Situation in Guinea-Bissau - 8754th Meeting of Security Council

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10-Aug-2020 01:49:29
Amid rising political tensions, economic woes, ongoing international support key for maintaining stability in Guinea-Bissau, top officials warns Security Council.

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Unwavering international support is crucial to maintain the fragile stability achieved in Guinea-Bissau, officials told the Security Council today, warning of escalating political tensions and a looming “financial cliff” after the United Nations longstanding peace operation departs on 31 December.

Rosine Sori-Coulibaly, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS), described preparations on the ground in the West African nation as the Organization’s presence prepares to change shape. A phased drawdown is under way — as mandated by the Council — and tasks are being handed over to the United Nations country team and other partners. However, she said events following the country’s 2019 presidential election have complicated the political landscape, leading to a highly charged atmosphere that is further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Outlining the “deeply entrenched” positions of the new President, Umaro Sissoco Embaló, and opposition leaders allied with the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde, she said prospects for a compromise are dim. There are increasing reports of insecurity and human rights abuses — including arbitrary arrests, intimidation and detention of political figures — being committed against those perceived as being aligned with the opposition. In that context, she stressed that continued international support to Guinea-Bissau’s population, as well as the peacebuilding work of the United Nations country team and regional actors, will be crucial even beyond the exit of UNIOGBIS.

João Genésio de Almeida Filho (Brazil), speaking in his capacity as Chair of the Guinea-Bissau Configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, agreed that despite notable progress the country’s challenges have deepened in 2020 amid multiple political transitions and the arrival of COVID-19. Describing the configuration’s work with the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other partners to promote economic recovery, he warned that Guinea-Bissau’s economic outlook remains fragile and uncertain. Its pre-COVID-19 projected growth of 4.5 per cent is now expected to drop to a contraction of up to 3 per cent.

During recent multi-stakeholder meetings, he said, participants expressed concern not only about negative economic trends but also about the impact of the pandemic and its resulting movement restrictions. In particular, they warned that key United Nations peacebuilding priorities — including the fight against drug trafficking and transnational organized crime — could suffer, and continued to call on the Commission to support Guinea-Bissau in implementing crucial reforms.

Ghada Fathi Waly, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), echoed the call for urgent, coordinated action to combat drug trafficking and the trafficking in persons in Guinea-Bissau. Emphasizing that such work is critical to advancing national stability, she said organized crime networks have exploited the country’s border management challenges for trans-Atlantic cocaine trafficking. Recent gains are proving difficult to maintain amid a resurgence of criminal operations. “Political will and long-term assistance, backed by sufficient funding, are needed more than ever,” she stressed, pledging that UNODC will monitor the situation and deliver extensive technical assistance.

As Council members took the floor, most agreed that the situation in Guinea-Bissau remains fragile, while opinions diverged about the overall severity of the country’s current challenges. Several speakers sounded the alarm over recent “disturbing behaviour” by members of the military — who briefly occupied State institution buildings — and called for political neutrality, while others cited reports of harassment and intimidation against members of the media. However, others said that, despite isolated incidents, the situation is generally stable and called for international support guided by the principles of sovereignty and independence.

Niger’s representative, also speaking for Tunisia, South Africa and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, said the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) remains committed to finding a solution to the political and institutional crisis in Guinea-Bissau. Noting that COVID-19 has slowed the country’s reform efforts, he said its authorities — which are responsible for the population’s security — must reduce the threat posed by the virus. Elections alone cannot resolve Guinea-Bissau’s numerous challenges, which also require support from the international community. Voicing concern about the possible resurgence of drug trafficking, he pointed out that Guinea-Bissau is neither a producer nor a consumer of drugs, but rather a victim of transnational criminal networks.

The representative of France was among those speakers who urged all of Guinea-Bissau’s political and institutional players to work towards stability, respect for the law and human rights. The goal is for institutions to devote themselves to the country’s development, she said, recalling that resolution of the political crisis requires implementation of the 2016 Conakry Agreement, the six-point ECOWAS road map and a revision of the Constitution. As UNIOGBIS will soon end its activities, the international community must express to the new authorities clear messages about its expectations. Among other things, she underscored France’s expectation that the Government will make progress in fighting organized crime.

Indonesia’s delegate, Council President for August, said in his national capacity that all parties in Guinea-Bissau must pursue dialogue and national reconciliation to resolve their differences. He agreed with other speakers that progress on Constitutional reform and electoral laws is particularly important. Describing the current situation as stable, he nonetheless pointed to the challenges wrought by COVID-19, drug trafficking and organized crime and urged national authorities to ensure the functioning of State institutions. Meanwhile, regional and international partners must offer support, especially with the drawdown of UNIOGBIS on the horizon.

The representative of China echoed some of those points, agreeing that the parties in Guinea-Bissau have, by and large, been able to resolve their differences through dialogue. The country’s political process is gradually getting back on track. Emphasizing that COVID-19 makes it all the more urgent to unite behind crucial socioeconomic reforms, he also underlined the need to combat drug trafficking and transnational organized crime and called for increased international investment in Guinea-Bissau’s sustainable development. China supports “African solutions to African issues” with international support that is provided in full respect for Guinea-Bissau’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, he said.

To that point, the representative of Guinea-Bissau said his country is gradually overcoming huge difficulties. Members of Parliament were democratically elected and the body is functioning normally, with good standards of conduct. Society has a new attitude towards national reconciliation, he said, stressing that hate statements and political and social divisions are “now in the past” and social and political tensions are easing. Responding to claims of rising human rights violations, he said some isolated cases are a far cry from a true human rights crisis. As for drug trafficking, he said Guinea-Bissau’s borders remain vulnerable and welcomed international assistance, while rejecting attempts to politicize that issue.

Also speaking were the representatives of the Russian Federation, Germany, Estonia, United States, Dominican Republic, Belgium, United Kingdom and Viet Nam.

The meeting began at 10:11 a.m. and ended at 11:55 a.m.

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