Guinea Bissau SSR Background Note


Key Statistics

Population:1.861.283 (World Bank, 2017)

Capital: Bissau, 492.000 inhabitants (UN, 2015)

Area: 36.125 km2

Mineral wealth: Phosphates, bauxite, clay, granite, limestone, unexploited deposits of petroleum

Local authorities: 9 regions: Bafata, Biombo, Bissau, Bolama/Bijagos, Cacheu, Gabu, Oio, Quinara, Tombali

Languages: Official language: Portuguese, Crioulo (lingua franca), Pular, Mandingo

Constitution: The Constitution was promulgated on 16th May 1984, suspended following military coup in April 2012 and restored in 2014

Political system: Semi-Presidential Republic

GDP Growth rate: 5,9% (World Bank, 2017)

GDP per capita: 660 USD (World Bank, 2017)

Most Productive Sectors: cashew nut industry, agriculture

Poverty headcount ratio at national poverty line: 69,3% (World Bank, 2012)

Literacy rate adult age 15 and above: 55,3% (UNICEF, 2012)

External Debt: 295 million USD (World Bank, 2016)

  • Ibrahim Index for African Governance: 45/54 (2017)
  • Freedom House Index: Partly Free
  • Corruption Index: 171/180
  • Human Development Index: 177/188 

Table of Contents

1. Introduction and General Background

  A. Cultural and Geographic Background

  B. Economic Background

2. Historical overview

3. Current Policital Context and Governance System

4. Security sector overview

  A. Sectoral overview

    i. Defence

    ii. Police

    iii. Justice

5. Security Sector Reform

A. SSR strategic frameworks

B. SSR governance

C. Main SSR Achievements

D. Cross-sectoral challenges

E. Sectoral SSR Challenges and achievements

    i. Defence Reform

    ii. Police Reform

    iii. Justice and Prison Reform

    iv. Human Rights

    v. Gender equality

    vi. Public expenditure review

6. International Community SSR engagement

7. Future considerations

8. Acronyms

1.    Introduction and General Background

A. Cultural and Geographic Background

The Republic of Guinea-Bissau is situated on the Atlantic coast of West-Africa, neighbouring Guinea Conakry for 421 km and the Casamance region of Senegal for 341 km. Its borders enclose 28.120 km2 of land area and 8.005 km2 of water area, for a total of 36.125 km2 . 1.759.159 Guineans live in the country and almost a third resides in the capital city Bissau. More than a million Bissau-Guineans are under 24 years old, with a median age of 20 years old. Guinea-Bissau has one of the youngest populations in the world (190/229).

As a legacy of the colonial period, the official language is Portuguese despite being largely used as a second or third language. Creole is the main spoken language, with the Pular and the Mandingo .

Guinea-Bissau is a mosaic of ethnic and religious groups. Approximately 50% of the population is Muslim, 40% follow indigenous beliefs and the remaining 10% are Christian. The small country is the home of eleven ethnic groups, the major ones being Fulani (28,5% of the population), Balanta (22,5%), and Mandinga (14,7%). The ethnic construction is complex and has had a consistent role in the political history of Guinea-Bissau. The army of Guinea-Bissau is dominated by members of the Balanta tribe and there were several Balanta-led coup attempts. Tribalism is rooted in the country’s politics and is creating tensions as access to resources and power is limited to the tribe that holds the majority. Tribal identity and religion are also becoming a phenomenon not easily separated as frustrations and misunderstandings are provoking radicalism and posing a threat to national cohesion.

B. Economic Background

The country ranks 178th out of 188 countries in the Human Development Index 2016, with 67% of the population living below the poverty line. Guinea-Bissau’s Gini index increased significantly from 35.6 in 2002 to 50.7 in 2010 pointing out to a significant increase in economic inequality. The agricultural sector dominates the economy as Cashew nuts, Brazilian nuts and Coconuts represent 77% of the country’s exports. Guinea-Bissau has substantial potential for development of mineral resources, including phosphates, bauxite, and mineral sands. Offshore oil and gas exploration has also begun; oil deposits with a potential of a billion barrels were discovered in 2014. Diversification of the economy remains a key policy goal, but efforts are hampered by Guinea-Bissau’s poor infrastructure and political instability.

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2.    Historical overview

Amílcar Cabral and the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC)[1] led the successful liberation war from Portuguese colonial rule between 1961 and 1974 and built a strong narrative of collective identity and national cohesion. Cabral saw the liberation struggle being ‘an act of culture’.  However, after his assassination in 1973, the revolutionaries appointed to supervise the state bureaucracy were quickly drawn into the colonial elite-level structure they inherited and their commitment to the bigger picture of national development had dissipated by the 80’s. Amílcar Cabral is a national figure in Guinea-Bissau and he is still commemorated on the anniversary of his death.

