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Guinea-Bissau Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1998

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, February 26, 1999.

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The elected government of President Joao Bernardo Vieira ceased to exercise de facto control over most of Guinea-Bissau following a June 6 military rebellion led by Army Chief of Staff Ansumane Mane that enjoyed wide popular support. Viera had ruled the country since taking power in a 1980 coup, and was elected President in the country's first multiparty elections in 1994. Despite the intervention of Senegalese and Guinean troops in support of the Vieira Government, rebel troops and their civilian sympathizers quickly seized control over most of the country. The Vieira Government exercised effective control only over portions of the capital and the Bijagos Islands. President Vieira and Mane signed a peace agreement in Abuja, Nigeria, on November 1. The signatories agreed to put in place a government of national unity that would include representatives of the rebels. The two leaders also agreed to hold general and presidential elections no later than the end of March 1999. In November and December a National Executive Commission composed of representatives of the Government, the Junta, the National Assembly, and civil society established a plan for restructuring the government. The reorganization plan reduced the number of ministries from 15 to 10 and gave control of leading ministries, including Defense, Interior, Territorial Administration, and Veterans' Affairs to rebel supporters. On December 2, the National Executive Commission selected Francisco Fadul as Prime Minister. Fadul had served as political advisor to Mane during the conflict. The National Assembly passed a motion on November 27 demanding the resignation of President Vieira. President Vieira criticized the motion as invalid and vowed to remain in office until replaced through the election process. At year's end, the national unity government had not been installed or begun to function, and there had been little progress in implementing any of the terms of the November 1 Abuja Agreement. The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, however, it is subject to political influence and corruption. The judiciary ceased to function following the June fighting.

The police, under the direction of the Ministry of the Interior, have primary responsibility for the nation's internal security. However, following the June revolt the police became ineffective, leaving security primarily in the hands of the Senegalese and Guinean militaries. The Guinea-Bissau armed forces are ____________

*On June 14, the United States Embassy suspended operations in the midst of heavy fighting in Bissau and all official personnel in the country were evacuated. This report is based on information obtained prior to the suspension of operations, by embassies in neighboring countries, and from other sources.

responsible for external security and may be called upon to assist the police in internal emergencies. A clear majority of soldiers joined the rebellion against President Vieira. Those who remained loyal, numbering no more than 300, generally took a secondary role to the Senegalese and Guineans in the fighting. The police, the military (both loyal and rebel), the Senegalese, and the Guineans were responsible for serious human rights abuses.

The population of 1 million relies largely upon subsistence agriculture and the export of cashew nuts. Both activities were affected negatively by the fighting. Annual per capita gross domestic product in recent years has been estimated at $840; however, this was expected to decline significantly as a result of the conflict. In December the economy was at a complete standstill. Exports of cashew nuts and other products had virtually ceased, significant quantities of warehouse stocks had been looted or destroyed, and all banks and other monetary institutions had ceased to function. With money scarce, the country returned to a barter economy. The country remains burdened by heavy external debt and massive underemployment.

The human rights situation deteriorated markedly over the year. Before the June rebellion, President Vieira pursued a policy of isolating himself from all but an inner circle of advisors and attempted to concentrate power both in the ruling PAIGC and in the Government directly in his own hands. Troops loyal to President Veira killed an unknown number of civilians following the outbreak of the June rebellion. The police continued to use beatings, physical mistreatment, and other forms of harassment, and arbitrary arrest and detention. The Government did not punish any members of the security forces for abuses. Prison conditions are poor. The Government at times use incommunicado detention. The judiciary is subject to political influence and corruption and ceased to function following the outbreak of the June rebellion. The Government infringed on citizens' privacy rights. The Government at times limited freedom of the press, and journalists practiced self-censorship. The Government at times restricted freedom of movement. Violence and discrimination against women are problems. Female genital mutilation is widely practiced. Child labor and some forced child labor persist.

The June to November conflict, which was punctuated by several cease-fires, caused massive civilian dislocation and hardship.

An estimated 250,000 civilians fled Bissau for the countryside, where most sat out the war with friends and relatives in rural villages. Several thousand persons also left for neighboring countries or Europe. The conflict also resulted in a significant but unknown number of casualties. The majority of deaths and injuries resulted from combat between rebel forces and the Senegalese intervention forces. Senegalese troops fired heavy artillery into Guinea-Bissau from Senegal. Most of the fighting occurred in Bissau and its immediate environs. An unknown number of civilian deaths and injuries resulted from shells fired by both sides into civilian neighborhoods.

