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Panic and Terror Walk Hand-in-Hand in Guinea-Bissau

As the world's attention is focused on another part of West Africa, the citizens of the small, troubled country of Guinea-Bissau struggle to bring a worsening human rights situation to regional and international attention.

Guinean Human Rights League released a major report [pdf] on the human rights situation today, a serious wake-up call for those who think that silence means everything is okay in the country [pt]:

[...] a Guiné-Bissau tornou-se num país isolado de um mundo cada vez mais globalizado, país onde o pânico e o terror caminham de braços dados. A população vive entrincheirada no seu próprio receio de um amanhecer de novas violências, de fugas sem destino, agravadas pelo facto de de se aperceber que a comunidade internacional não consegue unir-se, para garantir os interesses e aspirações.

[...] Guinea-Bissau has become an isolated country in an increasingly globalized world, a country where panic and terror walk hand-in-hand. The population lives entrenched in its own dread of waking up to new violence… worsened by the fact that the international community cannot come together to guarantee [its] interests and aspirations.

As Global Voices reported, an April coup d'etat destabilized the country, followed by an ongoing “transition” brokered by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) which has been punctuated by intrigues and repression of political voices.

Some of the largest international human rights organizations have been silent on Guinea-Bissau for months, and notably Human Rights Watch did not include the country in its report on 2012, making the Guinean Human Rights League report that much more important.

Guinean Human Rights League Report on Human Rights. Click the image to download the pdf file.

Guinean Human Rights League Report on Human Rights. Click the image to download the pdf file [pt]

The League writes of its reporting [pt]:

…este trabalho difícil, sobretudo por se realizar num contexto de ameaças de toda a orden, só foi possível graças aos esforços dos membros e estruturas a todos os níveis desta or- ganização, assim como às pessoas singulares, radicalmente comprometidos com as causas nobres de direitos humanos e paz

…this difficult work, most of all because it is carried out in a context of all kinds of threats, was only possible due to the efforts of members and structures at all levels of this organizations, as well as individuals, radically committed to the noble causes of human rights and peace

While the report documents violations of economic and social rights, as well as violations of the rights of women and children, the most timely sections are those focusing on impunity, the justice system and the armed forces. Starting with April's coup d'etat, the League writes [pt]:

[...] os direitos e liberdades fundamentais nomeadamente, a liberdade de expressão, de manifestação e de reunião, foram e continuam a ser ilegalmente restringidas pelo Estado-Maior, detentor do poder real no país, em nome da garantia de uma paz e estabilidade inexistentes, numa clara violação da constituição da república e dos instrumentos jurídicos interna- cionais dos direitos humanos. A sociedade guineense vive hoje, independentemente da sua vontade, num clima de insegura e amargurada impotência e refém de uma classe política e castrense dividida, imprevisível e violenta.

[...] fundamental rights and liberties namely the freedom of expression, of protest and assembly, were and continue to be illegally restricted by the [Military] Command, possessor of real power in the country, in the name of guaranteeing non-existent peace and stability, in clear violation of the Constitution of the Republic and of the international human rights instruments. Guinean society lives today, against its will, in a climate of insecurity and bitter helplessness and hostage to a divided, unpredictable and violent political and martial class.

What violence is referred to here? In October, after violence at an airbase and allegations of coup plot, its supposed leader was caught (Global Voices reported), an opposition leader was kidnapped and savagely beaten [warning: graphic photos]. Then reports surfaced of killings of young people in Bolama [pt] swept up by the military crackdown. In November, the Guinea Human Rights League denounced a kidnapping of a well-connected man [pt] whose “lifeless body was found days later in the morgue of the country's main hospital”. Blogger Pasmalu wrote [pt] in November:

Perante a inércia dos países democráticos e com a conivência activa da CEDEAO, que pinta este país como se a barbárie não tivesse assentado praça na Guiné-Bissau e tudo estivesse a correr da melhor forma, prossegue todos os dias a MATANÇA de pessoas em Bissau.

Já não são só por razões de perseguição política, embora esses casos sejam os mais numerosos, mas os militares e alguns civis ligados ao (des)governo, que fazem questão de estar presentes e participar não só nos espancamentos como nos assassinatos, aproveitam para ajustes de contas de ódios pessoais antigos e recalcados.

In face of the inertia of democratic countries and with the active connivance of ECOWAS, who paints this country as if barbarism never set up shop in Guinea-Bissau and as if everything was going really well, the everyday MASSACRE of people in Bissau goes on.

Now not just for political persecution, although these are the most numerous ones, but military men and some civilians connected to the (un)government, who insist on being present and in participating not only in the beatings as in the murders themselves, to take advantage of the settling of personal scores from long-time hatreds rehashed.

Hopes for the future

The UN Security Council heard yesterday from its own high-level diplomats that there is a “general atmosphere of fear” in the country, where UN envoy and Nobel Peace Laureate José Ramos Horta is set to arrive in coming days.

Blog Ação Cidadã quotes liberation hero Amílcar Cabral [pt] in its manifesto:

a luta do nosso povo é contra tudo quanto seja contrário à sua liberdade e independência, mas também contra tudo que seja contrário ao progresso e à sua felicidade

the struggle of our people is against all that goes against liberty and independence, but also against all that counters progress and the happiness of the people

Recent months have seen citizen initiatives arise, like Movicidadão [pt], which is a coalition of individuals and groups who will participate in a drive to register and issue documents to the numerous citizens who lack these. Ação Cidadã [pt] also shows how young people are “appropriating” public space in the town of Buba by naming streets and public places with names like “Active Voice Alley” and “Patio of Justice”.

Meanwhile Guinean poets and artists organized a week of cultural activities in Portugal [pt] to show the world that “Guinea-Bissau has much more than the military men”.

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