News / Africa

Cautious International Support for Guinea-Bissau Ahead of Elections

United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic, November 2012 file photo.
United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic, November 2012 file photo.
A senior United Nations envoy says major reforms are necessary in Guinea-Bissau for elections due in November to be seen as free and fair. Among the reforms are steps toward providing justice for recent high-profile political killings.

Guinea-Bissau has suffered from chronic instability since obtaining independence from Portugal in 1974. Its most recent coup occurred last year, when the army took control of the country in the middle of an election cycle.

Transitional authorities announced in June that presidential and legislative elections would be held on November 24. This week, the country received representatives from a host of international organizations, including the African Union, the West African regional bloc ECOWAS and the European Union.

El-Ghassim Wane, the director of the African Union’s Peace and Security Council, says the international community is committed to seeing a successful vote.

He says the international community is here to see what can be done to have an election that is transparent, free and credible, so authorities can implement the reforms that Guinea-Bissau needs.

There are a number of reforms international observers say need to occur before the vote in order for it to be seen as free and fair.

Ivan Simonovic, assistant secretary-general for human rights at the United Nations, led the first ever high-level human rights delegation to the country this week. He expressed concern about a number of troubling trends since last year’s coup - including restrictions on demonstrations and episodes of political violence.

He said the international community would need to see progress on investigations of recent high-profile political killings, including the 2009 assassination of then-President Joao Bernardo Vieira.

“I was told that there is some progress being made, however these investigations so far did not lead to any palpable results. I was told today by the prosecutor general that before the elections, we will be able to see at least some progress in not only investigations, but investigations leading to trials,” said Simonovic.

Simonovic also said it would be important in the long run to address concerns about drug trafficking and corruption, which he sees as fueling political violence. Guinea-Bissau is a transit point for drugs originating in South America and headed for Europe.

The United States has recently taken the lead in trying to crack down on this activity. In April, federal drug agents arrested former navy chief Jose Americo Buba Na Tchuto at sea and transferred him to New York, where he was charged in a plot to ship cocaine to the United States and Europe. Later that month, the U.S. unsealed charges against the head of the armed forces, Antonio Indjai, who is accused of trying to aid Colombia’s FARC rebel group.

U.S. Ambassador to Senegal Lewis Lukens declined to elaborate on the arrests during his visit to Guinea-Bissau this week, saying the details were already public.

Like the other international visitors, he says he is focused on the November elections.

“Part of the reason for my visit this week is to meet with government and meet with other international partners to learn more about the plans for the election. And when I go back to Dakar we’ll be reviewing what support we might be able to provide,“ he said.

One of the critical needs will be to resume international funding, which was frozen after the April 2012 coup.

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