Permanent Representative Highlights Appointment of 11 Women Ministers after Legislative Polls, Cocaine Seizure from Traffickers
As Guinea-Bissau prepares for presidential elections in November, the international community must increase support for that country’s Government as it faces a multitude of challenges along the road to stability, senior United Nations officials told the Security Council today.
Briefing the 15-member Council on recent developments and pressing challenges in that country, the Assistant Secretary-General for Africa in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations commended the Government’s efforts, including its preparations for the presidential election, its unprecedented achievement of gender parity and its appointment of youth candidates to the Cabinet. She also highlighted new developments ahead of the planned December 2020 drawdown of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS), commending the mission and other key partners for their role in helping the Government during a critical period.
Challenges persist, however, including mistrust among political stakeholders, electoral management, socioeconomic tensions and cross-border drug trafficking, she emphasized. Appealing to the international community to continue to provide the Government with the necessary financial and technical support, she stressed the importance of preventing the loss of hard-won gains of past years. Indeed, Guinea-Bissau must seize the opportunity to end the recurring cycle of instability that has hampered its economic development for decades, she emphasized, warning that the risk of further instability leading up to the election is high.
As such, national political stakeholders have a pivotal role to play in ensuring stability, and all national actors must transcend narrow individual and party interests, she continued. In addition, every effort must be made to ensure the elections are free and fair, with the Government and the international community honouring their financial commitments in this regard.
Brazil’s representative also briefed the Council in his capacity as Chair of the Guinea-Bissau configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, saying that a peaceful transition of power would be a historic achievement for Guinea-Bissau. The international community’s support is crucial at this important juncture, he stressed, saying he will visit the country in October and subsequently report his observations to the Council.
Council members pledged support for the forthcoming elections, with France’s representative emphasizing the importance of ensuring that the presidential elections take place on time and are conducted peacefully. “Abiding by this timeline is imperative if we want to avoid a new political crisis,” he added.
South Africa’s representative said that, as UNIOGBIS continues to draw down, the international community must remain prudent in ensuring that it does not leave a security vacuum behind. He also pointed out that the regional implications of drug-smuggling routes are worrisome since they are also used for trafficking in arms and people.
Meanwhile, China’s delegate said all parties must resolve differences and consolidate the progress made to date while promoting stable development and improving living conditions. Development holds the key to solving related problems, he stressed.
Summing up a common thread, the Russian Federation’s representative said that the November election, if conducted successfully, can turn the page on political turbulence and ensure progress towards socioeconomic development.
The United Kingdom’s representative said his delegation will revisit the sanctions imposed on Guinea-Bissau under resolution 2048 (2012) pending its implementation of key reforms.
Guinea-Bissau’s representative said his delegation is keen to complete the electoral cycle in November, having elected 102 parliamentarians when voters went to the polls in March. Women made up 11 of the 31 Cabinet ministers appointed, he added. Highlighting a step forward in the fight against drug trafficking, he said the authorities seized almost two tons of cocaine and arrested a dozen suspects.
Also speaking today were representatives of Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Dominican Republic, Belgium, Indonesia, Kuwait, Peru, Poland, United States and Germany.
The meeting began at 3:09 p.m. and ended at 4:52 p.m.
BINTOU KEITA, Assistant Secretary-General for Africa, Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations, provided an overview of recent developments and activities of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS). She recalled that, after the legislative elections in March, renewed political tensions resulted in a stalemate over the Executive Bureau of the National Assembly, which delayed the formation of a new Government until 3 July, when a decision by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) determined that President José Mário Vaz would remain in power until the forthcoming presidential elections. However, there is need to address and overcome setbacks, she said, citing the negative reactions of national and international stakeholders following the appointment of Rear Admiral Agostino Sousa Cordeiro, who remains under European Union sanctions for his role in the 2012 coup, as the new Commander of the National Guard.
At the same time, she said, the National Assembly’s approval of the Government’s seven-month emergency plan will be a testament to the majority alliance’s strength and ability to govern the country. In addition, election preparations continue amid challenges, with some political actors expressing concern about regularizing 25,000 voters who were disenfranchised from the legislative elections through a correction exercise and questioning the creation of the new position of Secretary of State for Electoral Management. Persistent mistrust among national stakeholders must be addressed before the elections to ensure a peaceful process, she said, adding that the Group of Five in Bissau (African Union, ECOWAS, European Union, United Nations and the Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries) is advocating enhanced procedural control, measures to ensure transparency, information-sharing mechanisms and the development of a communication strategy on the voter-register correction exercise.
