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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Guinea-Bissau

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1996
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Guinea-Bissau, 30 January 1996, available at: [accessed 30 May 2016]
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.


The Republic of Guinea-Bissau held its first multiparty elections in 1994, electing Joao Bernardo Vieira President. Vieira had ruled the country since taking power in a 1980 coup. He is also president of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC), the only legal political party from independence in 1974 until the 1991 adoption of a multiparty constitution. The PAIGC holds 62 of the 100 seats in the National Assembly where 4 other parties are represented. The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary.

The police, under the direction of the Ministry of Internal Administration, have primary responsibility for the nation's internal security. The armed forces are responsible for external security and may be called upon to assist the police in internal emergencies. The police were responsible for human rights abuses.

The population of 1 million relies largely upon subsistence agriculture. Annual per capita gross domestic product is estimated at $200. The economic situation deteriorated this year, with the inflation rate rising to over 50 percent. The country is burdened by a heavy external debt and has inadequate tax revenues.

Political pluralism brought about greater transparency. However, the overall human rights situation did not improve appreciably during the year. Police continued to engage in arbitrary detention, physical mistreatment, and other forms of harassment. The Government did not punish any members of the security forces for these abuses. Prison conditions remained poor, and prolonged detention and a lack of due process continue. Journalists continue to practice self-censorship Discrimination against women, and violence and discrimination against women and children are problems.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.

The 1992 death of Ussumane Quade, an army officer beaten to death while in police custody, remains unresolved. Human rights monitors continued to press for a thorough and impartial investigation of his death, ostensibly a suicide, but police have refused to cooperate.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution prohibits cruel and inhuman punishment, and evidence obtained through torture or other coercion is invalid. However, the Government often ignores these provisions. Security and police authorities have historically employed torture and abusive interrogation methods, usually in the form of severe beatings or deprivation. The Government rarely enforces provisions for punishment of abuses committed by security forces.

Two policemen were accused of rape in July. The case was discussed in the National Assembly and widely publicized in the press. However, the accused police officers had not been formally charged or tried by year's end. Human rights monitors report other incidents in which police accused of rape or mistreatment of prisoners have not been prosecuted.

Prison conditions are poor, but generally not life threatening. The Human Rights League has offered to pay for prison improvements, but the Government has denied them access.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The legal system provides for procedural rights, such as the right to counsel, the right to release if no timely indictment is brought, and the right to a speedy trial. In practice, the judicial system generally fails to provide these rights.

Police detain suspects without judicial authority or warrants, occasionally through the device of house arrest. The Government holds detainees without charge or trial for extended periods of time, sometimes incommunicado.

Human rights monitors estimate that pretrial detainees arrested without warrants and imprisoned without charge make up more than 90 percent of the prison population. The authorities do not routinely observe bail procedures.

There were no known cases of forced exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but judges, who are poorly trained and poorly paid, are sometimes subject to political pressures and corruption.

Trials involving state security are conducted by civilian courts. Military courts try only cases of a military nature. The Supreme Court is the final court of appeal for both civilian and military cases. The President has the authority to grant pardons and reduce sentences.

Despite its problems, the judicial system is sometimes capable of providing a fair trial, even in controversial cases. Several policemen were convicted of being accomplices to armed robbery in September and were awaiting sentencing at year's end.

Citizens who cannot afford an attorney have the right to a court-appointed lawyer.

Traditional law still prevails in most rural areas, and urban dwellers often bring judicial disputes to traditional counselors to avoid the costs and bureaucratic impediments of the official system. Police often resolve disputes.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution provides for the inviolability of domicile, person, and correspondence, but the Government does not always respect these rights. The authorities examine international and domestic mail, the security forces seldom use judicial warrants, and the police sometime force entry into private homes.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but journalists continue to practice self-censorship.

One independent newspaper suspended publication for economic reasons, leaving only one regularly published independent newspaper, which nevertheless expressed strong criticism of the Government. Joao de Barros, former publisher of a defunct opposition weekly, was arrested and mistreated while attempting to depart the country in March.

Two private radio stations began broadcasting in Bissau, bringing the total to four.

Academic freedom is observed in schools and research institutions.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association. Government approval is required for all assemblies and demonstrations. All such requests have been granted. Various opposition parties held legal political rallies during the year.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice. While religious groups must be licensed by the Government, none have been refused. Various faiths, including Jehovah's Witnesses, commenced missionary operations during the year.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Government does not restrict movement within the country and generally does not restrict foreign travel and emigration. Passports are issued by the Minister of Internal Administration. Citizens are guaranteed the right to return and are not subject to political revocation of their citizenship. There are no provisions for asylum.

