with a platform for coherence and coordination, and for understanding the multidimensional peacebuilding challenges. It will work with the Government to identify peacebuilding priorities and promote internal reforms the country needs to ensure long-term stability. International and regional support must also be mobilized to support national development plans and the future United Nations sustainable development framework. The Commission will champion the participation of women and young people in political processes, making the role of the Peacebuilding Fund pivotal. The Commission has been engaged in Guinea-Bissau since 2007, having seen progress and challenges in advancing peacebuilding priorities. The 2020 peacebuilding architecture review will allow for taking stock and reflect on the remaining challenges.
KALLA ANKOURAO, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Cooperation, African Integration and Nigeriens Abroad of Niger, said that as his country holds the ECOWAS chairmanship, it is more resolved than ever to help bring about an end to the Guinea-Bissau crisis. Joint actions, especially by the five international partners represented in Guinea-Bissau, have fostered significant progress in recent years, allowing for the conduct of legislative and presidential elections in 2019. However, the political stalemate following the presidential elections raises concerns. “A catastrophic scenario should not be completely discarded,” he cautioned.
To better appreciate the crisis, he said that attention must focus on the fact that it has taken a more institutional, rather than violent, form, with Constitutional laws holding the seeds of chronic misunderstanding. Recalling also that the President ended his legal mandate seven months ago, and that he remains in place thanks to a decision by ECOWAS to prevent an institutional vacuum, the Minister said that the Guinea-Bissau Government is led by the PAIGC which, on its own, does not have an absolute majority, making it unstable. In addition, drug trafficking is among the destabilizing factors. To avoid a fresh political crisis, he reiterated the ECOWAS call for institutions to foster political and institutional normalization, by concluding their work by 15 February at the latest. Bilateral and multilateral partners must apply the Conakry agreements and the ECOWAS road map, and work for the continuation of sanctions. With the closure of UNIOGBIS coming at year-end, the ECOWAS mission in Guinea-Bissau’s assistance will be needed to reform the security sector. He reiterated the African Union call that the United Nations and European Union continue their financial support to that Mission until national forces can ensure security, stressing: “I urgently appeal to this Council for us to work together” so that Guinea-Bissau does not relapse into instability and become a base for terrorists.
JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) said that the results of the related elections investigation must be implemented, he said, calling on the Government to support the decision and also commending the military service for keeping the peace. Meanwhile, the Government must redouble efforts to deal with human rights violations and establish a related national institution, he said, adding that the use of force by security forces is unacceptable. Acknowledging UNIOGBIS efforts to integrate women and young people, which is important for creating a just, inclusive society, he noted the adoption of a new gender policy. In the post-electoral period, attention must focus on economic development to improve conditions, especially for the most vulnerable populations. Commending the Government’s progress in combating drug trafficking and organized crime, he said cooperation among relevant agencies has indeed spurred gains.
TAREK LADEB (Tunisia) said that given the dearth of trust among political parties, all stakeholders must refrain from taking any actions that jeopardize stability. Noting gains made in implementing the Conakry Agreement, he said local authorities are in a position to prompt greater reform to enshrine gender equality and uphold accountability. To address security threats stemming from drug trafficking and organized crime, he called for support to implement the related national programme of work and promote cooperation with partners. However, a lack of political stability could lead to further backsliding in security and gains made, particularly with regard to terrorists who are exploiting the situation.
JUERGEN SCHULZ (Germany) said that all stakeholders must act responsibly and ensure the peaceful transfer of power, which requires that all political parties respect election results. Welcoming various efforts to foster dialogue to overcome tensions, he said all political actors must put their country and people’s interest first. Concerned about threats to stability posed by organized crime, he expressed support for the work of UNIOGBIS and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Pleased with the Mission’s transition plans, he cautioned that a vacuum following the withdrawal must be avoided by, among other actions, ensuring close cooperation with the United Nations presence in the country, regional organizations and the five international organizations represented in the country.
ANTOINE IGNACE MICHON (France), highlighting several elements contributing to the current progress in tackling the crisis, said that despite recent gains, the situation remains fragile, requiring efforts to foster stability, based on provisions outlined in the Conakry Agreement. Expressing support for the UNIOGBIS transition plan, he called for security-sector reform to be effectively implemented. Ongoing progress in fighting organized crime requires a commitment from national authorities, with the international community’s support, which remains important during the post-election period.