Senegalese troops reportedly killed and beat a number of civilians.

Guinean troops reportedly beat a number of civilians.

Both sides engaged in robbery and looting.


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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

Political and extrajudicial killings occurred.

Troops loyal to or allied with President Vieira killed an unknown number of civilian noncombatants following the outbreak of the June rebellion.

The Interior Ministry never released the results of an internal investigation on the police shootings of two African deportees following demonstrations in 1996; one of the deportees died. To date no one has been charged with the shootings.

The 1992 death of Ussumane Quade, an army officer beaten to death while in police custody, remains unsolved. Two police officers were arrested in connection with the death in 1997, but neither was ever charged formally and both were released.

In the early stages of the fighting, Senegalese troops in the area near the rebels' main base in Bissau were reportedly under instructions to shoot to kill anyone seen on the streets. These instructions may have contributed to the June 23 shooting of two local guards of a foreign embassy, one of whom died from his injuries. Eyewitnesses identified the assailants as Senegalese soldiers. A subsequent investigation by Senegalese military authorities concluded that it was not possible to determine which side fired at the two guards. Senegalese troops also reportedly shot and killed three unidentified youths on June 23 in the Bissau neighborhood of Antula. The youths reportedly were shot while fleeing the soldiers. President Vieira took no action to encourage forces allied with him to minimize the loss of life among the civilian population.

Rebel forces loyal to General Mane also committed extrajudicial killings. The rebellion began with an ambush on a government vehicle thought to be carrying President Vieira. While Vieira was not in the vehicle, both occupants, his chief of protocol and the deputy director of the National Police, were killed. There were credible reports that rebel forces executed a Vieira military advisor whom they captured at the beginning of the rebellion. There were credible reports that army troops stationed in the interior who were sympathetic to the rebels killed superiors who expressed continued loyalty to Vieira.

There were unconfirmed reports that Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC) rebels from the Casamance region of Senegal, operating in Guinea-Bissau and allied to the rebel forces, killed or tortured a number of Senegalese army prisoners.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The Constitution prohibits cruel and inhuman punishment, and evidence obtained through torture or coercion is invalid; however, the Government often ignored these provisions, and security forces beat, mistreated, and otherwise abused persons. Security and police authorities historically have employed abusive interrogation methods, usually in the form of severe beatings or deprivation. The Government rarely enforced provisions for punishment of abuses committed by security forces.

During the early stages of the conflict, forces loyal to Vieira engaged in widespread harassment, including stopping civilians and subjecting them to degrading body searches without cause. Refugees made credible claims that loyalist forces routinely beat civilians believed sympathetic to the rebels, particularly in the early stages of the conflict. Refugees alleged rape by loyalist soldiers; the allegations were not confirmed.

In March an arms trafficking scandal resulted in the arrest of five Guinea-Bissauan soldiers and two Senegalese civilians charged with selling arms to rebels in southern Senegal (see Section 1.e.). At the time of their arrest, they were seen by representatives of the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Human Rights League and were reported to be in good condition. Following 2 days of questioning by police and military officials, all exhibited bruises consistent with severe beatings; one of the Senegalese was paralyzed on one side of his body. No action was taken by the Government to determine responsibility for these beatings.

Two policemen accused of rape in 1995 have yet to stand trial and no trial date was set. They were unconditionally released from custody. Human rights monitors reported other incidents in which police accused of rape or the mistreatment of prisoners have not been prosecuted.

Senegalese troops reportedly beat a small number of civilians. Guinean troops reportedly beat and harassed civilians.

There were credible reports that rebel soldiers beat and harassed civilians suspected of government sympathies.

There were unconfirmed reports that MFDC rebels tortured a number of Senegalese prisoners.

Prison conditions are poor but generally not life threatening. Beatings and deprivation were used as a means of coercion. The June rebellion effectively stopped a program aimed at halting such methods. Prison authorities had very little control over inmates, many of whom simply left during the day. Following a request by the Interior Minister for international donor assistance to rehabilitate the prisons, the European Union renovated two of them. However, many prisons were damaged during the fighting and the inmates escaped.