This long-lasting legacy of the liberation campaign reflects the disproportionate weight and influence of the army on the State. Guinea-Bissau witnessed 17 coups, including four successfully executed, between 1974 and 2015. The first coup was staged in 1980 by João Bernardo ‘Nino’ Vieira, a leading commander during the liberation struggle, who toppled President Luís Cabral and put an end to the project of a united State with Cape Verde.

Economic liberalisation policies and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) structural adjustment programme initiated in the 1980s, together with the greater wave of democratisation in the region, led Guinea-Bissau to adopt a multiparty political system in 1991. ‘Nino’ won the first presidential poll in 1994 but divisions at the core of the State eventually led to the outbreak of a civil war in June 1998  which ended with the President fleeing the country. Peace became official on 11t May 1999, a few months after the United Nations Peace-building Support Office in Guinea-Bissau’s (UNIOGBIS) creation.

The Presidential elections of 2005, preceded by the overthrow of President Kumba Yala (elected in 1999), saw ‘Nino’ −returned from exile− claiming back the presidency and setting the stage for a predictable political meltdown. On 1 March 2009, the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, General Batista Tagme Na Waie, was killed in a bomb explosion. In response, a group of soldiers stormed President Vieira’s residence and brutally murdered him, with high-level political killings following.

The 2009 elections were followed by attempted coups in 2010 and in 2011, and the death of the President Sanha (elected in 2009) in 2012. In April 2012, a military coup halted presidential elections after an inconclusive first round and installed a government that the international community did not recognise as legitimate, resulting in many donors suspending their support. The African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) played an important role in managing the crisis and trying to restore stability with the latter deploying the ECOWAS Mission in Guinea-Bissau (ECOMIB) in May 2012.

This instability and a lack of well functioning institutional structure is compounded by competition of military and political elites over limited State resources, and engagement in both licit and illicit business, with links to regional and international trafficking, leading to the designation of Guinea-Bissau as an African ‘narco-State.

Overlapping fractures in the political and social fabric relate in some form to the centrality of the PAIGC in politics and power, and the way internal crisis to the party tend to translate almost inevitably in major national disruptions, affecting the whole nation. Intra-PAIGC factionalism is also a conduit for deeper differences between political, ethnic, and social constituencies and interest groups. 

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3.      Current Political Context and Governance System

Constitutional rule was reinstated after free and fair elections in April 2014, won by the PAIGC. In spite of the strong electoral mandate, increased tensions between President José Mário Vaz and his prime-minister Domingos Simões Pereira eventually lead to the dismissal of the Government which represented the majority of the population. From August 2015 to March 2019, Guinea-Bissau has had seven different heads of government. The momentum surrounding the international donor conference held in Brussels in March 2015, where the Government presented its Strategic and Operational Plan for the 2015−2020 period, entitled Terra Ranka (meaning new start ), was not long lasting. As a consequence, the implementation of crucial national priorities was halted at an early stage.

The political landscape in Guinea-Bissau is strongly influenced by the centrality of the PAIGC as the main platform, across political cycles, to negotiate and exercise power; and by entrenched forms of impunity as a major challenge to reform the State and redefine its relationship with citizenry. That element is again at play in the ongoing crisis pitching the current President, José Mário Vaz, against the current PAIGC leader (and former Prime Minister), Domingos Simões Pereira, and involving different factions among PAIGC parliamentarians.

In 2016, the Conakry Agreement was signed and became the centrepiece of inclusive dialogue, and placed political settlement at the core of any future process, including the Security Sector Reform. With strong engagement from ECOWAS leaders, regional mediation efforts devised a political solution for the crisis in September 2016 in the form of a six-point roadmap that included the appointment of a consensus Prime Minister who would have ‘the confidence’ of the President and the formation of an inclusive government.  In spite of intense diplomatic efforts from the ECOWAS, backed by and in line with the positions of the African Union (AU), European Union (EU), United Nations (UN) and the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP), the Conakry Agreement did little to bring change and the remaining ECOMIB contingent in Guinea-Bissau withdrew in September 2017.

The governance crisis since 2015 pointed out to the resilience of earlier political conflicts, and the inability of Guinea-Bissau elites to solve –or move beyond− them through democratic and legitimate means.

After repeated calls by the international community as a first step out of the political impasse, fair and free parliamentary elections took place in Guinea Bissau on 10 March 2019. PAIGC gained the majority in the elections and is expected to form a government with support from smaller parties to lead the creation of the right conditions for reform, democratisation and stabilisation prior to the close of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS) by the end of 2020.

