Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
February 28, 2005

Guinea-Bissau is a multiparty republic. In September 2003, former president Kumba Yala, who had undermined the country’s transition to democracy since his election in 2000, was deposed in a military coup. In October 2003, military, political, and civil society leaders appointed Henrique Pereira Rosa as the president of a civilian transition government. On March 28, free and fair legislative elections were held for the 100-seat National Popular Assembly (ANP), which the former president had dissolved in 2002. The African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC) won with a plurality of 45 seats, and Carlos Domingos Gomes Junior was appointed Prime Minister. President Rosa remained head of state, and presidential elections were scheduled for March 2005. On October 6, a military mutiny to protest salary arrears and living conditions resulted in two deaths, including that of the Chief of Defense, and numerous injuries. In an October 10 memorandum of understanding, the Government agreed to ask Parliament to: Grant amnesty to those involved in eight military uprisings since 1980; and to request that the President commute the penalties of individuals charged with attempting coups in November 2001 and December 2002. No action had been taken on the memorandum by year's end. The judiciary, which had been subject to strong executive influence since former president Yala dismissed and imprisoned the former Chief Justice in November 2002, made major strides in establishing its independence; however, corruption remained a problem.

The police, under the direction of the Ministry of the Interior, have primary responsibility for the country's internal security. The armed forces are responsible for external security and can be called upon to assist the police in internal emergencies. In 2002, the Government began a comprehensive program to restructure the armed forces, improve military living conditions, and demobilize approximately 4,000 active duty military personnel; however, living conditions remained poor, salary arrears had not been paid, and the reinsertion and reintegration phases of the program had not been completed by year's end. The October 6 mutiny was the fourth time since the country's independence in 1974 that the military intervened and acted independently of government authority. Some members of the security forces committed serious human rights abuses.

The population of approximately 1.3 million relies largely upon subsistence agriculture and the export of cashew nuts in a market economy. The formal economy broke down in 1998, and most of the country reverted to barter. In 2002, the country suffered a substantial slowdown in economic activity, and gross domestic product declined 4.2 percent, primarily as a result of significantly lower levels of foreign assistance and a drop of approximately 30 percent in cashew prices in the international market. The country remained burdened by heavy external debt and pervasive underemployment. Prior to the September 2003 coup, most public servants had not been paid for up to 2 years; however, during the year, the Government resumed paying salaries of non-military public servants.

The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there were problems in some areas. Army mutineers committed unlawful killings and beat and abused senior officers. Police arbitrarily arrested a human rights leader during the year. Impunity and corruption remained problems, although less so than in previous years. Prison conditions remained poor. Some journalists continued to practice self-censorship. Violence and discrimination against women were problems. Female genital mutilation (FGM) was practiced widely. Child labor, including some forced labor, and child trafficking occurred.

During the year, the Transition Government took significant steps to improve human rights, take control of public finances, renew relations with the international community, and restore political participation. Unlike in previous years, there were no reports that security forces mistreated detainees; arbitrarily arrested and detained opposition leaders, journalists, and labor leaders; used incommunicado detention; infringed on citizens' privacy rights; or restricted freedom of speech and the press to intimidate the media.


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

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

Security forces committed political killings during the year. On October 6, military mutineers killed former Defense Chief General Verissimo Correia Seabraor, who led the coup against former president Yala, and Colonel Domingos de Barros, the head of human resources for the military; the soldiers responsible for the killings had not been identified by year's end. The mutineers, who reportedly beat and abused other officers, demanded payment of salary arrears and improved living conditions (see Section 3).

There were no developments in the March 2003 case of Army Second Lieutenant Mussa Cassama, who died in detention from injuries inflicted during torture.

There were three deaths from landmines and one from unexploded ordnance during the year.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The Constitution prohibits such practices, and evidence obtained through torture or coercion is invalid. In the past, the Government often ignored these provisions, and security forces beat, mistreated, and otherwise abused persons; however, there were fewer reports of such activity than in previous years. The Government rarely enforced provisions to punish members of the security forces who committed abuses.

On October 6, military mutineers beat and abused senior officers; two officers were killed (see Section 1.a.).

In June, Lieutenant General Emilio Costa, then Deputy Chief of Defense, was accused of beating a motorist in a road rage incident; Costa did not occupy the position of Deputy Chief of Defense at year's end. No further information was available; however, an investigation was being conducted at year's end.

The officers and enlisted men who were arrested in 2002 for allegedly plotting to overthrow the Government of former President Yala were released during the year. No action was taken against security forces who in 2003 beat, bound, and held the detainees incommunicado.

