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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Guinea-Bissau

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Guinea-Bissau, 30 January 1995, available at: [accessed 28 November 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.


The Republic of Guinea-Bissau held its first multiparty elections in July and August, electing Joao Bernardo Vieira President. Vieira has ruled the country since taking power in a 1980 coup. He is also the president of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC) which was the only legal political party from independence in 1974 until the 1991 adoption of a multiparty Constitution. Despite a few minor irregularities in the first round, international observers judged the elections free and fair. The PAIGC won 62 of the 100 seats in the new 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, called the Ministry of Interior until November, have primary responsibility for the nation's internal security; they committed human rights abuses in 1994. The armed forces are responsible for external security, and can assist the police in internal emergencies.

The population of 1 million relies largely on subsistence agriculture. Guinea-Bissau has an annual per capita gross domestic product estimated at $200. The economy grew in 1994, with an emerging private sector leading the way. However, the economy remains precarious because of the heavy external debt burden and inadequate tax revenues.

The human rights situation continued to improve, with multiparty elections and the November installation of a pluralistic government. Nevertheless, the police engaged in intimidation, arbitrary detention, physical mistreatment of detainees, and occasional harassment of opposition parties. No members of the security forces were tried or punished for abuses. Societal discrimination against women continued.


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 killing.

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

The March 17, 1993 assassination of the commander of an elite army unit resulted in conviction and a 15-year prison term for the confessed killer, Amadou Mane (see also Section 1.e.).

b. Disappearance

There were no known cases of disappearance.

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 legal provisions prescribing punishment for these abuses. Prison conditions are poor, but generally not life-threatening.

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 public 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. In February police detained the president of the National Teachers Union, Luis Nancassa for 3 days without charges; the police released him without charge after appeals from a variety of leaders and the threat of a prolonged teachers' strike.

Human rights monitors estimate that pretrial detainees arrested without warrants and imprisoned without charges make up 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

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 legal system. Police often resolve disputes.

Because of low salaries and poor training, judges are sometimes subject to political pressures and corruption. In May, however, the Supreme Court resisted pressure from a number of parties and ruled that all eight presidential candidates were eligible to run. The system is sometimes capable of providing fair trial, even in very controversial cases. For example, after the police arrested 49 persons, including two prominent members of opposition political parties for the 1993 assassination of an army officer, an investigation by a joint military/police commission of inquiry resulted in the police charging 17 persons with a variety of offenses. The trials, in a military court, received wide media attention and were considered fair. The court exonerated the two politicians, sentenced most of the other detainees to terms of 2 to 8 years, and sentenced the killer, Amadou Mane, to 15 years in prison. Mane testified that senior security officials compelled him to accuse the politicians falsely of attempting a cup.

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

Under the new constitutional provisions which took effect in November, military tribunals will only try cases of a strictly military nature. Civilian courts will now try state security cases. The Supreme Court is the final court of appeal for both civilian and military cases. The President has constitutional authority to grant pardons and reduce sentences.

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 sometimes 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 the press. The Government owns and controls the only television station and the major radio station. In mid-1994 a station affiliated with Radio France International began broadcasting under a bilateral agreement. At least one opposition political party has been seeking a radio license since 1993.

There are two regularly published independent newspapers, which are often critical of the Government, and several opposition parties and the Human Rights League produce monthly publications. However, journalists continued to practice self-censorship.

Television, radio, and newspapers provided a relatively balanced selection of public opinion during the July and August electoral campaign. All opposition political parties took advantage of access to television and radio air time.

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. The Government requires prior approval for all assemblies and demonstrations but permitted all opposition political rallies which were requested. In late July the Ministry of Interior attempted to constrain opposition efforts to support a single candidate in the second round of voting by prohibiting campaign assistance to third parties. The National Election Commission overruled the Ministry, and all opposition parties united behind the presidential candidacy of Dr. Koumba Yala. On February 8 police halted and dispersed a protest march organized by the National Federation of Independent Trade Unions (see Section 6.a.).

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion and the Government respects this right. While religious groups must be licensed by the Government, none were refused licenses. Jehovah's Witnesses began missionary activities in 1994.

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. However, the Ministry of Interior used its authority to issue passports to deny temporarily freedom of movement to one opposition politician. Citizens have the right to return and are not subject to political revocation of their citizenship. There are no provisions for asylum. The number of refugees decreased to an estimated 13,600 as peace in Senegal's Casamance region encouraged some Senegalese refugees to return. The Government continued its policy of placing no pressure on refugees to return to Senegal.

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

For the first time in the country's history, voters were able to choose their government in multiparty elections judged by international observers to be free and fair although they acknowledged irregularities. The PAIGC, the former ruling and only legal political party, retained power by winning 62 of the 100 seats in the new National Assembly. There are 2 opposition blocs in the legislature, each with 19 seats. The Guinea-Bissau Resistance/Bafata Movement elected 19 deputies; 3 other parties joined together to form a second group of 19 deputies.

Women are underrepresented in the political process. One of the eight candidates for President in the recent national elections was a woman. In the National Assembly 10 of the 100 deputies are women, and they have formed a caucus across party lines. Only 2 of the new Cabinet's 25 members are women.

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

The Government generally did not interfere with the Guinea-Bissau Human Rights League and international human rights groups, which continued to investigate human rights abuses. However, the police did occasionally harass members of the League. In addition, the League's conference on police and prisoner reform, which was to have featured Adama Dieng, secretary general of the International Commission of Jurists, was canceled when the Government prohibited security staff from attending.

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


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 or inherit property.

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 taken any measures to counter social pressure against reporting domestic violence, rape, incest, and other mistreatment of women.


Although there is no pattern of societal abuse against children, within certain ethnic groups, especially the Fulas and Mandinkas, female genital mutilation (FGM) is widespread. Despite official prohibition of this practice which international health experts have condemned as dangerous to both physical and psychological health, the Government has not taken effective action to halt FGM. The Ministry of Public Health initiated a poster campaign against FGM in 1994. The Government allocates only limited resources for children's welfare and education.

People with Disabilities

There is no legislation mandating accessibility to buildings or government services for people with disabilities.

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 effort 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 to all civilian workers the freedom to form and join independent trade unions. However, the vast majority of the population works in subsistence agriculture; 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 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 strikes is the requirement for prior notice, including the reasons for the strike and its expected duration. The National Teachers Union conducted the only legal strike; its grievances were never fully resolved, and despite laws prohibiting such practices, employers retaliated against the strikers. According to union and human rights monitors, several teachers supporting the strike lost their jobs or were transferred to positions of lesser responsibility. Several other labor disputes were resolved by nonbinding arbitration conducted by unions or the Ministry of Public Works, Civil Service and Administrative Reform.

All unions are free to affiliate 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 little effect where union membership is low. The Government did not adopt any laws to establish penal sanctions against employers practicing such discrimination.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced or compulsory labor is illegal, and it is not known to exist.

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 years 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 wages for all categories of work but does not enforce them. The lowest monthly wage is less than $10 (140,555 pesos). This wage is inadequate to maintain even 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, the Government does not enforce these standards, and many persons work in conditions which endanger their health and safety.

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