Covering events from January-December 2001

Republic of Guinea-Bissau
Head of state:
Kumba Ialá
Head of government: Alamara Nhasse (replaced Faustino Fadut Embali in December, who replaced Caetano N'Tchama in March)
Capital: Bissau
Population: 1.2 million
Official language: Portuguese
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes

The government failed to investigate reports of human rights violations including extrajudicial executions. Allegations of attempted coups resulted in the arrest of dozens of people, including security personnel and refugees from the Casamance region of neighbouring Senegal. Political detainees were held for long periods without charge or trial in harsh conditions. The authorities attempted to curb freedom of expression and journalists were briefly detained for criticizing the government. The independence of the judiciary came under attack.


2001 saw continuing political instability in Guinea-Bissau. The coalition government collapsed in January and a minority government was formed by the Partido de Renovação Social (PRS), Social Renewal Party.

The border with Senegal was militarized in January following increased incursions by the Mouvement des forces démocratiques de Casamance (MFDC), Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance, a Senegalese armed opposition group seeking independence for the Casamance region. Dozens of people, reportedly including civilians, were killed in the fighting between the armed forces of Guinea-Bissau and the forces of the MFDC.

After a long internal battle within the ruling PRS, Prime Minister Caetano N'Tchama was dismissed in March and replaced by Faustino Fadut Embali, who announced that the government's program would centre on the restoration of peace along the northern border with Senegal. He also announced plans to end impunity for human rights abuses by strengthening the justice system, making it more accessible, and ensuring respect for the independence of the judiciary.

There were frequent calls for the resignation of the government which came under increased criticism for its handling of the economy. In April the government announced that several million US dollars, earmarked to pay the salaries of public employees, had disappeared from the Treasury.

Civil servants, including teachers, went on strike to demand payment of their salaries. In February the police responded violently to students demonstrating against the teachers' strike. In August the police also beat demonstrators calling for the resignation of a minister following the death of his lover in disputed circumstances.

In October the mandate of the UN Peace-building Support Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNOGBIS) was extended until December 2002.

In December, the authorities announced that they had foiled an attempted coup. The government was dismissed and Alamara Nhasse was appointed Prime Minister. A new government was formed composed entirely of members of the PRS.

The judiciary under attack

The independence of the judiciary came under increasing attack from the government.

  • In September all senior Supreme Court judges were dismissed in violation of the Constitution which stipulates that the Higher Council of Magistrates is the only body with the authority to appoint and dismiss Supreme Court judges. Magistrates and prosecutors went on strike for over a month demanding the judges' reinstatement. In November, Emiliano Nosolini dos Reis and Venâncio Matins, President and Vice-President respectively of the Supreme Court, were arrested and detained without charge or trial despite widespread international protests. No reason was given for their continued detention although it was suggested that it was in connection with money which allegedly went missing from the Supreme Court during their period in office. However, their dismissal and subsequent arrests appeared to be politically motivated and in response to court rulings which had displeased the government.

Attempts initiated in 2000 to tackle impunity suffered a set-back. The authorities failed to carry out investigations into human rights violations.
  • Three security officers, sentenced to long terms of imprisonment in August 2000 for human rights violations committed during the armed conflict in 1998 and 1999, were reported not to be serving their sentences, although they had not benefited from an amnesty or pardon. The authorities failed to clarify why they were still at liberty.
  • The authorities failed to investigate the death of Brigadier Ansumane Mané following an alleged coup attempt in November 2000, reportedly in a confrontation with soldiers loyal to President Kumba Ialá. Reports suggested he had been extrajudicially executed.
  • In January a 28-year-old man called Mama was killed in the village of Sancoma near the border with Senegal. According to reports, soldiers and border police officers dragged him from his home and shot him dead in front of his father's house. No inquiry into this case had been carried out by the end of the year.
Detention without charge or trial

Political detainees were held for long periods without charge or trial.
  • Over 100 military officers arrested in November 2000 were detained without charge or trial until their release on bail in June 2001. They had been held in severely overcrowded conditions which lacked sanitation facilities and several contracted serious diseases as a result. One, Colonel Baba Djasi, died in February from typhoid. Under the conditions of their bail they were not allowed to leave Bissau and had to report to the court or police authorities daily. No charges had been brought against them by the end of the year.
    At least 30 of these soldiers, including former Vice-Chief of Staff of the Army Almane Alam Camará and former Chief of Staff of the Navy Mohamed Laminé Sanhá, were rearrested in December following allegations of their involvement in an alleged attempted coup. They remained detained without charge at the end of the year.
In February, allegations of attempted coups resulted in the arrest of dozens of people, including security personnel and refugees from Casamance accused of belonging to the MFDC. Most were released soon after arrest. However, others were held for several months without charge or trial. Some were held incommunicado.
  • In February Sene Djedjo, Sidi Djedjo, Ibo Djata, Laminé Sambú and Aliou Candé were arrested in their homes by the security police and accused of belonging to the MFDC. They were held incommunicado for at least two weeks in an underground cell without light or ventilation. They were released without charge in July.
Freedom of expression and assembly

There were attempts to inhibit freedom of expression and assembly, and the police reportedly used excessive force against demonstrators.
  • In February the Rapid Intervention Police (PIR) appeared to use excessive force to disperse a demonstration by students in Bafatá. They used tear gas and beat students.
Journalists were harassed and briefly detained for publishing articles critical of the government or organizing radio debates deemed sensitive by the authorities. Two independent newspapers – Diário de Bissau and Gazeta de Notícias – were closed down by the authorities in October, allegedly because they did not have licences.
  • In March, a high-ranking military officer interrupted a debate about the alleged attempted coup of November 2000 on the independent radio station Rádio Bombolom. He reportedly accused the radio station of fomenting instability and threatened to bomb it in the event of renewed internal armed conflict.
  • João de Barros, owner and director of the Diário de Bissau, and Athizar Mendes, a journalist at the paper, were arrested in June after publication of an article criticizing the government's mishandling of the economy. They were charged with defamation and released on bail after two days. João de Barros was re-detained for two days in November.
  • Ten prisoners of conscience, including opposition leader Fernando Gomes who was briefly detained in November 2000, remained under restrictive bail conditions, pending charges.
  • Between January and March, six people who had been detained since the end of the 1998-1999 armed conflict were tried on charges of treason and collaborating with the enemy and were acquitted. They included Brigadier Humberto Gomes, the former Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, and his deputy, Lieutenant-Colonel Afonso Te.
AI country reports/visits

  • Guinea-Bissau: Human rights violations since the armed conflict ended in May 1999 (AI Index: AFR 30/011/2001)
  • Guinea-Bissau: Attack on the independence of the judiciary (AI Index: AFR 30/014/2001)

AI delegates visited Guinea-Bissau in March.

This 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.