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4. Security sector overview

Security and justice reform figured prominently on the national agenda for stability and development after the return of constitutional order in 2014. One third of the funding requested at the 2015 Donor Roundtable in Brussels was intended to be devoted to SSR. 15 % of Guinea Bissau’s public expenditure and 3 % of GDP is spent on the security sector, which is very high for a country which faces no major external threat and has no internal conflict. The security sector employees also comprise 37 % of all public employees and the downsizing of the sector is a significant step in the reform of the sector. Given the political instability, lack of a strong state and the subsequent reluctance from donors to engage resulted in little progress in the security sector.

Addressing widespread and entrenched impunity has been a recurrent hurdle on sustaining democratic stability in Guinea-Bissau and fostering structural public service reforms, including SSR. Discussions on the possibility and modality of some form of justice for past violations cut across all the main dimensions of the peacebuilding and development agendas in Guinea-Bissau. On one hand, the security apparatus perpetrated some of the most serious abuses since independence, establishing a pattern of State impunity that alienated them from the broader society. On the other hand, addressing this legacy required substantial effort in building the capacity of the security and justice institutions to investigate and prosecute, along a meaningful process of national reconciliation.

The debates often bounced back to decisions in Parliament, and to the PAIGC majority, on how best to articulate SSR, transitional justice and development in terms that do not threaten the fragile democratic transition. For instance, the National People's Assembly (ANP) rejected proposals to grant broader amnesties for serious crimes twice, including attempts against the constitutional order, in line with broader constituencies in civil society that demand accountability. Without pre-empting judicial processes, the inherent political dimension of impunity is explicit in the fact that the former Government had a list of transgressors considered ethically unfit for office or grade, but without clarity either on criteria or sanction.

A. Sectoral overview

i. Defence

The structure of the Army, largely unchanged since independence, institutionalised a symbiotic relationship with the political establishment, captured in the very name of People’s Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARP). The political role of the Armed Forces was formally acknowledged in the Constitution until the revision in 1991. There has been very limited civilian oversight of the security forces. In terms of capacity, the Armed Forces suffered steady erosion since early after the independence, the decline of infrastructure, and the drain of many capable staff after 1999. The Armed forces came to inspire ‘fear’ to the population.

Political-military dynamics have been consistently identified as one of the main roots of conflict in Guinea-Bissau, and several attempts at SSR, dating back to some initiatives in the 1980s and 1990s, failed to fundamentally change this reality. Both the political leadership and the armed forces have regarded SSR as a means for consolidating their respective positions. Furthermore, there is a distortion in the Armed Forces ranks which count 42% officers, 27% sergeants, and 31% soldiers. In 2018, 25 % of the army officers were above retirement age with another 15% to reach retirement age in the next 5 years which questions the functionality of the army.

ii. Police

While the internal security forces didn’t stage attempts against the constitutional order like the Military, they share a common past in the liberation struggle, and were similarly partisan under one-party rule after independence.

As part of the broad SSR programme initiated in 2008, the nine internal security and intelligence agencies, managed by seven different ministries, were consolidated into four forces:

-          Public Order Police (POP), under the Ministry of Internal Administration (MoIA),

-          National Guard, a gendarmerie type of force in charge as well of customs and border patrol, also under the MoIA,

-          Judiciary Police, mandated to investigating major crimes, also hosting the Transnational Crime Unit, reporting to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ),

-          State Information Services, under the direction of the Prime Minister.

As in other public sectors, the internal security agencies have very limited presence outside the capital and a few and small urban hubs. Actual policing and justice provision are left to different kinds of non-State, informal or customary authorities. Where there is a public police, the poor understanding of mandates and roles, and the absence of other formal actors along the criminal justice chain means that often police end up making justice and performing duties outside their remit.

The absence of the police in most of the territory, weak border control management and insufficient operational capabilities to patrol the Bijagós Archipelago make it more challenging to combat transnational criminal networks involved on trafficking drugs, timber, and arms as well as on tackling the smuggling of people across the sub region. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), co-located with UNIOGBIS, the EU and bilateral partners, including Portugal, Spain and Brazil, and Angola in the past, have been supporting interventions addressing core challenges of the internal security forces, either providing training, equipment and infrastructure, or fostering the investigative and operational response capabilities.

iii. Justice

The lack of resources and political commitment to ensure full functioning State administrative structures has discredited public institutions over the years. The erosion of trust and credibility is particularly noticeable vis-à-vis the justice system, which is largely seen as an inefficient, inadequate and costly apparatus concentrated in the capital and detached from the justice needs of most of the population. The 2015 analysis of the justice sector, conducted by the Ministry of Justice with UNDP’s support, identified the main systemic bottlenecks: (a) lack of an independent and transparent judicial system; (b) ineffectiveness and unreliability of the judicial system; and (c) poor access to justice.