Ultimately, the joint message is that the country must remain focused on ensuring the timely holding of the presidential election, she emphasized. Regarding disagreement over the voter-register correction exercise to take place from 24 August to 24 September, she said that a communiqué arising from an ECOWAS ministerial delegation’s visit on 9 September insisted that, in the absence of consensus on the issue, the legislative voters’ register should be used for the forthcoming election and requested clarification of the responsibilities of the Secretary of State for Electoral Management. In response, the Government said that presidential candidates will discuss the issue at an upcoming meeting in Parliament. The Government and electoral management bodies have taken steps to enhance communication and consultations with political parties, she said, adding that the United Nations recommends establishing an all-inclusive stakeholders’ platform for purposes of sharing information.
The United Nations is also working to help the Government finalize its election budget, she said, adding that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has contributed $100,000 to a “basket fund” intended to finance the correction exercise. Less than a quarter of the required resources have been disbursed so far and efforts to mobilize support from the international community have yielded limited results, she explained. With 75 days left before the election, it is important to make funding available now, either bilaterally or through the basket fund, to ensure electoral operations are completed, she said. Encouraging international partners to lend their support, she declared: “Time is of the essence.” As for UNIOGBIS, the mission has developed a programme to promote the visibility of eight female ministers and supports a civil society network for key reforms during the post-election period, she said.
However, the political environment continues to have a negative impact on the economy and living conditions, with socioeconomic tensions negatively affecting the human rights situation, she said, adding that drug trafficking and organized crime continue to threaten peace and security. Indeed, the recent seizure of a cocaine shipment is a signal that Guinea-Bissau remains a transit hub for drugs, she noted, recalling the Government’s recent signing, with the Gambia and Senegal, of a memorandum of understanding on combating trafficking. She went on to appeal for continuing international financial and technical support for the Government, underlining the importance of preventing the loss of hard-won gains. She went on to state that measures have been established for the United Nations transition upon the closure of UNIOGBIS by 31 December 2020 and a preliminary drawdown plan is being drafted. A full-scale transition will be launched in coordination with the United Nations country team, the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) and national authorities after the elections.
During the current pivotal year, Guinea-Bissau must seize the opportunity to end the recurring cycle of instability that has hampered its economic development for decades, she continued. The risk of further instability leading up to the elections is high, she warned, citing political rivalries and poor economic prospects for the people. National political stakeholders have a pivotal role to play in ensuring stability, she said, underlining that all national actors must transcend narrow individual and party interests. All efforts must be made to ensure free and fair elections, and the Government and international community must honour their financial commitments in this regard. Key institutional reforms will remain critical in consolidating stability, and the sustained engagement of international partners will be crucial in accompanying Guinea-Bissau on its path towards lasting stability, she said.
MAURO VIEIRA (Brazil), Chair of the Guinea-Bissau configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, said that, at this critical moment, the country is on its way towards consolidating democracy and strengthening its institutions. Despite difficulties, legislative elections were held last March and preparations for presidential elections are under way. A peaceful transition of power would be a historic achievement, and the international community’s support is crucial at this important juncture, he emphasized.
Having closely followed the UNIOGBIS planning process and met with key actors, the Peacebuilding Commission calls upon political stakeholders to sustain their commitment to the Conakry Agreement, he continued, emphasizing the urgent need to appoint a Prime Minister and hold free and fair elections. Welcoming the efforts of UNIOGBIS in supporting women’s participation in national affairs, among others, he outlined the Peacebuilding Fund’s role in 10 projects amounting to $10.9 million, saying they contribute to more inclusive and participatory elections.
On UNIOGBIS, he said members of the Peacebuilding Commission suggested flexibility concerning the mission’s reconfiguration and consideration of its past good practices. There was discussion of possibly supporting the development of a peacebuilding plan, as with the drawdown of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), to accompany Guinea-Bissau after the UNIOGBIS drawdown, he said, adding that he is ready to support the reconfiguration exercise and to provide timely and specific advice to the Council in this regard.
He said the presidential election will complete the electoral cycle and enable national authorities, as well as the people of Guinea-Bissau, to focus their attention on their development agenda and implement the reforms outlined in the Conakry Agreement. The Peacebuilding Commission will continue to serve as a platform for mobilizing international support. At the same time, it will continue to support the international community in considering ways in which to enable national institutional capacity to deliver peacebuilding and development goals, he said, noting that he will be visiting Guinea-Bissau in October and will report his observations to the Council shortly thereafter.