The Human Rights League was given access to most prisoners during the first half of the year. Its members were allowed initial access to the arms-trafficking scandal detainees. However, after they reported on the visible injuries inflicted on the prisoners at the hands of the security forces, no further visits were permitted. The activities of the Human Rights League and other NGO's were hindered by the post-June 6 conflict.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained persons.

The law 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 trial. In practice, the judicial system generally failed to provide these rights. The judicial system ceased to function following the June outbreak of fighting.

Police detained suspects without judicial authority or warrants, occasionally through the device of house arrest. The Government held detainees without charges or trial for extended periods of time, sometimes incommunicado. The authorities did not routinely observe bail procedures.

There were credible reports that Senegalese forces routinely detained individuals without charges during the early stages of the rebellion. No such accusations were made against the rebel forces.

The Government does not use forced exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but judges, who are poorly trained and paid, are sometimes subject to political pressures and corruption. The Supreme Court is especially vulnerable to political pressure, as its members are appointed by the President and serve at his pleasure. The judiciary is reluctant to decide cases of a political nature. Cases against several former and current members of the Government were delayed. The Supreme Court failed to deal impartially with highly charged political cases. The Court refused to hear a challenge on the constitutionality of the President's decision to accept election as PAIGC President. In 1997 the Court took up the issue of the constitutionality of the manner in which the President named his new Government. The decision ultimately rendered was in favor of allowing the Government to remain in office, but was issued only after the President brought significant pressure to bear on the Court. Trials involving state security are conducted by civilian courts. Under the Code of Military Justice, military courts try only crimes committed by armed forces personnel. Prior to the rebellion, the Government had announced that two Senegalese civilians implicated in an arms trafficking scandal would be tried in a military court in violation of the law (see Section 1.c.). The Supreme Court is the final court of appeal for both military and civilian cases. The President has the authority to grant pardons and reduce sentences.

The court system ceased to function following the outbreak of the rebellion in June.

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

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 system. The police often resolve disputes.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution provides for the inviolability of domicile, person, and correspondence, but the Government does not always respect these rights. The police do not always use judicial warrants and have forced entry into some private homes.

Loyalist forces reportedly searched private residences in Bissau without cause and without warrants. Loyalist forces allegedly were guilty of theft from both private homes and stores.

International and domestic mail at times was opened; however, this violation was by poorly paid postal employees in search of money or other valuables, not by security personnel. The country's main post office building was destroyed in June during the rebellion and mail service ceased to function thereafter.

Senegalese forces were observed stealing private vehicles and other goods and attempting to ship them to Senegal (see Section 2.a.). Two Senegalese soldiers were arrested by the Senegalese military on charges that they looted a foreign ambassador's residence on July 14.

Rebel forces allegedly stole from private homes and stores.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, however, the Government at times limited these rights in practice, and journalists continued to practice self-censorship.

Prior to the rebellion, Guinea-Bissau's print media consisted of one independent daily, three independent weeklies, one government­owned biweekly, and one independent monthly. All of the newspapers published sporadically due to financial constraints. The national printing press, the only facility for publishing newspapers in the country, often lacked the raw materials to publish them. No newspapers were published after the outbreak of the rebellion.

Prior to the rebellion, there were three independent radio stations and one government-controlled station in Bissau. In addition, Radio Portugal and Radio France International broadcasts were received from Lisbon and Paris. There were also three community radio stations run by the indigenous NGO Action for Development. One independent station rebroadcast the British Broadcasting Corporation and another rebroadcast the Voice Of America.

After the June rebellion, the status of the electronic media changed significantly. Two independent stations, Radio Pindjiguiti and Radio Mavegro, ceased broadcasting. National Radio continued to broadcast for the first week from its normal transmitter. Later, it took over Radio Mavegro's headquarters (Radio Mavegro's owner was out of Bissau at the time of the coup) and continued to broadcast using Radio Mavegro's equipment. The independent station Radio Bombolom began broadcasts supportive of the rebels on the second day of the coup and soon changed its name to the Voice of the Military Junta. It is unclear whether the station was taken over by the rebels or whether its owner was a willing collaborator. The community stations ceased operations. Radio Portugal and Radio France International continued to be received.