There also were no developments in the 2002 beating by security forces of Rui Ferreira, a National Assembly Deputy of the opposition Resistencia Guinea Bissau Party, or in the case of Victor Mandinga.

Demining operations continued; however, landmines and unexploded ordnance resulted in deaths and one injury during the year.

Prison conditions remained poor but generally were not life threatening. The country does not have formal prisons. Most prisoners were detained in makeshift detention facilities on military bases in Bissau and neighboring cities. Unlike in previous years, there were no reports that security forces beat and abused civilian prisoners or used incommunicado detention. Detention facilities generally lacked running water or adequate sanitation. Detainees' diets were poor, and medical care was virtually nonexistent. Men and women were held in separate facilities, and juveniles were held separately from adults. Pretrial detainees were not held separately from convicted prisoners.

The Government generally permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by local and international human rights groups. During the year, the Office of the Representative of the U.N. Secretary General (UNOGBIS) regularly visited prisoners. Beginning in late 2003 and during the year, the International Committee of the Red Cross and UNOGBIS were allowed to visit the seven remaining military personnel who had been held incommunicado since December 2002.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and, in the past, security forces arrested and detained persons without judicial authority or warrants. Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports of the arbitrary arrest of opposition politicians, journalists, and union leaders; however, a human rights activist was arrested (see Section 2.a.). All persons detained without charge or trial during the former Kumba Yala presidency were released following the September 2003 military coup.

The country is divided into 37 police districts, each with its own police station; there were an estimated 600 police in the country. Since the 1998 civil war, police recruitment has not kept pace with attrition. Unlike in the previous year, police were paid regularly; however, they have not been compensated for up to 24 months of salary arrears. Impunity and corruption were rampant, and police generally were ineffective. There was a severe lack of resources and training.

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 the past, the judicial system, which was heavily backlogged and under strong executive influence, failed to provide these rights; however, there were some improvements during the year (see Section 1.e.).

In late 2003, Supreme Court judges and officials who were detained by former president Yala in 2001 were released and allowed to resume their positions.

The four Senegalese detained in 2002 were among those released following the September 2003 coup.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, in the past, the judiciary was subject to executive influence and control, and members of the Supreme Court were appointed and often replaced by the former President. During the year, the judiciary made major strides in establishing its constitutional independence: The Supreme Court elected Maria do Ceu Silva Monteiro as its Chief Justice, and in conjunction with regional courts, began hearing case backlogs; and the Ministry of Justice and the legal professional association reactivated the public defender program. Despite this, judges continued to be poorly trained and paid and sometimes were subject to corruption.

Civilian courts conduct trials involving state security. Under the Code of Military Justice, military courts only try crimes committed by armed forces personnel. 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.

Trials do not use juries; however, the accused are presumed innocent and have the right to timely access to an attorney, to question witnesses, to have access to evidence held by the Government, and to appeal. Citizens who could not afford an attorney have the right to a court-appointed lawyer.

Traditional practices still prevailed in most rural areas, and persons who lived in urban areas often brought judicial disputes to traditional counselors to avoid the costs and bureaucratic impediments of the official system. The police often resolved disputes.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution prohibits such actions; however, in the past, the Government did not always respect these prohibitions in practice, and the police did not always use judicial warrants. During the year, there were no reports of such practices.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press; however, in the past, the Government frequently restricted these rights, and opposition politicians had little or no access to government-controlled media. There were no reports of such restrictions during the year. In previous years, journalists practiced self-censorship; however, there were no reports of such activities during the year. The Government did not restrict academic freedom.

During the year, persons continued to be arrested for exercising their right of free speech. On March 8, security forces arrested and released Joao Vaz Mane, the Vice President of the Guinean Human Rights League (LGDH), after Mane denounced police for beating a young man.

No action was taken against security forces who beat Indjai Dabo, the United Social Democratic Party representative in Sao Domingos.

In addition to the government-owned newspaper No Pintcha, several private newspapers published without restriction, including Diario de Bissau, Fraskera, Gazeta de Noticias, Kansare, and Baloba. All newspapers published only sporadically during the year due to financial constraints and dependence on the state-owned printing house. The national printing press, the only facility for publishing newspapers in the country, often lacked the necessary raw materials.

There were several independent radio stations. National television broadcast from 7 p.m. to midnight on weekdays and 5 p.m. to midnight on weekends. Unlike in previous years, there were no reports that government-controlled stations practiced self-censorship.

Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports that the Government dismissed or arbitrarily arrested radio journalists, closed down private radio stations, or harassed judicial authorities who defended such stations.

Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports that the Government ordered all media organizations to cease publication of information relating to the LGDH, which received significant and fair media coverage during the year.

