Guinea-Bissau Briefing and Consultations Focus on Upcoming Elections
Tomorrow morning (26 February), the Security Council will be briefed by José Ramos-Horta, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative to Guinea-Bissau(via video teleconference from Bissau) and by Ambassador Antonio Patriota (Brazil), chair of the Peacebuilding Commission’s Guinea-Bissau configuration. Ramos-Horta will focus on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the restoration of constitutional order in Guinea-Bissau (S/2014/105). Council members will likely be most interested in his assessment of preparations for the upcoming elections. Patrīota will cover his recent visit to the country. Council members are hoping to issue a press statement, which is currently being negotiated, following the meeting.
This past weekend, transitional president Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo issued a decree postponing national elections, scheduled for 16 March, until 13 April. The postponement comes after the presidential and legislative elections were delayed from their previously scheduled 24 November date. Council members will want greater clarity on the likelihood of Guinea-Bissau being able to keep to this latest date for elections. Concerns remain among members about whether this will be the final electoral delay, particularly since Guinea-Bissau’s largest political party, the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde—or PAIGC—is in the process of organising and choosing its candidates.
As outlined in the Secretary-General’s report, after a difficult start to the voter registration process in December, progress was made in January and registration was successfully completed on 10 February. Over 90 percent of the estimated 810,000 Bissau-Guineans eligible to vote in the country and the diaspora registered. Members will therefore want to know about preparations and actions that are planned or required to ensure elections will be held as currently scheduled.
Additionally, during tomorrow’s briefing Council members will want to hear the Special-Representative’s assessment of conditions in Guinea-Bissau for conducting credible and fair elections and on possible irregularities. Members may raise questions about the candidacy of Carlos Gomes Jűnior, the ousted former prime minister who, had it not been for the coup, most likely would have won the presidency in 2012. Last month Gomes Jűnior – who has been in exile since the April coup – sent a letter to Ramos-Horta, the Secretary-General and others claiming that it was not safe for him to return to Guinea-Bissau to participate as a candidate in the elections.
Some members will also want to stress the importance of the international community remaining engaged after the elections on the tasks of state building and security sector reform. Council members may also raise concerns regarding impunity, as the latest Secretary-General’s report highlights various investigations into criminal and human rights abuses that have not resulted in any accountability. Recent examples, among others cited in the report, are the trafficking of Syrian refugees via a commercial flight from Guinea-Bissau to Lisbon in December; the attacks by a mob last October against Nigerian nationals and the Nigerian embassy; and the beating of the Transport Minister in November.
The Secretary-General’s report also noted that only seven percent of Guinea-Bissau’s population was “food secure”, a situation that reflects the country’s general fragility, which members may raise.
Members will be looking forward to learning more about the role that the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) will play following Ambassador Patriota’s recent visit. The PBC had suspended its activities in Guinea-Bissau following the coup, and Patriota has begun developing a plan for reengagement which would focus on supporting Guinea-Bissau’s completion of a full four year electoral cycle, providing assistance to manage the complexities of security sector reform such as the ethnic and socio-economic aspects, and enhancing food security. (Patriota also assumed the chairmanship of the PBC in January.).
Council members could raise concerns about the illicit exploitation of natural resources, such as illegal fishing contracts negotiated by the military with foreign boats, a situation flagged in the Secretary-General’s last report (S/2013/680), but not mentioned in this one. A recent example of this problem was the widely reported January detention of a Russian fishing trawler by Senegal for illegal fishing with 62 Russians and 20 Bissau-Guineans on board, which had a Guinea-Bissau license. They may also inquire about reports that the military has inserted personnel into the Ministry of Finance and other revenue generating agencies, which if accurate, portends the potential difficulties ahead for ending military interference in politics, even after elections.
On Monday evening, Nigeria circulated a draft press statement to be issued after the briefing and consultations. It seems the draft statement encourages Guinea-Bissau to build on the success of the voter registration campaign and carry-out timely elections. In this regard, it urges stakeholders to ensure credible and fair elections, and to refrain from interfering. It also encourages the international community to disburse the rest of the funds that have been pledged for the elections, and commends the support given by ECOWAS, Nigeria and Timor Leste during the voter registration process.
It seems that several members made proposals for strengthening language in the draft press statement. Among the suggestions was to have the Council express more strongly its concerns about any further delays in elections, and that Council members reiterate their message from the 9 December 2013 presidential statement that they will not tolerate interference as well as its warning to potential spoilers about a possibility of targeted sanctions (S/PRST/2013/19). A proposal was also made to have the Council condemn the use of violence and intimidation, and lack of accountability and for the transitional government to address this. Another proposal was to call on the military to submit to civilian control. It seems that a final agreement on the text is not expected until after the briefing.