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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Guinea-Bissau

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1994
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Guinea-Bissau, 30 January 1994, available at: [accessed 29 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 is led by General Joao Bernardo Vieira, who serves as Head of State, President of the Council of State, Commander in Chief, and General Secretary of the previously sole legal political party, the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC). In elections held in June 1989, Vieira, the only candidate, was elected for a second 5-year term as President. Effective power and day-to-day decisions rest in the hands of the President and the Council of State. The Government controls the pace of political reform and in 1993 formed a National Elections Commission charged with organizing legislative and presidential elections in March 1994. In accordance with the 1991 Constitution, it legalized 12 political parties, including the PAIGC, which are expected to participate in these elections. Only the PAIGC is represented in the National Assembly.

The national police forces have primary responsibility for internal security, while the armed forces (FARP) provide for external security and may be called upon to assist with internal security in case of emergency. Both institutions are under the control of the Government and were responsible for human rights abuses.

The population of 1 million is engaged largely in subsistence agriculture. There are some exports of cashews, peanuts, and fish. Following the Government's failed postindependence efforts to exercise central control over the economy, the PAIGC started liberalizing the economy in 1986. International Monetary Fund stabilization and World Bank restructuring agreements led to some improvement in the economic situation. However, the economy remained weak due to the lack of monetary and fiscal control, a small and inexperienced private sector, and a heavy debt burden.

Although progress was made, notably in legislation providing for legislative and presidential elections, human rights remained circumscribed. The Government continued its practices of arbitrary detentions, physical mistreatment and other forms of harassment, occasionally targeting supporters of opposition political parties. Preferring indefinite detention in many instances, it rarely brings cases before the courts; and thus is often responsible for the denial of fair trial. Controversy still surrounds the assassination of a key military commander, an incident which the Government claims was part of a coup attempt on March 17. Members of the police and security forces were rarely tried or punished for abuses.


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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

In March the commander of the rapid reaction forces, Major Robalo, was murdered, allegedly by a man named Amadu Mane. Security forces captured Mane, who remained in prison awaiting trial at year's end. Government and military officials alleged opposition party support for the killing, while opposition leaders accused the Government of instigating it. The Government detained some 49 persons for involvement in the killing (see Section l.d.).

In August the authorities freed seven police officials jailed in 1992 for involvement in beating to death Ussumane Quade, a military officer, even though their trial had not concluded. The Government announced that Quade had committed suicide but refused to return his body to relatives for burial.

b. Disappearance

There were no known cases of disappearances.

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

Although the Constitution prohibits cruel and inhuman punishment, and evidence obtained through torture or other coercion is invalid, these constitutional provisions are rarely enforced. Security and police authorities systematically employ torture and abusive interrogation methods, usually in the form of severe beatings, and are rarely punished. Prison conditions are poor but not life threatening. There were no reported deaths as a result of imprisonment during 1993. Women are kept in separate areas within prisons. There were no reports of rape in prison in 1993.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

In the aftermath of the March 17 case, 49 persons were detained without charge or trial for 2 months while a military commission of inquiry investigated. Among the detainees were the president of one opposition political party and an active member of another.

In June, following the commencement of closed trials by the Supreme Military Tribunal, 10 of the detainees, including those from the opposition, were released from prison, pending the outcome of charges – not yet specified – placed against them. Ambiguity surrounded the Tribunal's legal right to detain the suspects and conduct a commission of inquiry investigation. During the first 2 months of the detainees' imprisonment, the Government denied the defendants access to lawyers and family members, but authorized medical care and visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Human Rights League of Guinea-Bissau (LDH).

The legal system provides for procedural rights, such as the right to counsel, the right to be released if charges are not brought within a short period of time, and the right to a speedy trial. However, the judicial system generally fails to provide adequate protection of these rights.

Security and police forces continue to have the administrative power to detain suspects without reference to judicial authority or warrants, occasionally through the device of house arrest. Once detained, the Government holds persons without charge or trial for extended periods of time, sometimes incommunicado. Bail procedures are not routinely observed.

