REPUBLIC OF GUINEA-BISSAU

Mainly covers the period June 1998 to April 2001 as well as including some earlier information.

  • Population:
    – total: 1,187,000
    – under-18s: 581,000
  • Government armed forces:
    – active: 9,250791
  • Compulsory recruitment age: 18
  • Voluntary recruitment age: unknown
  • Voting age (government elections): 18
  • Child soldiers: unknown
  • CRC-OP-CAC: signed on 8 September 2000; does not support "straight-18" position
  • Other treaties ratified: CRC, GC/API+II, ICC
  • It is not known whether there are under-18s in government armed forces due to lack of information on the minimum age of voluntary recruitment. Children under age 18 were among both government and opposition armed forces during the civil war in Guinea-Bissau. It is not known whether former underage combatants were included in official demobilisation and reintegration programmes established since the peace agreement was signed.

CONTEXT

Between June 1998 and May 1999 Guinea-Bissau was engaged in civil war in which an estimated 2,000 persons were killed. Oppostion groups were supported by a Military Junta including 90% of Guinea-Bissau's armed forces and backed by the Casamance Separatist Movement from southern Senegal. With little national backing, President Vieira was forced to rely on Senegalese and Guinean troops.792 Despite two cease-fire agreements, fighting continued until the signing of a third agreement in February 1999, following which a government of national unity was appointed.793 Guinean and Senegalese troops withdrew by March and ECOMOG forces withdrew in June 1999. The leader of previous coups, former Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Ansumane Mané, attempted another uprising in November 2000, however Mané lacked sufficient backing and was subsequently killed by government forces.794

GOVERNMENT

National Recruitment Legislation and Practice

Military service is compulsory for all citizens between ages 18 and 25. Service lasts 24 months and recruitment is selective.795 There is no information available on the minimum age for voluntary recruitment.

Due to economic constraints only two national recruitment drives have occurred since 1974 and enlistment generally occurs on a voluntary basis.796 Before Guinea-Bissau's civil war 90 per cent of armed forces members were students from the secondary school in the capital.797 The size of the armed forces was to be reduced after the February 1999 peace agreement.

Child Recruitment

During the civil war government forces loyal to President Vieira are known to have included at least a small number of children. Concerns regarding possible underage recruitment on a larger scale were raised on several occasions. According to UNICEF there were reports that at the start of the conflict some 500 "youths" were recruited for training in Guinea Conakry, and later youths were recruited forcibly during a food distribution by the National Red Cross.798 In November 1998, rebel leader Mané also accused government troops of deploying about 350 forcibly recruited youths on the front-line.799 After the final cease fire agreement, a small number of child soldiers between the ages of 15 and 18 serving with the Aguetas militia – the militia loyal to President Vieira – were discovered among militia members detained during an outbreak of fighting. The children were later released and returned to their families.800 It is not known if legislated minimum age requirements are currently implemented in practice.

OPPOSITION

Child Recruitment

The military junta consisted mainly of forces from the regular army, backed by veterans from the liberation war. Amnesty International reported the use of children as young as 14 among the Military Junta troops.801 Eye-witnesses also reported that in early stages of the conflict youngsters between 17 and 18 years of age volunteered for the military junta. The number of minors thought to have been involved is low – about 50 – and there is no evidence of their participation in hostilities. It is generally agreed that the junta did not lack personnel but rather materiel.802

DEVELOPMENTS

Demobilisation

In November 1999 special units were established for the demobilisation, reintegration and reinsertion of former combatants. These units were to establish vulnerability criteria for the demobilisation of former combatants and oversee a census of the armed forces. It is not known whether these vulnerability criteria targeted underage combatants. Guinea-Bissau's estimated 23,000 troops were to be decreased to about 11,000.803 A month later the government announced that more than 10,000 "military and paramilitary" volunteers who took part in the armed forces' uprising would be fully integrated into the military, replacing others who had been demobilised.804 In November 2000, the United Nations Security Council underlined the importance of the continuation of the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration process as well as the need for an urgent and accurate census of the military forces in Guinea-Bissau.805

International Standards

Guinea-Bissau signed the CRC-OP-CAC on 8 September 2000 but does not support the "straight-18" position.


791 Note: figures to be treated with caution due to the 1998 revolt – IISS, The Military Balance op. cit.

792 US State Department, Guinea-Bissau Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2000.

793 Gueye, J. S. "Fadul pledges to save all Guinea Bissau nationals", Panafrican News Agency, 22/2/99.

794 US Department of State, Guinea-Bissau Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2000. Washington D.C., 2001.

795 Report of the Secretary-General, UN doc. E/CN.4/2000/55 op. cit.; Information on recruitment supplied by UNICEF.

796 UNICEF op. cit.

797 Horeman and Stolwijk op. cit.

798 UNICEF op. cit.

799 Mane reported that some of these youths had fired gunshots, constituting a violation of the cease-fire. OCHA: Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN)-West Africa, Update No. 343, 20/11/98.

800 AI News Release, 20/5/99, AFR 30/05/1999.

801 AI Report 2000.

802 UNICEF op. cit.

803 IRIN-WA Update 588, "Guinea-Bissau: First step of demobilisation programme underway. , 5/11/99.

804 IRIN-WA Weekly Round-up 49, 4 .10/12/99 "Guinea-Bissau: War volunteers to be reintegrated.

805 Africa Newswire Network, "Guinea-Bissau: Security Council calls on former Guinea-Bissau junta to withdraw from politics", 30/11/00.

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