The non-state traditional and customary justice providers are important in society and have a broad reach, however, this informal segment is not acknowledged or engaged with by formal actors and neither by donors.

Guinea-Bissau has two prisons outside Bissau, which were reopened in 2011 after rehabilitation with the assistance of the EU and UNIOGBIS, and a detention facility within the Judiciary Police in the capital.

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5. Security Sector Reform

A. SSR strategic frameworks

The Government of Guinea-Bissau articulated its vision for a holistic SSR process in October 2006 with a Strategy Document called Restructuring and Modernisation of the Defence and Security Sector . This strategy was developed in coordination with key strategy documents, including the National Poverty Reduction Strategy, which lists justice and security sector reform as the first of the government’s priorities. Longer term support is detailed in the Strategic Framework for Peace - building in Guinea -Bissau which prioritises the security sector reform , the strengthening of the justice sector, the consolidation of the rule of law and the fighting against drug trafficking.

In 2016, UNIOGBIS, in cooperation with the AU, ECOWAS and the EU, assisted national stakeholders with conducting the second revision of the original document which remains the basis for moving ahead on crucial and political sensitive areas. The original Strategy analyses the ‘negative evolution’ of the Armed Forces and the ‘fear’ they came to inspire in the population. It outlines a number of key reform issues, including resizing the defence and security sector and clarifying the status of former national freedom fighters.

Prior to 2012, the EU-SSR mission, conducted under the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), assisted with the drafting of a comprehensive set of laws and organisational documents. The appointment of former drug kingpin Major General António Indjai as Chief of Staff in June 2010 prompted Brussels to not extend the mandate of the mission, which formally closed the same year.

The closure of the EU-SSR Mission and the coup d’état eventually caused a reorientation of partnerships for SSR in the country, with UNIOGBIS and ECOWAS assuming a more central role.

On 7 November 2012, in the post-coup context, ECOWAS and Guinea-Bissau signed the roadmap on the Defence and Security Sector Reform Programme (DSSR) and the Status of Mission Agreement (SOMA) for the deployment of the ECOMIB regional mission. This deployment directly filled the perceived operational gap left by the departure of Angolan Security Mission to Guinea-Bissau (MISSANG).

Both initiatives strengthened cooperation in reforming Guinea-Bissau’s security sector within the framework of the memorandum of understanding (MoU) which had its implementation supported by UNIOGBIS and included a revision of the 2006 Strategy Document. From the perspective of the donor community, the roadmap remains the key framework defining SSR priorities in Guinea-Bissau and serving as a guiding mechanism to streamline international cooperation.

In March 2015, at behest of the elected Government of Guinea-Bissau, a joint SSR Assessment Mission by the AU, EU, UN, ECOWAS and CPLP has taken place. This assessment reiterated that, despite the plethora of SSR initiatives, the lack of a comprehensive approach, clear mandates, proper monitoring and evaluation mechanisms within the state apparatus to oversee foreign support and government spending on SSR prevailed.

B. SSR governance

The Guinea-Bissau SSR Strategy (as it is commonly mentioned by nationals and donors alike) establishes a two-level donor-government coordination structure and a Permanent Secretariat.

C. Main SSR Achievements

A national vision and an accompanying strategy for SSR was adopted as early as 2006 and significant donor attention was received to implement this strategy including the EU SSR Mission in Guinea Bissau (2008-2010) and the UNDP Global Programme: Strengthening the Rule of Law in crisis-affected and fragile situations: a UNDP global programme for justice & security (2012-2015).

The EU-SSR mission, conducted under the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), assisted the drafting of a comprehensive set of laws and organisational documents. Overall, sixteen laws were passed in the initial SSR programming cycle including the National Guard and Public Order Police organic laws, the Basic Law for the Armed Forces, the re-establishment of the link between the Judicial Police and Interpol, as well as the revision of the organic law on Prosecution and the code of conduct for magistrates.

Furthermore, security and justice reform have been prominently on the national agenda for stability and development after the return of constitutional order in 2014. One third of the funding requested for the 2015 Brussels Donor Roundtable was intended to be devoted to SSR.

D. Cross-sectoral challenges

-          Lack of political will: over the last decade, the urgency of SSR as a precondition of stability remained largely contained to political statements not backed by genuine political will. Both the political leadership and the armed forces have regarded SSR as a means for consolidating their respective positions. ‘The armed forces use rhetoric of compliance in the SSR proposals, but this ends once the status quo is threatened’, as illustrated by the abrupt closing of the EU-SSR Guinea-Bissau mission (2008−2010).

However, in recent years, some localised reform efforts were carried out mostly in the police and justice spheres, in spite of setbacks following each major political crisis. Tense relationship between military’s control over means of violence and political accountability: relationships between the political elite and the military are close but tense and represent the main fulcrum point for the development of the security system. State fragility and recurrent instability have hampered the sustainability of repeated efforts to foster the rule of law and to build public institutions on a foundation of democratic governance that can be respected also by the security sector. There is a lack of oversight and accountability within the security structures.