The number of political detainees (pretrial) and prisoners held at year's end was unknown. Human rights monitors estimated that 90 percent of the prison population are pretrial detainees arrested without warrants and imprisoned without charges filed against them. There were no known cases of exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Traditional law still prevails in most rural areas, and many urban dwellers bring judicial disputes to traditional counselors to avoid the costs and problems associated with the official legal system. With some exceptions, the official judicial system is based on the Portuguese model, which does not use juries, and courts are usually composed of three judges, two assistants, and a presiding officer for a tribunal of six. Because of low salaries and a lack of training, judges are sometimes subject to political pressures and corruption. Defendants have the right to private counsel or may choose to be represented by a court-appointed attorney who generally receives no pay. Judges' determination as to who is given access to accusatory material and witnesses is sometimes arbitrary.

Trials involving state security are conducted by the Supreme Military Tribunal and are usually not open to outside observers. Military courts try all cases involving members of the armed forces as defendants or accused. The Supreme Court is the final court of appeal for both civilian and military cases, except those involving national security matters. In this instance the Council of State reviews all decisions.

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

The 1991 Constitution provides for the inviolability of domicile, person, and correspondence, but these rights are not always respected. Judicial search warrants are seldom utilized. International and domestic mail may be subject to surveillance, and police sometimes force entry into private homes. Membership in the PAIGC, while not required, plays a role in government appointments and promotion opportunities, particularly in the interior.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and press. It states that citizens have the right to express themselves freely and make public their views by all means available, as well as having the right to be informed and to inform without hindrance or discrimination. This right cannot be limited or hindered by any form of censorship. Citizens openly debated the attributes of the 12 legalized political parties and their candidates.

On August 2, by order of the Supreme Military Tribunal, the authorities arrested opposition leaders Joao Da Costa and Tagne Na Waie for having violated the conditions of their earlier release by engaging in political activities, notably by appearing on a television show and discussing various political subjects. They were released on August 6 after a brief appearance before the Supreme Military Tribunal's prosecutor.

The television, radio, and newspapers continue to provide a relatively balanced selection of public opinion, and opposition political parties took advantage of their access to television and radio air time.

All media are owned and controlled by the Government, with the exception of several opposition party monthly publications and one irregularly appearing newspaper. Strong criticism of the Government occurs only in the opposition papers. The Government's PAIGC party tended to receive greater media coverage than other political groups. Journalists continued to practice some self-censorship. One opposition party unsuccessfully tried to establish its own radio station; it is not clear whether this initiative failed because of political or economic considerations.

Academic freedom is observed in schools and research institutions.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Although the Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association, government approval is required for all assemblies and demonstrations. Most opposition parties, including several fledgling political and labor groups, held legal political rallies. The opposition jointly organized and received government authorization for a demonstration in February which was closely supervised but not disturbed by security forces. There were continued credible reports of the local authorities verbally harassing opposition elements during rallies in the interior.

Several new professional, religious, and regionally oriented associations formed. One new political party was legalized, bringing the total to 12.

c. Freedom of Religion

Religious freedom is provided for in the Constitution and respected in practice. Christians, Muslims, and animists worship freely, and proselytizing is permitted. Religious groups must be licensed by the Government, but there were no reports of groups being refused licenses.

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

In connection with the March 17 case, the authorities ordered opposition political party members Joao Da Costa and Tagne Na Waie to remain within the Bissau area unless their travel to other areas was authorized by the Supreme Military Tribunal.

Foreign travel and emigration are generally not restricted. 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 from the Casamance region of southern Senegal, where Senegalese troops have been fighting Casamance rebels, increased dramatically between the end of 1992 and mid-1993, with estimates of at least 14,000 persons, not including those who remained following fighting in 1990 and 1991. The Government cooperated with international relief efforts and 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

Although citizens are not free to change their government, slow progress was made towards democratic and multiparty presidential and legislative elections, now scheduled for March 27, 1994. The National Assembly approved changes in the electoral law, including provisions for secret balloting and universal suffrage, and named several independent members to the National Elections Commission which began preparations for an electoral census and a civic education program.

While the Government consulted opposition parties to a greater degree than in the past, the Government continued to control the pace of reform, and the PAIGC-dominated National Assembly rejected some of the measures unanimously approved by the multiparty Transitional Commission established in 1992.

Some citizens are disqualified as presidential candidates because of a controversial new law requiring all candidates to have parents and at least one grandparent on both the maternal and paternal sides of the family born in Guinea-Bissau.

Women are inadequately represented in the political process. Two of 17 Cabinet ministers are women (one is head of the Ministry for the Advancement of Women). In the National Assembly, 19 percent of the members are female.