Journalists encountered harassment by government and allied troops at the early stages of the fighting. Their movements were restricted and they were kept from filming or photographing images deemed damaging to the image of the Government or its foreign allies. Portuguese journalist Christina Guerra was expelled from the country after photographing Senegalese soldiers loading private vehicles on boats bound for Dakar (see Section 1.f.). Notwithstanding these instances of harassment, many foreign journalists were able to circulate and report on the fighting and associated political developments.

Academic freedom generally was observed until the outbreak of fighting. Schools and research institutions ceased to function after the June rebellion.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly, and the Government respected this right in practice until the outbreak of fighting in June. Government approval is required for all assemblies and demonstrations, and prior to the June rebellion, the Government approved all such requests. Numerous organizations held rallies, some of which were critical of the Government. After the outbreak of the June rebellion, no groups attempted to hold rallies or demonstrations.

The Constitution provides for freedom of association, and the Government respected this right in practice prior to the June rebellion. The Government did not prohibit or actively discourage the formation of associations; however, all private associations were required to register with the Government. There were no reports of associations being denied registration.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respected this right in practice. While religious groups must be licensed by the Government, no applications were refused. Various faiths, including Jehovah's Witnesses, continued missionary activities during the year. The Government includes members from all major religious groups. There were no indications that either the Government or the rebel forces attempted to interfere with religious freedom following the outbreak of fighting.

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

Prior to the June uprising, the Government generally did not restrict movement within the country, foreign travel, or emigration; however, checkpoints and police harassment occurred frequently. After the outbreak of fighting, vehicle traffic was curtailed severely. Both government and rebel forces blocked the road from Bissau to the interior and interfered with the free movement of traffic. The Government carefully controlled movement within Bissau, prohibiting most traffic. Movement in the interior was less restricted but still subject to occasional interference by both government and rebel forces. The land borders with Senegal were closed to travelers during the early stages of the conflict. Later, Senegal allowed humanitarian convoys to transit the border. Land borders with Guinea generally remained open. The national airport remained under rebel control after the outbreak of fighting and was closed to commercial traffic. Rebel forces allowed airport access to humanitarian flights.

Passports were issued by the Minister of the Interior. The issuance of passports ceased following the revolt. Citizens have the right to return and are not subject to political revocation of their citizenship.

The June to November conflict, which was punctuated by several cease-fires, caused massive civilian dislocation and hardship. An estimated 250,000 civilians fled Bissau for the countryside, where most sat out the war with friends and relative in rural villages. Several thousand persons also left Guinea-Bissau for neighboring countries or Europe. In June 200 persons fleeing the fighting drowned when they tried to reach the coastal Bijagos Islands.

Prior to the conflict, the Government allowed refugees to stay if they feared persecution at home. There are no formal provisions to recognize refugee status, but it was granted on a case-by-case basis. No refugees were deported forcibly to a country where they feared persecution. Foreign refugees who fled Bissau with the outbreak of fighting are believed to have done so voluntarily. The Government provided first asylum to refugees from the conflicts in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the Casamance region of Senegal. A January United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) census revealed the presence of just under 5,000 Senegalese refugees in Guinea-Bissau. The majority of these were found along the western Senegal-Guinea-Bissau border. Renewed fighting in the Casamance in March more than doubled this number for a short time; however, most of the new arrivals repatriated voluntarily. The UNHCR established a refugee camp south of the border region at Jolomete that housed about 700 refugees. The UNHCR removed its representative during the fighting; the present status of these refugees is unknown.

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

In 1994 voters were able to choose their government freely for the first time in the nation's history. The PAIGC, the country's only legal party from 1974 to 1991, retained power in elections judged to be free and fair by international observers, although they acknowledged some irregularities. Local elections have been promised since 1995, but they had not been held by year's end and no substantive progress has been made to prepare for them.

The Government was constitutionally required to hold multiparty legislative elections before September. However, the Government took no steps to put the election machinery in motion. Prior to the outbreak of fighting in June, the Government had not yet begun to undertake an electoral census, nominate members of a newly created permanent independent electoral commission, or secure funding from international donors. The June rebellion inhibited any possibility of organizing these elections.

