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Impunity still a major challenge in Guinea Bissau, says UN official

BISSAU (11 July, 2013) - “The struggle to combat corruption, drug trafficking and political violence takes time, but every long journey begins with a first step and OHCHR is here to assist you on that journey,” the Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonović, said at the opening of the National Conference on Impunity, Justice and Human Rights in Bissau.

At the invitation of the transitional authorities, Šimonović participated in this National Conference which should help to produce Guinea-Bissau’s own roadmap to end impunity. This conference is also timely as it creates the positive momentum in the combat against impunity before the legislative and Presidential elections and to pave the way for further strengthening the rule of law after the elections.

The ASG was also very encouraged to hear that general elections are planned for November 2013. He recalled that that free, fair, transparent and credible elections are only possible if a certain number of human rights prerequisite are in place, such as freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and the absence of acts of threats or intimidations against political figures, the media and civil society organisations.

Guinea Bissau continues to be all too well known for the repeated coups d’état and associated human rights violations, including political assassinations, abduction, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention of political opponents and civil society representatives alike. Both governmental and non governmental interlocutors agreed that impunity is the main challenge to the protection of human rights and stability of the country.

“My Office has analysed the consequence of the Amnesty Law in 2008, and the number of gross human rights violations has increased since the promulgation of the amnesty law. The human rights violations have in fact significantly increased following the coup in 2012, which further contributed to the culture of impunity in Guinea Bissau,” Šimonović said.

ASG Šimonović also recalled that amnesties can only be given in accordance with international law, and are impermissible for gross violations of human rights and serious violations of international humanitarian law.

“Devising strategies for the future should take into account not only the need for a fresh start but also the justice aspect”, he said. “Dealing with this justice aspect is necessary for both addressing past human rights violations and preventing future ones,” Šimonović added.

Šimonović also took the opportunity of his presence in the country to discuss the human rights situation and reform of the Security and Justice Sectors with relevant stakeholders. He met with the Transitional Authorities at the highest level, including the President, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Parliament, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Justice, Interior and Health. He also met with civilian and military chief prosecutors, the President of the National Human Rights Institution, civil society organisations, as well as the UN and the international community present in Bissau.

The ASG welcomed the recent ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination as well as the adoption of the laws on Female Genital Mutilation and Human Trafficking.

Šimonović visited Mansoa prison, the Judiciary Police detention centre, Simao Mendes Hospital in Bissau and the law faculty of Bissau University.

During his visit to Simao Mendes Hospital, Šimonović was disturbed to witness the situation which prevails at the National Hospital where poor infrastructure and lack of medicine are hampering much needed treatment. “It is appalling to see how political instability and corruption is negatively affecting social and economic rights of people”, Šimonović said. “I have seen a hospital with little equipment or stocks of medicine, and up to three sick babies have to share the same bed due to lack of space and a proper pediatric unit. Medical doctors do not have critical live saving equipment. If national resources were more efficiently used and if international support, suspended after the coup, was to be reestablished dramatic health and education needs could be more adequately addressed,” ASG Šimonović said.

ENDS Ivan Šimonović assumed his functions as Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights on 17 July 2010, heading OHCHR’s New York Office. To learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/AboutUs/Pages/ASG.aspx
UN Human Rights, country page – Guinea Bissau: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AfricaRegion/Pages/GWIndex.aspx
For more details please contact:
In Guinea Bissau: Didier Bapidi Mbon (+245 618 7965 / bapidimbon@un.org)
In Geneva: Brian Ruane (+41 22 928 9724 / bruane@ohchr.org)