GBOLIÉ DESIRÉ WULFRAN IPO (Côte d’Ivoire) noted that the socioeconomic and political situation in Guinea-Bissau remains very fragile, urging all political actors to pool their efforts and organize inclusive and credible elections in November. Welcoming the planning and transition under way, he encouraged the Guinea-Bissau authorities to take ownership of activities to be transferred to national authorities. He went on to welcome the extension of the ECOWAS mandate and reiterated calls for all actors to involve themselves firmly on the pathway devised for the country by the international community.
ARISTIDES TELA MEVIAN MIAGA (Equatorial Guinea) said 2019 has been a crucial year for Guinea-Bissau to move towards a new chapter in light of the peaceful legislative elections held in March. Civic participation has been very inspiring, he said, adding that it has paved the way for democratization, stabilization and economic recovery. Commending the massive participation of women in the electoral process, he declared: “In the history of the country, never has the participation of women been greater.” This is a very important step forward towards gender equality, he added, noting that Guinea-Bissau is the first country in West Africa to have an inclusive and gender-balanced Government. However, legislative elections were only the first step toward that goal, he cautioned, calling upon all actors to find viable and sustainable solutions to the country’s social, economic, political and military challenges. Consolidating achievements and stabilizing the country requires the holding of free, fair and credible elections, he stressed. Expressing deep concern over drug-related crimes, he called upon the Government to bolster national efforts to better combat lawlessness.
ANTOINE MICHON (France) expressed concern that the situation in the county remains fragile, emphasizing, however, that the positive developments are a sign of the effectiveness of the support extended by the international community. Having visited Guinea-Bissau in February, the Council demonstrated its support for the holding of elections, emphasizing the importance of ensuring the presidential election takes place on time and is conducted peacefully. “Abiding by this timeline is imperative if we want to avoid a new political crisis,” he added. The election’s success is key to restoring lasting peace and security, as well as to combating organized crime and drug trafficking, he said, stressing that long-term stability is not possible without effective security sector reform.
JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) urged all parties not to interfere in the constitutional order and expressed his delegation’s support for the United Nations mission in the country as an essential partner to the Government. The United Nations helps to improve the national responses in combating drug trafficking and organized crime, he said. However, impunity continues to generate mistrust in the judiciary system, he said, stressing the essential need to eliminate it in order to build a just society. Welcoming the incorporation of women into human rights defender teams, he underlined the need to scale up peace and stability by promoting and upholding human rights.
KAREN VAN VLIERBERGE (Belgium) said the Council’s visit to Guinea-Bissau helped members better understand the country’s challenges. Calling upon the Government to organize free elections, she noted, however, that a climate of mistrust continues to fuel political instability. The time has come for national political actors to play a positive and productive role, she said, calling upon all parties to implement the Conakry Agreement. The transition of the United Nations presence is not to signify that the international community is abandoning Guinea-Bissau in any way, she emphasized, calling for coordinated action between UNIOGBIS and critical regional partners, including ECOWAS and the European Union.
JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa) urged all parties to address the reforms stipulated in the Conakry Agreement. Commending the efforts of ECOWAS, African Union, European Union, United Nations and other international stakeholders in breaching the political impasse, he said that, as UNIOGBIS continues to draw down, the international community must remain prudent in ensuring that it does not leave a security vacuum behind. As for drug-trafficking challenges, he commended the work undertaken by the New Partnership Forum on Combating Drug Trafficking and Organised Crime, pointing out that the regional implications of the drug trafficking trade routes are worrisome since they are also used for trafficking in arms and people. He also expressed deep concern over Guinea-Bissau’s lack of socioeconomic progress and the impact of that on young people.
WU HAITAO (China), commending the efforts of ECOWAS, said all parties must resolve their differences and consolidate the progress made to date while promoting stable development and improving living conditions. He went on to call upon relevant United Nations entities, including UNIOGBIS, to strengthen coordination and cooperation in order to provide targeted assistance to Guinea‑Bissau. Development holds the key to solving problems, he said, emphasizing that China’s cooperation with Guinea-Bissau has already made a positive impact.
DAVID CLAY (United Kingdom) said the next step is the presidential election and Guinea-Bissau should build upon the positive momentum it has enjoyed to date. As such, all stakeholders must play their part to ensure free, fair elections. He went on to urge political parties to adhere to the gender parity law, emphasizing that it should also apply to other institutions. Pending implementation of priority reforms, the United Kingdom will be open to reviewing the sanctions imposed under resolution 2048 (2012), he said. Welcoming the transition plan for UNIOGBIS, he said December 2020 is a realistic deadline, but the United Kingdom is open to reviewing that date according to the situation on the ground. Political stakeholders must continue to cooperate with United Nations agencies so that the political process can ensure future stability for Guinea-Bissau, he added.