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

The Human Rights League of Guinea-Bissau (LDH) claims over 3,000 members throughout the country and is the leading organization for advancing human rights. It is funded by members' dues as well as by assistance from foreign nongovernmental organizations and several countries, including Germany and Sweden. The LDH and international human rights monitors continued to investigate human rights cases without overt government interference until May, when the Government began refusing access to all prisoners on the basis of allegations of LDH involvement in the alleged March 17 coup attempt. Members of the LDH reported occasional verbal harassment by police. The Government did not respond to LDH reports on mistreatment of prisoners and poor prison conditions, or to Amnesty International's call for an inquiry into the death of Ussumane Quade (see Section 1.a.).

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


While officially prohibited by law, discrimination against women persists. Women are responsible for the majority of the work on subsistence farms and have limited access to education, especially in the rural areas. Women do not have equal access to employment opportunities, largely due to their level of education, and because, among certain ethnic groups, women are prohibited from owning or managing land and inheriting other 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 undertaken specific measures to counter social pressure against reporting domestic violence, rape, incest, and other mistreatment of women. Rapes are infrequent.


Government expenditures on children's welfare are inadequate, but roughly commensurate with total resources available to the State. There are no known patterns of societal abuses directed specifically against children.

Within certain ethnic groups, especially the Fulas and Mandinkas, female genital mutilation (circumcision) is still a widespread practice and occurs at an early age. It continues to take place despite official prohibition and educational campaigns assisted by United Nations organizations which educate the public about the damaging physical and psychological aspects of the practice.

People with Disabilities

The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities, and in practice persons with disabilities have unequal 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 nutritional needs. There is no legislation mandating accessibility.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The 1991 Constitution grants all workers except military personnel the freedom to form and join independent trade unions, and legislation approved in 1991 enumerates the rights and obligations of new unions. The vast majority of the population is engaged in subsistence agriculture. Only a small percentage of workers are in the wage sector and are organized.

There were 11 individual craft unions registered and operating during 1993. All unions are officially independent of the Government, but seven unions are affiliated with the National Trade Union Confederation (UNTG) which still retains close informal ties to the PAIGC. The four independent unions are comprised of teachers, transport and communications workers, judicial employees, and health workers. The law does not favor UNTG-affiliated unions over others.

The Constitution recognizes the right of workers to strike and in theory, workers have protection from retribution against strike activities. The only legal restriction on strikes is the requirement for prior notice, which must include the reasons for the strike and its expected duration. There were no illegal strikes in 1993. Three legal strikes occurred: two of these resulted in direct negotiations with government employers that satisfied most of the demands of the striking employees. A third strike carried out by the Teachers' Union was not resolved, and despite laws prohibiting such practices, retribution against strikers took place. Several teachers supporting the strike lost their jobs or were transferred to positions of lesser responsibility. Several other labor disputes were resolved via nonbinding arbitration conducted by unions or by the Ministry of Public Works, Civil Service, and Administrative Reform.

All unions legally have and exercise the right to affiliate freely with national confederations and international labor organizations of their choice. Unions cultivate contacts with a wide range of labor organizations worldwide. UNTG is affiliated with the Organization of African Trade Union Unity.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Constitution does not provide for or protect the right to bargain collectively, and in practice 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. Because of the shortage of wage-paying jobs, however, the employer in many cases is free to set salaries.

The Government's provision for the protection of workers against antiunion discrimination has very little effect where union membership is very low. Despite pressure from the International Labor Organization, no laws were adopted 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 not permitted by law and not known to exist.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The General Labor Act of 1986 established a minimum age of 14 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 there is minimal enforcement by inspectors from the Ministry of Administrative Reform, Civil Service and Labor in other sectors. Children in the cities are often involved in street trading, and those in rural communities do domestic and field work for no pay. The Government does not attempt to discourage these traditional practices.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Although not consistently enforced, the Government's Council of Ministers establishes minimum wage rates for all categories of work, the lowest of which is the monthly wage of $13.95 (150,000 Pesos), set annually. 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. Although not enforced, the maximum number of hours in a normal workweek is 40.

Legal health and safety standards for workers are established through the cooperation of the unions and the Ministry of Administrative Reform, Civil Service, and Labor; they 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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