MUHSIN SYIHAB (Indonesia) welcomed the completion of the electoral cycle in Guinea-Bissau as achieving a critical benchmark, stressing, however, the need to resolve the post-election stalemate. Urging all parties to put aside differences to enable the peaceful transfer of power, he said the electoral dispute could swiftly be resolved through pacific means to prevent the country from lapsing into a major political crisis. A new Government would face immediate challenges, such as ensuing the proper functioning of State institutions and improving the lives of the population by reducing poverty and combating drug trafficking and other organized crime. His delegation is heartened with the development of Guinea-Bissau’s national action plan on drug trafficking and organized crime. To preserve hard-won gains, the international community must continue to support peacebuilding and development in that country, even after the closure of UNIOGBIS. In this regard, Indonesia welcomes the development of a road map for a seamless transition.
ISIS AZALEA MARIA GONSALVES (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) encouraged Guinea-Bissau to urgently implement the reforms and strategies set out in the ECOWAS road map, the Conakry Agreement and the Stability Pact. Political actors must focus on governing the country towards progress and stability, with parliamentarians putting aside their differences in favour of a non-partisan approach. She emphasized the importance of improving Guinea-Bissau’s socioeconomic conditions and welcomed the National Action Plan on Drug Trafficking and Transnational Organized Crime. She went on to call on the international community to continue its support for Guinea-Bissau, including through the Peacebuilding Commission.
ZHANG DIANBIN (China), recalling that the election results are controversial, expressed hope that all actors will strengthen dialogue and properly resolve their differences in order to conclude the election process. He advocated African solutions to African problems, urging all parties to implement the Conakry Agreement and ECOWAS road map, and rigorously advance reforms, while calling for international support to help combat drug trafficking and transnational organized crime. For its part, Guinea-Bissau must find a development path that fits its national conditions. The international community must help it build capacity to end poverty and address other challenges, with UNIOGBIS and the Peacebuilding Commission playing a greater role in this regard. In addition, UNIOGBIS should strengthen cooperation with ECOWAS and other United Nations agencies. China will continue to support UNIOGBIS, he said, expressing hope that it will strengthen its cooperation with the Government and maximize the benefits of its work for the people of Guinea-Bissau.
JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa) joined other delegations in congratulating the people of Guinea-Bissau on the successful holding of the presidential elections, stressing that going forward, the participation of women and youth in the political sphere is crucial. That country’s leaders must continue their cooperation with ECOWAS in implementing the reform agenda, including constitutional reform. He went on to commend efforts being undertaken in partnership with UNIOGBIS in providing strategic and technical advice and support to the Government of Guinea-Bissau to combat drug trafficking and transnational organized crime, in close cooperation with UNODC. South Africa supports a responsible drawdown of UNIOGBIS to avoid a reversal of progress, in which tasks will be transferred to the United Nations country team, UNOWAS and international partners.
RODNEY M. HUNTER (United States) commended Guinea-Bissau on the conduct of legislative and presidential elections in 2019, stressing that no matter the outcome of the Supreme Court of Justice ruling, the United States will continue to support rule of law in Guinea-Bissau. The United States looks forward to working with the President-elect to carry out the Guinea-Bissau Government reform agenda, address narcotics trafficking and spur economic growth. It also looks forward to working with the Special Representative, ECOWAS, African Union and others on these shared priorities. He expressed concern about drug trafficking and transnational organized crime, adding that the United States would welcome working with the Government to prevent their spread. The United Nations must continue UNIOGBIS programming to counter such trafficking, even as the mission draws down, he said, expressing support for the Secretary-General’s proposal to withdraw the mission at the end of 2020.
SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia) urged the parties in Guinea-Bissau to refrain from inflammatory rhetoric and using potential social tensions for political gain. Final confirmation of the presidential election results must be announced soon to help create trust and move forward with reforms. Welcoming the timely and decisive engagement of ECOWAS and the African Union at the end of 2019 to stop the political situation from getting worse, he praised the high participation of women in the electoral process and urged the Government to further integrate gender aspects into its policies. He also stressed the need for a holistic approach to peacebuilding as UNIOGBIS plans the transfer of tasks to the United Nations country team, UNOWAS and other partners, with the Peacebuilding Commission and the Peacebuilding Fund playing important supportive roles.
DINH NHO HUNG (Viet Nam), looking forward to the completion of Guinea-Bissau’s electoral cycle and the confirmation of results, underlined the need for the parties to resolve their differences within the Constitutional framework and ensure the implementation of the election’s outcome. He called on the President of Guinea-Bissau, members of Parliament and all concerned parties to work in a collaborative manner to enact the critical reforms envisioned in the Conakry Agreement, the Stability Pact and the ECOWAS road map, while also stressing the importance of increasing the fight against drug trafficking and transnational crime. Reiterating Viet Nam’s support for the implementation of Council resolution 2458 (2019), the presidential statement on 12 February 2020 and the final communiqué of the November 2019 ECOWAS Extraordinary Summit, he called on UNOWAS, ECOWAS, the future Government of Guinea-Bissau and UNIOGBIS to work towards the latter’s drawdown by 31 December 2020 and the transfer of its residual peacebuilding responsibilities.
