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Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Guinea-Bissau

Publisher International Federation for Human Rights
Author Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Publication Date 19 June 2008
Cite as International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Guinea-Bissau, 19 June 2008, available at: [accessed 4 October 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Political context

In Guinea-Bissau, the year 2007 was marked by increased social and political tensions and by economic decline. The United Nations Secretary-General expressed his concern regarding the heightening of political tensions following the murder, on January 4, 2007, of the former Naval Chief, Commodore Lamine Sanha, and the intervention of security forces during civil society demonstrations organised in protest against this killing.1 This intervention resulted in the death of a young man and in several participants also being injured.

On March 12, 2007, a National Stability Pact was concluded between the three main political parties – the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde – PAIGC), the Party for Social Renewal (Partido da Renovaçao Social – PRS) and the United Social Democratic Party (Partido Unido Social Democratico – PUSD). According to the terms of the Pact, the post of Prime Minister should revert to a PAIGC member and ministerial positions would be allocated on the following basis: 40% for PAIGC, 40% for PRS, 17% for PUSD and 3% for other parties and members of civil society. Legislative elections should be held in October or November 2008.

On July 10, 2007, the Security Council also expressed its concern at "the alarming increase in organised crime, drug trafficking and the proliferation of illicit small arms" in the country.2

In addition, while collusion between the PRS and the military since the end of the civil war in 1998 has led to increasing interference by the military corps in political and governmental affairs, especially since both groups are made up of Balanta figures,3 the decision of the President, in October 2007, to relieve the Minister of the Interior of his duties and to appoint a member of the PRS reinforced the sense of military pressure and army interference in political matters. It has in fact been shown that the increase in tensions between the Chief of Armed Forces and the Minister of the Interior led to the dismissal of the latter and his replacement by a PRS candidate who was supported by the military.

In this context, civil society organisations operate in a hostile environment, a climate of mistrust, fear and insecurity. Judicial action is used to block the work of human rights defenders as well as acts of intimidation. Judicial proceedings are regularly brought against them, notably for defamation. Furthermore, peaceful gatherings are regularly banned, thus seriously threatening freedom of expression, press freedom and freedom of assembly.

Legal proceedings and other forms of harassment against human rights defenders involved in the fight against impunity

In December 2007, the Parliament approved a draft law providing for an amnesty for all crimes and offences committed from "politicomilitary" motivations in Guinea-Bissau and abroad prior to October 6, 2004. The massive approval given to this bill, which was opposed by civil society organisations, appeared to result from the general fear of reprisals by security agents, clearly showing the lack of political will to combat impunity, and further exposing defenders involved in this struggle.4

The case of Mr. Mario Sá Gomes, Chairperson of the Guinea Association of Solidarity with Victims of Miscarriage of Justice (Associação Guineense de Solidariedade para com as Vítimas de Erro Judicial – AGSVEJ), is a perfect illustration of such pressure. During 2007, the latter received summons from State bodies on at least 14 occasions, especially from the office of the Prosecutor General, concerning his actions in condemning drug trafficking and politically motivated crimes. The Prosecutor General filed a complaint against Mr. Sá Gomes for "false accusations", obliging him to present himself once a week to the judicial authorities. On July 11, 2007, the Prosecutor General issued a warrant for his arrest following a radio interview in which he condemned drug trafficking and called for a reform of the judiciary. The UN Peace-Building Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNOGBIS) sheltered him and intervened with the Government to obtain the latter's assurance of concrete protection for him.

Restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly and reprisals against human rights defenders who took part in demonstrations

In 2007, at least two legally organised demonstrations were disturbed by acts of repression carried out by State security forces using tear gas and attacking civilians and a journalist. This was the case with the demonstration organised in January by the Civil Society Movement (Movimento da Sociedade Civil), which brings together several NGOs such as the Guinean League of Human Rights (Liga Guineense dos Direitos Humanos) and other bodies, trades unions, the chamber of commerce, etc., to sound the alarm concerning the ever-increasing levels of crime and insecurity. This march had been called following a declaration that placed responsibility for this situation with the President of the Republic.

In addition, trade unions organised several public sector strikes, particularly strikes by teachers, protesting against the non-payment of wages, or military veterans protesting against the non-payment of their pensions. In retaliation, trade union officials continued to be exposed to acts of harassment because of their involvement in trade union activities. Some were brutalised during demonstrations, as was the case with a member of the Guinea-Bissau Transport Union who was seriously injured by the police rapid intervention forces during a peaceful gathering on November 1, 2007.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).

1 See Statement of the United Nations Secretary-General, United Nations documents SG/SM/10877, AFR/1502, February 13, 2007.

2 See Security Council Press Statement, 9075.doc.htm, July 10, 2007.

3 The Balantas are a tribe of Guinea Bissau. With the support of the military, the PRS took control of all strategic sectors of the country in 1998: the Ministry of Internal Administration, the border security troops, the police of public order, etc.

4 With respect to this, the UN Secretary-General noted "concerns by civil society organisations regarding what they saw as pressures relating to freedom of the press and freedom of expression in connection with their reports on drug trafficking" (See Security Council Report of the Secretary-General on developments in Guinea-Bissau and on the activities of the United Nations Peacebuilding Support Office in that country, United Nations document S/2007/576, September 28, 2007).

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