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Title:  Guinea-Bissau Human Rights Practices, 1995  
Author:  U.S. Department of State   
Date:  March 1996   
 
 
 
 
                               GUINEA-BISSAU 
 
 
The Republic of Guinea-Bissau held its first multiparty elections in 
1994, electing Joao Bernardo Vieira President.  Vieira had ruled the 
country since taking power in a 1980 coup.  He is also president of the 
African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde 
(PAIGC), the only legal political party from independence in 1974 until 
the 1991 adoption of a multiparty constitution.  The PAIGC holds 62 of 
the 100 seats in the National Assembly where 4 other parties are 
represented.  The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary. 
 
The police, under the direction of the Ministry of Internal 
Administration, have primary responsibility for the nation's internal 
security.  The armed forces are responsible for external security and 
may be called upon to assist the police in internal emergencies.  The 
police were responsible for human rights abuses. 
 
The population of 1 million relies largely upon subsistence agriculture.  
Annual per capita gross domestic product is estimated at $200.  The 
economic situation deteriorated this year, with the inflation rate 
rising to over 50 percent.  The country is burdened by a heavy external 
debt and has inadequate tax revenues. 
 
Political pluralism brought about greater transparency.  However, the 
overall human rights situation did not improve appreciably during the 
year.  Police continued to engage in arbitrary detention, physical 
mistreatment, and other forms of harassment.  The Government did not 
punish any members of the security forces for these abuses.  Prison 
conditions remained poor, and prolonged detention and a lack of due 
process continue.  Journalists continue to practice self-censorship  
Discrimination against women, and violence and discrimination against 
women and children are problems. 
 
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS 
 
Section 1   Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom 
from: 
 
   a.   Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing 
 
There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings. 
 
The 1992 death of Ussumane Quade, an army officer beaten to death while 
in police custody, remains unresolved.  Human rights monitors continued 
to press for a thorough and impartial investigation of his death, 
ostensibly a suicide, but police have refused to cooperate. 
 
   b.   Disappearance 
 
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. 
 
   c.   Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or 
Punishment 
 
The Constitution prohibits cruel and inhuman punishment, and evidence 
obtained through torture or other coercion is invalid.  However, the 
Government often ignores these provisions.  Security and police 
authorities have historically employed torture and abusive interrogation 
methods, usually in the form of severe beatings or deprivation.  The 
Government rarely enforces provisions for punishment of abuses committed 
by security forces. 
 
Two policemen were accused of rape in July.  The case was discussed in 
the National Assembly and widely publicized in the press.  However, the 
accused police officers had not been formally charged or tried by year's 
end.  Human rights monitors report other incidents in which police 
accused of rape or mistreatment of prisoners have not been prosecuted. 
 
Prison conditions are poor, but generally not life threatening.  The 
Human Rights League has offered to pay for prison improvements, but the 
Government has denied them access. 
 
   d.   Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile 
 
The legal system 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 practice, the judicial system generally 
fails to provide these rights. 
 
Police detain suspects without judicial authority or warrants, 
occasionally through the device of house arrest.  The Government holds 
detainees without charge or trial for extended periods of time, 
sometimes incommunicado. 
 
Human rights monitors estimate that pretrial detainees arrested without 
warrants and imprisoned without charge make up more than 90 percent of 
the prison population.  The authorities do not routinely observe bail 
procedures. 
 
There were no known cases of forced exile. 
 
   e.   Denial of Fair Public Trial 
 
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but  
judges, who are poorly trained and poorly paid, are sometimes subject to 
political pressures and corruption. 
 
Trials involving state security are conducted by civilian courts.  
Military courts try only cases of a military nature.  The Supreme Court 
is the final court of appeal for both civilian and military cases.  The 
President has the authority to grant pardons and reduce sentences. 
 
Despite its problems, the judicial system is sometimes capable of 
providing a fair trial, even in controversial cases.  Several policemen 
were convicted of being accomplices to armed robbery in September and 
were awaiting sentencing at year's end. 
 
Citizens who cannot afford an attorney have the right to a court-
appointed lawyer. 
 
Traditional law still prevails in most rural areas, and urban dwellers 
often bring judicial disputes to traditional counselors to avoid the 
costs and bureaucratic impediments of the official system.  Police often 
resolve disputes. 
 
There were no reports of political prisoners. 
 
   f.   Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 
Correspondence 
 
The Constitution provides for the inviolability of domicile, person, and 
correspondence, but the Government does not always respect these rights.  
The authorities examine international and domestic mail, the security 
forces seldom use judicial warrants, and the police sometime force entry 
into private homes. 
 
Section 2   Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: 
 
   a.   Freedom of Speech and Press 
 
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but 
journalists continue to practice self-censorship.  
 
One independent newspaper suspended publication for economic reasons, 
leaving only one regularly published independent newspaper, which 
nevertheless expressed strong criticism of the Government.  Joao de 
Barros, former publisher of a defunct opposition weekly, was arrested 
and mistreated while attempting to depart the country in March. 
 
Two private radio stations began broadcasting in Bissau, bringing the 
total to four. 
 
Academic freedom is observed in schools and research institutions. 
 
   b.   Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association 
 
The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association.  
Government approval is required for all assemblies and demonstrations.  
All such requests have been granted.  Various opposition parties held 
legal political rallies during the year. 
 
   c.   Freedom of Religion 
 
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government 
respects this right in practice.  While religious groups must be 
licensed by the Government, none have been refused.  Various faiths, 
including Jehovah's Witnesses, commenced missionary operations during 
the year. 
 
   d.   Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, 
Emigration, and Repatriation 
 
The Government does not restrict movement within the country and 
generally does not restrict foreign travel and emigration.  Passports 
are issued by the Minister of Internal Administration.  Citizens are 
guaranteed the right to return and are not subject to political 
revocation of their citizenship.  There are no provisions for asylum. 
 