The Internet was available in the country, and the Government did not restrict its use.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association, and the Government generally respected these rights in practice. Permits were required for all assemblies and demonstrations. Unlike in the past, there were no reports that the Government banned assemblies.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice. In 2003, the Ahmadiya, an Islamic religious group expelled from the country in 2001, was permitted to return after the Government determined that former President Yala's decision to expel them had been an illegal breach of due process. Although the Government must license religious groups, there were no reports that any applications were refused.

For a more detailed discussion, see the 2004 International Religious Freedom Report.

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

The Constitution provides for these rights, and unlike in the previous year, there were no reports that the Government limited them in practice.

The Constitution did not specifically prohibit forced exile; however, the Government did not use it.

The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status in accordance with the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol, and the Government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. In practice, the Government provided protection against refoulement, the return of persons to a country where they feared persecution. The Government cooperated with the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers. During the year, the UNHCR reported that approximately 7,700 refugees, mostly Senegalese citizens, were in the country. More than 6,000 of these refugees lived in villages along the country's northern border where they were integrated into the local economy and largely self-sufficient. Another 1,000 Senegalese refugees lived in camps and received assistance from UNHCR. There also were approximately 500 Senegalese, Liberian, and Sierra Leonean urban refugees. The UNHCR reported that the Government was tolerant of these refugees and permitted them to engage in economic activities to support themselves.

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

The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully. Unlike in the previous year, when the Government was changed by military coup, citizens exercised their right to peacefully elect a legislature through elections on March 28.

In September 2003, the military deposed former President Kumba Yala, who, since his election in 2000, had postponed new legislative elections, refused to veto or promulgate a new draft constitution, dismissed the Prime Minister, and dismissed two Supreme Court Presidents. In October 2003, military, political, and civil society leaders appointed Henrique Pereira Rosa as the President of a civilian transition government. During the year, the Transition Government took control of public finances, renewed relations with the international community, and restored free speech and political participation.

On March 28, legislative elections were held for the 100-seat ANP, which had been dissolved in 2002 by former president Yala. The PAIGC won with a plurality of 45 seats, and Carlos Domingos Gomes Junior was appointed Prime Minister. International observers deemed the elections free and fair. On May 12, Prime Minister Gomes Junior, as head of government, appointed a cabinet of 16 ministers and 7 state secretaries. President Rosa remained head of state; presidential elections were scheduled for March 2005.

On October 6, a battalion of 600 soldiers returning from a peacekeeping mission in Liberia staged a mutiny to protest salary arrears and poor living conditions; two officers were killed, and several were injured (see Section 1.a.). The mutiny was launched on the day that eight officers were due to go on trial for their alleged part in a December 2002 coup attempt against former president Yala; the trial was postponed. In an October 10 memorandum of understanding, the Government agreed to ask Parliament to: Grant amnesty to those involved in eight military uprisings since 1980; and ask the President to commute the penalties of individuals charged with attempting coups in November 2001 and December 2002. The memorandum, which specified no timeline for proposed actions, also provided for payment of salary arrears and improved living conditions for the military; no action had been taken on the memorandum by year's end.

In 2000, voters elected former president Yala with a 72 percent electoral majority in a runoff election following multiparty elections in 1999. International observers, foreign diplomats, and local NGOs considered both elections, which included candidates from 13 parties as well as several independents, to be generally free and fair.

The 1991 Constitution remained in effect. Unlike in previous years, when former president Yala ruled by decree, the Government generally respected the Constitution and the separation of powers it provides. A draft constitution to limit certain presidential powers was under discussion; however, no action was taken on it during the year.

Government corruption was widespread at all levels.

There were no laws providing access to government information.

There were 14 women in the 100-seat ANP. The Supreme Court Chief Justice, 3 of the country's 16 government ministers, and 2 of 7 state secretaries also were women.

All ethnic groups were represented in the Government.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views; however, the Government arrested LDGH Vice President Joao Vaz Mane during the year for criticizing the Government (see Section 2.a.).

Section 5 Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

The Constitution and law prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex and race; however, in practice, the Government did not enforce these provisions effectively.


Domestic violence, including wife beating, was an accepted means of settling domestic disputes. Although police intervened in domestic disputes if requested, the Government had not undertaken specific measures to counter social pressure against reporting domestic violence, rape, incest, and other mistreatment of women.

There were laws against rape; however, government enforcement of those laws was limited, in large part because of lack of resources.

FGM was practiced widely within certain ethnic groups, especially the Fulas and the Mandinkas. The practice has increased as the Muslim population has grown and was 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, a national committee continued to conduct a nationwide education campaign to discourage FGM. Both international and domestic NGOs continued working through the national committee to eliminate FGM.