The number of refugees grew to 25,000 due to heightened conflict in Senegal's Casamance region. The Government has asked the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to move the Casamance refugees further from the border area, but refugees generally resist this proposal.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

In 1994 voters were able to freely choose their government for the first time in the nation's history. The PAIGC retained power in elections judged to be free and fair by international observers, although they acknowledged irregularities. Local elections have not yet been scheduled. The independent National Commission of Elections has been absorbed by the Ministry of Internal Administration.

Women are underrepresented in the political process. Eight of the 100 National Assembly Deputies are women, and there is a women's caucus that cuts across party lines. Only 2 of 25 Cabinet members are women.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

The Government did not interfere with the Guinea-Bissau Human Rights League and international human rights groups which continued to investigate human rights abuses objectively. The League's planned conference on police and prison reform was cancelled for the second consecutive year due to the Government's refusal to allow police to attend. The Government denied the Human Rights League access to prisoners.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution and law prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, race, and religion. In practice, however, these provisions are not effectively enforced.


Physical violence, including wife beating, is an accepted means of settling domestic disputes. While police will intervene in domestic disputes if requested, the Government has not undertaken specific measures to counter social pressure against reporting domestic violence, rape, incest, and other mistreatment of women.

Discrimination against women persists although officially prohibited by law. Women are responsible for most work on subsistence farms and have limited access to education, especially in rural areas. Women do not have equal access to employment. Among certain ethnic groups, women cannot own or manage land nor inherit property.


The Government allocates only limited resources for children's welfare and education.

Female genital mutilation (FGM), which is widely condemned by international health experts as damaging to both physical and psychological health, is widely practiced within certain ethnic groups, especially the Fulas and Mandinkas. Despite official prohibition of this practice, the Government has not taken effective action to halt FGM.

People with Disabilities

There is no legislation mandating accessibility. The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities, and the Government does not ensure equal access to employment and education. The State has made some efforts to assist disabled veterans through pension programs, but these programs do not adequately address veterans' health, housing, and food needs.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution provides all civilian workers with the freedom to form and join independent trade unions. However, the vast majority of the population works in subsistence agriculture. Most union members are government or parastatal employees; only a small percentage of workers are in the wage sector and are organized.

The Government registers all labor unions. There are 11 labor unions registered and operating. All unions are officially independent of the Government, but seven unions are affiliated with the National Trade Union Confederation (UNTG), which retains close informal ties with the PAIGC. The law does not favor UNTG-affiliated unions over others. The Constitution provides for the right to strike and protection from retribution against strike activities.

The only legal restriction on strike activity is the requirement for prior notice. Legal strikes were conducted by several unions, with no retribution against the strikers. Several other labor disputes were resolved via nonbinding arbitration conducted by unions or the Ministry of Public Works, Civil Service, and Administrative Reform.

All unions are free to affiliate freely with national confederations and international labor organizations of their choice.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Constitution does not provide for or protect the right to bargain collectively, and there were no instances of genuine collective bargaining. Most wages are established in bilateral negotiations between workers and employers, taking into consideration the minimum salaries set annually by the Government's Council of Ministers.

The Government's provision for the protection of workers against antiunion discrimination has very little effect due to low union membership. The Government adopted no laws to establish penal sanctions against employers practicing such discrimination. This practice is not widespread.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced or compulsory labor is not permitted by law, and is not known to exist. Judicial action is pending against an individual accused of coercing labor during the year.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The General Labor Act of 1986 established a minimum age of 14 years for general factory labor and 18 for heavy or dangerous labor, including all labor in mines. These minimum age requirements are generally followed in the small-wage sector, but the Ministry of Civil Service and Labor does not enforce these requirements in other sectors. Children in cities often work in street trading, and those in rural communities do domestic and field work without pay. The Government does not attempt to discourage these traditional practices.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Government's Council of Ministers annually establishes minimum wage rates for all categories of work but does not enforce them. The lowest monthly wage is less than $25 (450,000 pesos). This wage is inadequate to maintain a minimum standard of living, and workers must supplement their income through other work, reliance on the extended family, and subsistence agriculture. The maximum number of hours permitted in a normal workweek without further compensation is 45, but the Government does not enforce this provision.

The Ministry of Civil Service and Labor establishes legal health and safety standards for workers, with the cooperation of the unions, which are then adopted into law by the National Assembly. However, these standards are not enforced, and many persons work in conditions which endanger their health and safety.

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