-          Weak budget management: chronic underfunding of all security and justice agencies and personnel is a structural problem. There is a capacity gap within the Parliament and weak collaborative links between civil society and the main security stakeholders.

-          Over focusing of the SSR on Armed force and DDR: SSR has been often conflated with defence reform in Guinea-Bissau, which in turn has been often reduced to the mere downsizing and restructuring of the Armed Forces. It leaves other sectors short of attention. External stakeholders were overtly focused on the Armed Forces before the coup in 2012.

-          Lack of donor coordination: in terms of support to reform, strong external engagement in SSR didn’t translate in donor coordination. The creation of a two-level donor-government coordination structure and a Permanent Secretariat did not provide for effective coordination and exchange of information, or coherence between strategic and operational levels, nor for a broader input of other stakeholders. Donor coordination was also complicated by the creation of other structures bringing external partners together for sector-specific work, including on police and justice reform, while political coordination of international partners is usually facilitated by the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General (UN SRSG). At the national level, coordination mechanisms fell short on addressing operational needs of different agencies.

E. Sectoral SSR Challenges and achievements

i. Defence Reform

Instead of creating crucial backing from the Armed Forces, SSR triggered tension and resistance, except when it could serve circumstantial interests of the military hierarchy. The focus on DDR (with at least three formal processes initiated and never fully achieved) and defence reform without robust support to governance components (including oversight), alienated the military. The Army often perceived reforms as being adversarial and externally driven. Another criticism from the military is that SSR initiatives in the past failed to acknowledge the historical role of the former freedom fighters meaningfully. Finding a reliable, acceptable and dignified solution supporting this important group is a precondition in order to achieve success in the overall reform.

At the centre of Defence reform in Guinea-Bissau lays a proposed Pension Fund, later complemented with a gratuity scheme, to address concurring issues plaguing the Armed Forces for almost two decades. These include aging personnel, poor capacity, bloated ranks, and irregular or illegal recruitment since 1998. The Pension Plan further envisioned that 500 members of the Armed Forces every year should be demobilised over a five-year period. The renewal of the Armed Forces should address the current distortion in ranks. According to the Strategy Document, the personnel are envisioned to come down to 3.440 individuals: 1.720 for the Army, 1.204 for the Navy, and 516 in the Air Force.

The pensions and gratuity law was approved in 2015 by the PAIGC-led Government, after three iterations from the Council of Ministers, as a way to ‘buy peace’ and provide momentum for the restructuring and downsizing of the Army. It also applies to the security and intelligence services.

Before and after its approval, the law galvanised intense debates about criteria, mechanisms and proportionality of payments of retirement pensions and lump-sums. Beyond that, discussions stretched in substance to issues pertaining to the historical legitimacy of the military, the ethical fabric of public institutions, the values underlying civil-military relations, and the importance of SSR to rebuild trust and sustain transformation. Different proposals for the Pension Fund were simply considered misaligned with the reality of the country, and the so-called gratuities to be disbursed contrast with the extreme poverty of most of the population. This fact contributed to further alienate important constituencies from the common historical narrative of the liberation war, which the military claim to embody. One of the strategic points of the Strategy Document remains the clarification of the status of veteran and freedom fighter, as a pre-condition for a ‘dignified and sustainable’ demobilisation or retirement.

The reform should also allow for a realignment of the strategic mission of the Armed Forces towards maritime surveillance, protection of territorial integrity and focus on peace support operations. The level of education and training amongst the rank and file remains low, while the military appears to still be able to act outside both legal and civilian control. Uneven progress on rebuilding or rehabilitating military infrastructure, with sharp differences in conditions among units and services, means that the source of previous tensions remains.

As a result of the ongoing political stalemate in Bissau, personnel demobilisation efforts have not gathered momentum. Resource mobilisation has also been an issue: $24 million alone are required for pensioning off the first 500 military and police retirees. Equally waiting for a more conducive political context, is the new mandatory military system that would provide for recruitment of new personnel in the basis of professional standards and operational needs.

ii. Police Reform

Some of the challenges faced by the intelligence and law enforcement agencies are similar to those of the Armed Forces, including poor capacity, many years of illegal recruitment into the police, and an inverted rank pyramid. Police staff are, for that reason, included in the Pension Fund and gratuity, even if modalities and status of implementation remain unclear. Other issues for police reform in Guinea-Bissau are a militarised approach to policing, low operational effectiveness, over-concentration of structures and capabilities in the capital, and lack of infrastructure and equipment.