Joao Bernardo Vieira was elected President in Guinea-Bissau's first multiparty elections in 1994. Vieira had ruled the country since taking power in a 1980 coup. In May Vieira was reelected president of the PAIGC. Opposition parties claimed that Vieira's acceptance of this office was unconstitutional. The PAIGC holds 62 of the 100 seats in the National Assembly, where 4 other parties are represented. The National Assembly suspended its functions following the June 6 military rebellion, resuming only in early December. However, some National Assembly members fled the country during the revolt.

Women are underrepresented in the National Assembly, where they occupy only 8 of the 100 seats. Three of 15 cabinet ministers in the Vieira government were women. The composition of a new government structured in December under the supervision of the National Executive Commission was not known at year's end.

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

Prior to the outbreak of fighting in June, the Government did not interfere with the Guinea-Bissau Human Rights League (LGDH), and international human rights groups continued to investigate human rights abuses without government harassment. The activities of international and nongovernmental human rights groups effectively ceased with the outbreak of hostilities in June.

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

The Constitution and law prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, race, and religion. In practice, however, the Government does not effectively enforce these provisions.


Physical violence, including wife beating, is an accepted means of settling domestic disputes. Although police 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.

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 can not own or manage land or inherit property.


The Government allocates only limited resources for children's welfare and education.

Female genital mutilation (FGM), which is widely condemned by international health experts as damaging to both physical and psychological health, is widely practiced within certain ethnic groups, especially the Fulas and the Mandinkas. The practice is increasing as the population becomes more Muslim, and is being performed not only on adolescent girls, but also on babies as young as 4 months old. The Government has not outlawed the practice. However, it has formed a national committee, which is conducting a nationwide education campaign to discourage it. International NGO's, including the Swedish group Radda Barnen and Plan International, as well as several domestic NGO's such as Friends of Children and Sinim Mira Nasseque, are working through the national committee to eliminate FGM. The efforts of both domestic and international groups were largely suspended after the outbreak of fighting in June.

People With Disabilities

There is no legislation mandating accessibility. The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against the disabled, and the Government does not ensure equal 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 food needs.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution provides all civilian workers with the freedom to form and join independent trade unions. However, the vast majority of the population works in subsistence agriculture. Most union members are government or parastatal employees; 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 close informal ties with the PAIGC. The law does not favor UNTG­affiliated unions over others. The Constitution provides for the right to strike and protection for workers from retribution for strike activities.

The only legal restriction on strike activity is the requirement for prior notice. Legal strikes have been conducted by several unions, with no retribution against the strikers in the past; there were no strikes in 1998.

Both enforcement of the law and the functioning of the formal economy largely ceased after June.

All unions are free to affiliate freely with national confederations and international labor organizations of their choice.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Constitution does not provide 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 provisions for the protection of workers against antiunion discrimination have very little effect due to low union membership. Although the Government adopted no laws to establish penal sanctions against employers practicing such discrimination, no workers have alleged antiunion discrimination, and the practice is not believed to be widespread.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced or compulsory labor, including that performed by children, is not permitted by law. These prohibitions generally are enforced in the formal sector. However, children are often forced by their parents or guardians to work as street traders or agricultural laborers in the informal sector (see Section 6.d.). The Government has not taken action to combat such practices.

In 1996 the Armed Forces Chief of Staff, Ansumane Mane, was arrested after several children died in an explosion that occurred when they were forced to prepare shell cases for sale to Casamance rebels. Mane was placed under house arrest, but never formally charged; he ultimately was pardoned and reinstated by President Vieira. He is now the leader of the rebel forces.

d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment

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 generally are followed in the small formal sector, but the Ministry of Justice 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.

Forced or compulsory labor by children is not permitted by law; this prohibition generally is enforced in the formal sector, although such labor occurs in the informal sector (see Section 6.c.).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Government's Council of Ministers annually establishes minimum wage rates for all categories of work but does not enforce them. The lowest monthly wage is approximately $15 (9,000 cfa francs). This wage is inadequate to provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family, 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. With the breakdown of the formal economy, most of the country returned to barter, and both the Government and the private sector lacked the funds to pay salaries.

The Ministry of Justice 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, these standards are not enforced, and many persons work under conditions that endanger their health and safety.

Workers do not have the right to remove themselves from unsafe working conditions without losing their jobs. Given high unemployment, a worker who left for such reasons would be readily replaced.

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