MUHSIN SYIHAB (Indonesia) said that the upcoming presidential election is crucial. “All Bissau-Guinean stakeholders must contribute positively towards enabling the completion of the electoral cycle in a peaceful and timely manner,” he added. The Government must focus on improving the socioeconomic situation and the implementation of Terra Ranka plan. He commended the partners who have pledged to support the plan and called on the international community to continue supporting Guinea-Bissau not only in its economic development, but in promoting human rights and combating transnational organized crimes. Indonesia also supports the work of UNIOGBIS, which has fostered dialogue and conciliation, strengthened democratic institutions and enhanced State capacity.
BADER ABDULLAH N. M. ALMUNAYEKH (Kuwait) said the success of the legislative election has proven the authorities’ ability to conduct a successful process. However, important steps must be taken ahead of the presidential elections and before the drawdown of UNIOGBIS, he said, calling on the authorities to take full advantage of the mission’s activities. Turning to concerns about drug trafficking, he commended the Government’s efforts in seizing and confiscating illegal drugs. ECOWAS continues to play an important role alongside the African Union and the Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries. He also encouraged relevant United Nations agencies to continue supporting Guinea-Bissau at this critical time.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) welcomed the active participation of civil society and women’s organizations that have contributed to the holding of credible elections. The United Nations office in the country must continue to assist in the organizing of the upcoming elections and promote the participation of citizens, particularly women and young people, in the process. It is important to have a strong political will on the part of the Government, and essential to continue working on the process of constitutional reform, strengthening the rule of law and creating inclusive democratic institutions. It is also important to implement socioeconomic reforms and take advantage of the fisheries and mineral potential of Guinea-Bissau, he added.
MARIUSZ LEWICKI (Poland) encouraged the elected Members of Parliament to be mindful of their duties towards the people of Guinea-Bissau and to surpass individual and party gains for the sake of the collective interest and stability of their country. “We remind all stakeholders that avoiding a new impasse over post-electoral power-sharing is a necessity to ensure stability in the long-term perspective,” he added. Urging Guinea-Bissau authorities to hold fair and credible presidential elections, he emphasized the need to step up with the required technical preparations and empower the electoral management bodies. Poland remains concerned over the lack of sufficient action to combat drug trafficking and transnational organized crime. Dedication to a national action plan is essential. He also urged authorities to establish the recommended national human rights institute compliant with the Paris Principles.
ELAINE MARIE FRENCH (United States) said that, as the focus shifts on the presidential election, it is essential to remain faithful to the consensus agreement that has inspired progress and achievement in Guinea-Bissau. She expressed concern over the continued threat of drug trafficking and organized crime, welcoming the creation of a dedicated unit to combat such crime in the United Nations office in the country. The United States supports all efforts aimed at combating drug trafficking and organized crime in Guinea-Bissau.
MATHIAS LICHARZ (Germany) said the Security Council must closely monitor the situation in Guinea-Bissau while the international community remains focused on providing support to national institutions. He called on the Government to ensure the holding of credible and fair elections in November. Germany particularly commends the engagement of women in the Government, he said, urging the national Government to end impunity for gender-based violence. He also expressed support for UNODC and for the country’s authorities to prosecute perpetrators of organized crime and drug trafficking. He also stressed the need to avoid leaving behind a security vacuum as the United Nations drawdown its support.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation), Council President for September, speaking in his national capacity, welcomed positive developments in Guinea‑Bissau. If conducted successfully, the November elections can turn the page on political turbulence and move ahead socioeconomic development. He called on all civil society and political forces to act responsibility in line with national interests and in a way that can help resolve disputes as soon as possible. He expressed respect for the decision made by the military “to stay out of politics” and expressed support for the gradual drawdown of the United Nations office in the country after ensuring that national institutions can function properly.
FERNANDO DELFIM DA SILVA (Guinea-Bissau) said his country is wholeheartedly keen on completing the electoral cycle, describing the forthcoming November election as an opportunity to strengthen national institutions. Recalling recent developments in shaping the Government after the March legislative elections, he said 102 parliamentarians were elected, noting that women made up 11 out of 31 Cabinet ministers. The Government is engaged in election preparations, having launched a voter-correction exercise in August, he said, expressing hope that, whereas the exercise does not enjoy consensus among all actors, it is to be hoped that agreement can be reached. Highlighting the recent seizure of almost two tons of cocaine, he said that, although the incident reveals that Guinea-Bissau is indeed a drug transit hub, authorities are working hard with partners to fight trafficking, noting that Operation Navarra culminated in the arrest of a dozen suspects. Indeed, cooperation between the Government and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has yielded results, he said, thanking all partners helping his country.