The number of refugees grew to 25,000 due to heightened conflict in 
Senegal's Casamance region.  The Government has asked the U.N. High 
Commissioner for Refugees to move the Casamance refugees further from 
the border area, but refugees generally resist this proposal. 
 
Section 3   Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens to 
Change Their Government 
 
In 1994 voters were able to freely choose their government for the first 
time in the nation's history.  The PAIGC retained power in elections 
judged to be free and fair by international observers, although they 
acknowledged irregularities.  Local elections have not yet been 
scheduled.  The independent National Commission of Elections has been 
absorbed by the Ministry of Internal Administration. 
 
Women are underrepresented in the political process.  Eight of the 100 
National Assembly Deputies are women, and there is a women's caucus that 
cuts across party lines.  Only 2 of 25 Cabinet members are women. 
 
Section 4   Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights 
 
The Government did not interfere with the Guinea-Bissau Human Rights 
League and international human rights groups which continued to 
investigate human rights abuses objectively.  The League's planned 
conference on police and prison reform was cancelled for the second 
consecutive year due to the Government's refusal to allow police to 
attend.  The Government denied the Human Rights League access to 
prisoners. 
 
Section 5   Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, 
Language, or Social Status 
 
The Constitution and law prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, 
race, and religion.  In practice, however, these provisions are not 
effectively enforced. 
 
   Women 
 
Physical violence, including wife beating, is an accepted means of 
settling domestic disputes.  While police will intervene in domestic 
disputes if requested, the Government has not undertaken specific 
measures to counter social pressure against reporting domestic violence, 
rape, incest, and other mistreatment of women. 
 
Discrimination against women persists although officially prohibited by 
law.  Women are responsible for most work on subsistence farms and have 
limited access to education, especially in rural areas.  Women do not 
have equal access to employment.  Among certain ethnic groups, women 
cannot own or manage land nor inherit property.   
 
   Children 
 
The Government allocates only limited resources for children's welfare 
and education. 
 
Female genital mutilation (FGM), which is widely condemned by 
international health experts as damaging to both physical and 
psychological health, is widely practiced within certain ethnic groups, 
especially the Fulas and Mandinkas.  Despite official prohibition of 
this practice, the Government has not taken  
effective action to halt FGM. 
 
   People with Disabilities 
 
There is no legislation mandating accessibility.  The law does not 
specifically prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities, 
and the Government does not ensure equal access to employment and 
education.  The State has made some efforts to assist disabled veterans 
through pension programs, but these programs do 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.  However, the vast majority of the 
population works in subsistence agriculture.  Most union members are 
government or parastatal employees; only a small percentage of workers 
are in the wage sector and are organized. 
 
The Government registers all labor unions.  There are 11 labor unions 
registered and operating.  All unions are officially independent of the 
Government, but seven unions are affiliated with the National Trade 
Union Confederation (UNTG), which retains close informal ties with the 
PAIGC.  The law does not favor UNTG-affiliated unions over others.  The 
Constitution provides for the right to strike and protection from 
retribution against strike activities. 
 
The only legal restriction on strike activity is the requirement for 
prior notice.  Legal strikes were conducted by several unions, with no 
retribution against the strikers.  Several other labor disputes were 
resolved via nonbinding arbitration conducted by unions or the Ministry 
of Public Works, Civil Service, and Administrative Reform. 
 
All unions are free to affiliate freely with national confederations and 
international labor organizations of their choice. 
 
   b.   The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively 
 
The Constitution does not provide for or protect the right to bargain 
collectively, and there were no instances of genuine collective 
bargaining.  Most wages are established in bilateral negotiations 
between workers and employers, taking into consideration the minimum 
salaries set annually by the Government's Council of Ministers. 
 
The Government's provision for the protection of workers against 
antiunion discrimination has very little effect due to low union 
membership.  The Government adopted no laws to establish penal sanctions 
against employers practicing such discrimination.  This practice is not 
widespread. 
 
There are no export processing zones. 
 
   c.   Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor 
 
Forced or compulsory labor is not permitted by law, and is not known to 
exist.  Judicial action is pending against an individual accused of 
coercing labor during the year. 
 
   d.   Minimum Age for Employment of Children 
 
The General Labor Act of 1986 established a minimum age of 14 years for 
general factory labor and 18 for heavy or dangerous labor, including all 
labor in mines.  These minimum age requirements are generally followed 
in the small-wage sector, but the Ministry of Civil Service and Labor 
does not enforce these requirements in other sectors.  Children in 
cities often work in street trading, and those in rural communities do 
domestic and field work without pay.  The Government does not attempt to 
discourage these traditional practices. 
 
   e.   Acceptable Conditions of Work 
 
The Government's Council of Ministers annually establishes minimum wage 
rates for all categories of work but does not enforce them.  The lowest 
monthly wage is less than $25 (450,000 pesos).  This wage is inadequate 
to maintain a minimum standard of living, and workers must supplement 
their income through other work, reliance on the extended family, and 
subsistence agriculture.  The maximum number of hours permitted in a 
normal workweek without further compensation is 45, but the Government 
does not enforce this provision. 
 
The Ministry of Civil Service and Labor establishes legal health and 
safety standards for workers, with the cooperation of the unions, which 
are then adopted into law by the National Assembly.  However, these 
standards are not enforced, and many persons work in conditions which 
endanger their health and safety. 
 
(###)


[end of document]

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