Years of mismanagement, poor allocation of resources and a lack of political will, as well as opposition from the military at several instances, hampered the reform of the police, including the civilianisation of the policing agencies, as illustrated when the Government decided to demilitarise police ranks in 2015. Before the 2012 coup, the security forces started also to consider a process of internal vetting of personnel on the basis of an updated Police Service Code of Conduct. The vetting was effectively initiated with support from UNIOGBIS after the elections of 2014, along disciplinary measures in cases of policing infractions. More recently, UNIOGBIS collaborated with Brazil in the creation of a career development centre to mitigate the effects of the absence of a police academy in Guinea-Bissau since 1992. Additional bilateral cooperation, meanwhile, is complementing these efforts, for instance with Angolan engagement in the anti-corruption elite unit and Portugal supporting the development of a community policing concept.

A Model Police Station programme has been developed to support the consolidation of the community and proximity policing approach, with the first model station being opened in Bissau in 2011. The aim is to change the prevalent militarised approach to policing, to foster effectiveness and coordination of law enforcement forces as well as to bring a meaningful gender lens to police reform, in order to address domestic and sexual and gender-based violence. Nonetheless, forward-looking initiatives on this front still fall short of their potential impact. Specialised gender and children units in the police stations work with severe restrictions. The introduction of protection officers within POP stations, with UNIOGBIS support, has not been responding to its expectation, and so is the on-call specialised brigade for women and children victims of violence within the Judiciary Police, which functions with severe limitations.

While domestic politics are hampering a more purposed police reform steered by national stakeholders, international partners have been fostering the integration of Guinea-Bissau in international and regional mechanisms, including the West Africa Coast Initiative (WACI) and ECOWAS Regional Action Plan to tackle drug trafficking and abuse. This is a dimension strongly emphasised in the latest reformulation of UNIOGBIS mandate, under strategic and technical support, with particular focus on coordination at different levels. As an example, there is an ongoing initiative to replicate a national-level mechanism for strategic coordination, the Higher Council for Policing and Internal Security Coordination, at the regional and provincial level.

iii. Justice and Prison Reform

The dysfunctionality of the formal justice system has been identified as a trigger of conflict on its own by different studies about the roots of conflict and violence in Guinea-Bissau, and therefore justice reform is crucial to consolidate peace and stability, needing robust components of peacebuilding and conflict prevention on those efforts. This understanding was again captured most recently in the National Justice Modernisation and Reform Programme (2015−2019), which in turn fed thinking into the drafting of the Peace and Governance component of the Strategic and Operational Plan of Terra Ranka 2015−2020 .

The first robust programme for justice reform in Guinea-Bissau started in 2007 with support from the EU under Programme d'Appui aux Organes de Souveraineté et à l'Etat de Droit (PAOSED), which closed in 2011. The programme targeted five areas: support to reorganisation of the justice system, capacity building, infrastructure, modernisation of the legal framework, and citizens’ access to justice. Albeit limited in impact, the PAOSED built complementarity with the EU-SSR programme and agreed on terms of alignment of work with UNDP.

Between 2009 and 2013, substantial UN support was given to justice reform under the Joint Programme for Strengthening Justice and Security Sector Reform (JSSR) and, from 2014 to 2016, through UNDP’s Rule of Law & Justice project (RoL&J), following interventions dating back to 2008. Adapting continuously to the volatility of the political environment, these interventions invested primarily on policy and legal framework, and, more clearly after the coup in 2012, on the demand side of justice.

In a very adverse context, important achievements can be credited to the previous JSSR in support of evidence-based policy making: National Justice Sector Policy and Strategic Plan for the Justice Sector, national policy on gender equality and equity, the National Assembly Strategic Development Plan, the Access to Justice Baseline survey (conducted in three Regions of Guinea-Bissau), the study about the situation of violence against women in the country and the Customary Law Research under six main ethnic groups.

Following its Programme, UNDP’s RoL&J continues its financial support to Centres of Access to Justice (CAJ), which was first opened in 2011 (six were operating in 2017), and the National Judicial Training Centre (CENFOJ), enabling furthermore the construction of two new local courts. The CAJ and CENFOJ are the most visible results of a considerable investment from UNDP in the improvement of the justice system in terms of combined capacity building, justice service delivery, institutional strengthening, and infrastructure building, over a period of hazardous return to democratic rule in the country.

There have been some targeted efforts to build capacity on the final end of the criminal justice chain. Nonetheless, ‘access to justice nationwide remained poor, particularly for vulnerable groups and women. Corrections facilities also continued to suffer from overcrowding, insecurity and poor living conditions’, as illustrated by the group escape in 2016 from the Judiciary Police detention centre in Bissau.

