In spite of the recent steps taken by various parties in Guinea-Bissau to advance the transition process, insecurity and impunity are still serious issues that the Government must urgently address, a senior United Nations official said today.
"Notwithstanding the positive efforts to ensure inclusiveness in the transition process, impunity remains a major problem," Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Tayé-Brook Zerihoun told the Security Council. "There is a general atmosphere of fear within the population arising from the recent cases of beatings, torture and intimidation that continue to restrict freedom of assembly and information."
Guinea-Bissau has a tumultuous history of coups, misrule and political instability since it gained independence from Portugal in 1974. Last year, rogue soldiers seized power in a military take-over on 12 April - just days ahead of the country's presidential run-off election - prompting calls from the international community for the return to civilian rule and the restoration of constitutional order. Recent incidents include an attack on a military base in October, which reportedly resulted in numerous deaths.
In his presentation to the Council of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's latest report on the developments in the country, Mr. Zerihoun noted that none of the individuals involved in the October attack have been brought to justice, although investigations have reportedly been concluded and submitted to the military court.
Staff from the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS) have visited prisons and detention centres and have confirmed inadequate detention conditions and lack of access of detainees to medical care, food and potable water. While the Mission has notified the Ministry of Justice on this matter, Mr. Zerihoun stressed that there must be a wider change in Government policies to ensure a peaceful and inclusive transition.
"The continued lack of civilian control and oversight over the defence and security forces and the continuing attempts by some politicians to manipulate the military for sectarian benefit remain matters of grave concern," he said. "They hamper the effective functioning of State institutions and highlight the urgent need to radically change the way in which politics is conducted in the country, as well as the imperative of fundamental reform of the defence, security and justice sectors."
Mr. Zerihoun added that while restoration of constitutional order through elections remains a key priority, the international community must also support efforts aimed at combating impunity during the transition period and in the medium to longer term if stability is to be sustainable.
"Only then can Guinea-Bissau have an opportunity to reverse decades of instability, unconstitutional change of Government, gross human rights abuses and impunity; and hopefully usher in a new era where there will be respect for the rule of law and for human and political rights, as well as opportunities for social and economic development," he said, while also reaffirming the UN's commitment to assist Guinea-Bissau in its long-term reconciliation process.