Sinim Mira Nassique, a local NGO, has initiated alternative FGM summer camps for young girls throughout the country. During the summer, girls attended camps in Farim, Buba, and Gabu, where they experienced all traditional initiation rights except excision. The camps, which taught the dangers of FGM, also provided training in hygiene, sewing, embroidery, and other skills.

The law prohibits prostitution; however, enforcement was weak.

The law treats men and women equally and prohibits official discrimination; however, such discrimination was a problem, particularly in rural areas, where traditional and Islamic law were dominant. Women were responsible for most work on subsistence farms and had limited access to education, especially in rural areas. Women did not have equal access to employment. Among certain ethnic groups, women cannot own or manage land or inherit property.


The Government allocated only limited resources for children's welfare and education; however, unlike in previous years, primary and secondary schools operated for most of the year, and the Government generally paid teachers' salaries. Public schooling was universal, compulsory until 7 years of age, and free through the 4th grade. A 2003 UNDP study indicated that 60 percent of school-age children did not attend school, in large part, because schools were closed for most or all of 2003 as a result of the Government's failure to pay teachers' salaries.

FGM was performed commonly on young girls and sometimes even infants (see Section 5, Women).

Child trafficking occurred (see Section 5, Trafficking).

Trafficking in Persons

The law does not prohibit trafficking in persons, and there were reports that children were trafficked from or within the country. Some boys sent from rural areas to attend Koranic schools in Senegal reportedly were exploited and forced to work as street beggars to earn money for the school leadership. The practice of buying and selling child brides also reportedly occurred on occasion.

There were reports that customs, border guards, immigration officials, labor inspectors, or local police may have been bribed to facilitate such trafficking; however, no specific information was available.

The Government has not prosecuted any cases against traffickers.

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities, and the Government did not mandate building access for them or provide for equal access to employment and education; however, there were no reports of overt societal discrimination. The Government has made some efforts to assist military veterans with disabilities through pension programs, but these programs did 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, and workers exercised this right in practice. The vast majority of the population worked in subsistence agriculture. Most union members were government or parastatal employees; only a small percentage of workers were in the wage sector and were organized.

The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination; however, no workers have alleged antiunion discrimination, and the practice was not believed to be widespread.

Unlike in the previous year, there were no arrests of union leaders.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Constitution does not provide for or protect the right to bargain collectively; however, the tripartite National Council for Social Consultation conducted collective consultations on salary issues and draft legislation concerning labor issues. Most wages were established in bilateral negotiations between workers and employers.

The Constitution provides for the right to strike and protection for workers from retribution for strike activities. The only legal restriction on strike activity was the requirement for prior notice. Unlike in the previous year, there were no widespread strikes by public employees.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including by children; however, there were reports that such practices occurred (see Sections 5 and 6.d.).

d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

There were no specific laws that protected children from exploitation in the workplace, and child labor occurred. The legal minimum age is 14 years for general factory labor and 18 years for heavy or dangerous labor, including all labor in mines. These minimum age requirements generally were followed in the small formal sector, but the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Civil Service and Labor did not enforce these requirements in other sectors.

Children in cities often worked in street trading, and those in rural communities did domestic and fieldwork without pay; children generally performed such labor to help support families or because of a lack of educational opportunities. The Government did not take action to combat such practices by year's end.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Government's Council of Ministers annually establishes minimum wage rates for all categories of work; however, it did not enforce them. The lowest monthly wage was $29.60 (14,800 CFA) per month plus a bag of rice. This wage did not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family, and workers had to supplement their incomes through other work, reliance on the extended family, and subsistence agriculture.

The law provides for a maximum 45-hour workweek; however, the Government did not enforce this provision. During the year, the Government resumed regularly paying its teachers, civil servants, and medical practitioners; the Government had not paid such salaries since 2000.

With the cooperation of the unions, the Ministry of Justice and Labor establishes legal health and safety standards for workers, which then are adopted into law by the National Assembly; however, these standards were not enforced, and many persons worked under conditions that endangered their health and safety. Workers do not have the right to remove themselves from unsafe working conditions without losing their jobs.

*In June 1998, the United States Embassy suspended operations in the midst of heavy fighting in Guinea-Bissau, and all official personnel in the country were evacuated. This report is based on information obtained by U.S. embassies in neighboring countries, especially Senegal, from other independent sources, and regular visits to Guinea-Bissau by U.S. officials assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Dakar. The U.S. Ambassador to Senegal, resident in Dakar, is also accredited to Guinea-Bissau.