Among the factors limiting the impact of justice reform in Guinea-Bissau are relevant structural dysfunctions and institutional tensions inside the justice system, for instance between the Supreme Court, the Attorney-General and the Ministry of Justice on a number of topics where a stalemate has been prevailing for a long time. Other constraints to reform relate with a lack of acknowledgement of and engagement with traditional and customary justice providers from formal actors, in spite of their importance and reach.

The pace and impact of existing interventions are also affected by deficient coordination and cooperation between UNIOGBIS (and different agencies within the UN System co-located with the mission) and UNDP in recent years, as key partners in assisting rule of law and justice reforms in the country. After the end of the JSSR/Millennial Development Goals Fund (MDG-F) umbrella programme in 2013, there was a gap of joint programming, even if separately both UNIOGBIS and UNDP support to rule of law and justice ensured certain continuity of previous interventions. As a result of this gap, justice and police reform did not benefit from the materialisation of the full potential of support rendered by the Global Focal Point for Police, Justice and Corrections (GFP) to UNIOGBIS and the UN Country Team.

iv. Human Rights

The political and institutional instability faced during the last four years have adversely affected the process of adoption of international legal instruments. The country is still to adopt key conventions. The non-adoption of international instruments cannot serve as justification for human rights violations that have occurred. Gender Based Violence includes cultural practices that, in addition to being harmful to the health of women, are performed without taking into account their decision, choice or opinion. Female Genital Mutilations, Sexual and Gender Based Violence and forced marriages are still occurring in Guinea-Bissau. Child trafficking and child labour are very specific forms of violation of the rights of the child in the country. Child labour is mostly occasional and mainly exercised on an irregular basis to cover family expenses. It is worth noting that the government took steps to fight these Human rights violations by creating institutional structures to counter these trends.

v. Gender equality

Guinea Bissau ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1985, the CEDAW Optional Protocol in 2009, and ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights of Women in Africa (the Maputo Protocol) in 2008.

The country launched its National Action Plan for the Implementation of Resolution 1325 in 2010 for the period 2010-2011. The Ministry of Women, Family and National Solidarity developed a National Gender Policy for the period 2012-2015.

After the elections in 2014, 14 seats were held by women (13.7%) out of 102 seats. In the recent election of 10 March 2019, there was strong participation from women who voted, but weak implementation of the parity law for political parties, which sets a quota of 36% of seats for women on the lists of candidates for public office.

Incorporated in Guinea-Bissau’s Poverty Reduction Strategy, the issue regarding women’s participation in society is taken seriously by the government. The following strategies have been set: (i) simultaneously build women’s productive and organizational capacities; (ii) increase the level of information, training and participation for women; (iii) improve the status of women in the statutes and in society, and integrate them into national development programs. The strategies established to reduce poverty pertain to women, both in rural areas and urban areas, in a context marked by the prospect of decentralization and capacity-building for governance. A good example of this political engagement is the law voted by the parliament in August 2018, to ensure gender balanced political representation.

Regarding armed forces in particular, the government aims at improving living conditions and status of military women and of those integrated in the police force, so that they may in practice enjoy the same rights as men to protection against gender-based violence at work. In 2015, UNIOGBIS had reported that the female representation in the armed forced and security sector in general was low, especially in key positions with only four women colonels in Police and two in the army.

vi. Public expenditure review

 Total public spending has fluctuated markedly, largely reflecting political volatility and aid dependence. Guinea-Bissau’s level of public spending is lower than peers with similar GDP per capita. Recurrent spending accounted for about 64 percent of total expenditure, leaving 35 percent for capital spending and that is only thanks to foreign aid. Given limited fiscal space, Guinea-Bissau needs to improve the efficiency of public spending to achieve its development goals as public investment is low and relatively inefficient compared to fragile peers. Efforts to devote more domestic resources to mitigate the impact of “stop-go aid” have met with little success, with the contribution of domestic spending remaining very modest.

Guinea-Bissau is one of the most coup-prone and politically unstable countries in the world, and faces several security challenges. Despite a series of attempts at security sector reform (SSR), there has not been a successful process that addresses the efficiency, effectiveness, governance, and accountability of the security forces. Security spending averaged 2.5 percent of GDP over 2015–17, which is high for a country that faces no significant external threats or active internal conflict, as well as compared to its peers. Only 14 percent of the army are private soldiers, compared with almost a third of high-ranking or field officers who account for 60 percent of total army wage bill. Measures that result in the retirement of security personnel in accordance with existing labour law would be associated with substantial savings.

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6. International Community SSR engagement

The main international political actors active on SSR are UN, AU, ECOWAS, EU and Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) called the P-5.

In terms of implementing actors, UNIOGBIS is active in security across the board, UNDP in justice, ECOWAS mostly on defence reform and Portuguese Development Cooperation is engaged in all three areas: defence, police and justice.

