1998 Scores

Status: Partly Free
Freedom Rating: 4.0
Civil Liberties: 5
Political Rights: 3


A June army mutiny including most of the country's soldiers led to pitched battles against a small loyalist force, which was aided by about 3,000 troops who intervened from neighboring Senegal and Guinea. The army mutiny in Guinea was sparked by the arrest in January of several army officers and the June dismissal of army chief of staff General Ansumane Mané in connection with alleged arms smuggling to rebels in the neighboring Senegalese province of Casamance. The fighting has caused considerable damage in the capital, Bissau, and displaced hundreds of thousands of people. Senegalese troops have been accused of abuses against civilians.

A cease-fire negotiated in late July was repeatedly broken until the establishment of a November agreement for a government of national unity which would rule presidential elections already scheduled for March 1999. Under the auspices of the Economic Community of West African States Military Observer Group (ECOMOG), troops from several West African nations began arriving in the country in late December to oversee the pact. The rebellion underlined dwindling popular support for Guinea-Bissau President Joao Bernardo Vieira, who won office in the country's first open elections in June 1994. Legislative elections scheduled for July were already likely to be delayed before the mutiny, and are now indefinitely postponed. The Senegalese intervention, justified on the basis of a mutual defense pact, is more practically aimed at cutting off the rear bases and supplies to rebels in Senegal's southern Casamance province.

The ruling African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC) held power for thirteen years under one-party after Guinea-Bissau achieved independence from Portugal in 1973 following a fierce twelve-year guerrilla war. 1991 constitutional revisions ended the PAIGC's repressive one-party state and its official status as the "leading force in society." Political parties were legalized, and direct elections for both the president and members of parliament to five year terms were introduced. The PAIGC won a majority in parliament among 13 parties, and President Vieira retained his post in a runoff vote, in elections accepted as free and fair by both the opposition and a UN observer mission. President Vieira's current reliance of foreign forces to prop his government, and the postponement of elections are diminishing his democratic credentials. Amnesty International stated concern in July over reports of abuses by both rebel and government forces as well as allegations of threats against opposition politicians.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Guinea-Bissau's first open elections took place in 1994, and both direct presidential polls and legislative elections were judged free and fair by international observers. The PAIGC retained the presidency and a parliamentary majority, but five opposition parties are represented in the national assembly. Municipal elections first set for 1996 have been repeatedly delayed, and the ongoing army rebellion will indefinitely delay the July 1998 legislative elections.

The Guinean Human Rights League has raised allegations of numerous instances of torture and other mistreatment by security forces. Freedoms of assembly and expression are constitutionally-guaranteed and generally respected. The judiciary enjoys some autonomy, but is largely controlled by the executive branch. Judicial performance is often unpredictable due to political interference, poor training, and scant resources. Traditional law usually prevails in rural areas. Police routinely ignored rights of privacy and protections against search and seizure. Suspected "subversives" may be legally detained, and detention without resort to any statute, and severe mistreatment of detainees, is reported. Outside of conflict areas, citizens may generally travel freely within the country, and there are no legal restrictions on foreign travel. However, all civil liberties have been seriously, even if perhaps temporarily, abridged by the country's civil war.

State media practice broad self-censorship and rarely question or criticize government policies. The mainly rural population is 60 percent illiterate, and radio remains the most important medium for reaching the people. Several private radio stations and community radio stations have begun broadcasting, two of which rebroadcast French and Portuguese programming, offering more balanced coverage than government services. However, one popular private radio state was seized by rebels and much broadcasting was dominated by partisan propaganda. Few private newspapers publish, and the lack of a vibrant independent media may be more due to financial constraints than government interference.

Most people follow traditional religions, but proselytizing is permitted and there is a significant Muslim population, as well as a small Christian minority and foreign missionary activity. While official registration is required, no religious group has been denied registration since 1982, and religious freedom is respected.

Women face some legal and significant traditional and societal discrimination. They generally do not receive equal pay for equal work and have fewer opportunities for education and jobs in the small formal sector. Only eight of 100 national assembly members are women. Domestic violence against women is common, and female genital mutilation is widespread.

The vast majority of Guinea-Bissau's one million citizens survive on subsistence agricultural. Eleven labor unions operate in the formal sector, and workers have the right to organize and to strike with prior notice. Guinea-Bissau's low life expectancy, high infant mortality, and declining living standards are consequences both of Portuguese colonial neglect and misrule since independence. Economic reforms encouraged by international donors include sharp cuts in the civil service and reduction of imports. In July 1997, the country formally joined the Communauté Financière Africaine (African Financial Community) monetary union, adopting the French-backed CFA franc as its new currency, a popularly-resented move intended to stabilize the country's finances. A broad privatization plan has been slowed by the rebellion, and new grants, credits, and investment will likely await the conflict's resolution.

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