DAVID CLAY (United Kingdom) welcomed the peaceful holding of legislative and presidential elections in 2019, and the ongoing development of military and political forces in Guinea-Bissau. He expressed concern about the current political uncertainty, which risks damaging public confidence in the electoral system, and called on all actors to work together so a new Government can be inaugurated, according to the Conakry Agreement and the ECOWAS road map. Given recent progress, the United Kingdom supports the drawdown of UNIOGBIS by the end of 2020. It will be important that tasks are handed to United Nations agencies, including the country team and UNODC, and that such agencies are resourced to accept those responsibilities. The Peacebuilding Commission and Peacebuilding Fund meanwhile can ensure the continuity of support for peacebuilding tasks. He called on actors to engage with United Nations good offices, until the Conakry Agreement has been fully implemented, adding that the United Kingdom will continue to monitor the situation and work with the Government to support stability.
ALEXANDER V. REPKIN (Russian Federation) welcomed that the elections were held within the legally mandated timeline and in accordance with relevant standards for democracy. He noted the role played by UNIOGBIS and ECOWAS in their preparations, stressing that the conclusion of the election cycle can become a milestone in Guinea-Bissau’s history. With that success, a page of protracted political tumult will be turned, ushering in a shift towards socioeconomic development — a path that can only be travelled with a priority focus on national consensus. He urged all social and political forces to adopt a responsible approach, in line with State interests and leading to the prompt resolution of disputes. Stressing that the sanctions have long been obsolete and that the current situation is “a far cry” from events in 2012, he noted that the armed forces are staying out of politics. Therefore, the sanctions long ago achieved their purpose. Their persistence, especially in light of the drawdown, is “all the more bewildering”. The restructuring of UNIOGBIS must be done in a phased manner, in accordance with the timeline set out in Council resolution 2458 (2019). At the end of 2020, when UNIOGBIS is to close its operations, the United Nations country team should use the proper tools to give assistance in fighting drug trafficking and corruption, and in fine-tuning State institutions.
MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium), Council President for February, spoke in his national capacity to stress that the time has come for national political actors in Guinea-Bissau to play a positive role in promoting stability. He called for dialogue and restraint so as to prevent increased tensions, expressing support for the UNIOGBIS phased transition plan, which must take place as quietly and painlessly as possible. Underscoring the indispensable roles of the United Nations country team and UNODC, he expressed support for coordinated action by UNIOGBIS and the five international organizations represented in Guinea-Bissau, and for the continued work of the Peacebuilding Commission.
MARIA PINTO LOPES D’ALVA (Guinea-Bissau) said that while there have been many challenges in consolidating peace, “we have a hope that sustainable peace for the country is reachable”, assisted by the United Nations, the Peacebuilding Commission and the Peacebuilding Fund, whose projects allowed women and young people to participate in the elections and other peacebuilding efforts. Despite political tensions following legislative elections in 2019, a Government led by Aristides Gomes of PAIGC — the party with the largest number of seats in Parliament — was formed. While Guinea-Bissau is experiencing challenges that require a dedicated United Nations presence, “elections in Guinea-Bissau always take place in a peaceful environment and this time is no different”, she said.
Recalling that people went to the polls in an orderly fashion and the election is considered to have been free, fair and transparent, she explained that, as the results of the second round were challenged and the process is pending before the Supreme Court of Justice, people are awaiting a final ruling. She welcomed the positions of the United Nations, ECOWAS and the African Union on the need for a pronouncement by the Judicial Office on the post-election crises. The Government is confident that by 15 February — the date recommended by the ECOWAS Extraordinary Conference — the Supreme Court of Justice will render its final decision, in accordance with the Constitution.
She likewise expressed confidence that development partners will continue to monitor the political situation. Given the structural changes, the drawdown and new configuration of UNIOGBIS, and the planned withdrawal, continued United Nations involvement through UNOWAS and other agencies, funds and programmes remains necessary — to ensure that reforms are carried out and that “you are there to help us in consolidating our democracy”. She encouraged the Council to remain positive that, after the electoral process is settled, there will be a new beginning for Guinea-Bissau and that the reconfigured United Nations mandate will focus on advancing the development agenda.