The EU had established its own advisory and assistance mission EU-SSR in February 2008 under the EU Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). The overall mission budget was EUR 7.810.000. Furthermore, the EU funded the Transnational Crime Unit (TCU) within the Judiciary Police, assisted with the drafting of a comprehensive set of laws, and had launched a governance support program. EU didn’t do any recent programming on SSR or justice which they continue to fund separately. The reason for that is the high risks of investment in JSSR associated to the fragile political environment, which was also echoed in the ISSAT justice sector assessment in 2016. However the EU funds ECOMIB (ECOWAS military presence in Guinea Bissau), although that is a general contribution to peace and security and not specifically to SSR.

The AU does not focus on defence reform, and has been more of a political advocacy actor on SSR. The have only been asked to provide operational support related to SALW and led the joint AU-UN-EU-ECOWAS-CPLP SSR assessment carried out in 2015.

The UN has offered a strategic and technical support through its integrated peacebuilding office UNIOGBIS, which was created in 2009 and superseded former UNOGBIS (2008). The other UN agencies also work on building capacities of the internal security forces, providing assistance in developing a national strategy for public security, and strengthening the justice sector and access to justice for all.

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7. Future considerations

If structural dysfunctions and bottlenecks in security and justice are to be addressed by a robust, holistic and nationally owned SSR process in Guinea-Bissau, political stability has to be crafted and sustained through political dialogue, national reconciliation, and democratic participation. This agenda is outlined in the Conakry Agreement and it is hard to discern a path to peace and development in Guinea-Bissau that does not contemplate those dimensions. On moving ahead, all considerations about SSR and peacebuilding are predicated on a peaceful resolution of the current gridlock, which in turn depend on the loyalty of the Armed Forces to the constitutional order.

The possibility of withdrawal of ECOMIB, originally planned for 30 September 2017 but which has been postponed every three months with the extension of the mandate, increases the fragility of the situation.

The Conakry Agreement should allow eventually for a fresh start on pursuing the national strategic priorities defined for the next decade in Terra Ranka , with peace and governance as ‘the very first priority’, of which security and justice reform constitute one core pillar. ECOWAS will be a key player on supporting such agenda through the existing SSR permanent team in Guinea-Bissau. Moreover, since it was instrumental on proposing the special pension fund and gratuity, committing $46.1million (with Guinea-Bissau having to cover a deficit of $37 million), it will likely play a central role on supporting its implementation.

The unlocking of the political stalemate, and throughout a new electoral cycle, open the possibility for reengagement of other external partners, bilateral and multilateral, including the EU. UNIOGBIS mandate, reformulated in 2017 and extended in February 2019 for a final year, acknowledges the centrality of the Conakry Agreement and sets priorities for the Mission, including explicitly SSR. As also highlighted by the UN Security Council on renewing UNIOGBIS mandate, the Mission and other international partners should assist a full constitutional review and support inclusive political dialogue and national reconciliation. The engagement on SSR should focus ‘on law enforcement and criminal justice and penitentiary systems’. Support from the UN system to priorities defined by the Bissau-Guineans will continue also through the implementation of a new joint programme for rule of law, most likely under the framework of the GFP.

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8. Acronyms 

AU African Union
ANP National People's Assembly
CAJ Centres of Access to Justice
CENFOJ National Judicial Training Centre
CPLP Community of Portuguese Language Countries
CSDP Common Security and Defence Policy
DDR Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration
DSSR Defence and Security Sector Reform Programme
ECOWAS Economic Community of West African States
ECOMIB ECOWAS Mission in Guinea-Bissau
EU European Union
FARP People’s Revolutionary Armed Forces
IMF International Monetary Fund
JSSR Joint Programme for Strengthening Justice and Security Sector Reform
MISSANG Angolan Security Mission to Guinea-Bissau
MoIA Ministry of Internal Administration
MoJ Ministry of Justice
NGO Non-Governmental Organisation
OECD Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development

African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde

Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné ê Cabo Verde

PAOSED Programme d'Appui aux Organes de Souveraineté et à l'Etat de Droit
POP Public Order Police
RoL&J Rule of Law & Justice project
SSR Security Sector Reform
TCU Transnational Crime Unit
UN United Nations
UNIOGBIS United Nations Peace-building Support Office in Guinea-Bissau
UN SRSG UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General
UNODC United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
SOMA Status of Mission Agreement
WACI West Africa Coast Initiative

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The International Security Sector Advisory Team

The International Security Sector Advisory Team (ISSAT) provides practical support to the international community in its efforts to improve security and justice, primarily in conflict-affected and fragile states. It does this by working with a group of member states and institutions to develop and promote good security and justice reform practices and principles, and by helping its members to build their capacity to support national and regional security and justice reform processes.