Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1988

The Republic of Guinea-Bissau has been a one-party
constitutional state since May 1984, when the provisional
government, established after the 1980 coup d'etat, was
abolished. General Joao Bernardo Vieira serves as President
of the Council of State and Head of State, Commander-in-Chief,
and General Secretary of Guinea-Bissau's sole political party,
the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and
Cape Verde (PAIGC). According to the 1984 Constitution, the
National Assembly decides fundamental questions of internal
and external policy, but it meets infrequently. Effective
power and day-to-day control rests in the hands of the
President and the Council of State. Although the President is
the most powerful member of the Council, decisionmaking is
collegial rather than autocratic. The party selects all
candidates for office.
The armed forces (FARP) are responsible for state security,
both external and internal. FARP leaders are usually members
of the PAIGC and often hold key positions in the Politburo or
Central Committee. Persons accused of political crimes are
tried by military tribunals.
Guinea-Bissau remains one of the world's least developed
nations and depends upon foreign aid for its survival. The
Government's postindependence efforts to exercise central
control over the economy resulted in chronic shortages of most
basic commodities, high unemployment, and a weak national
currency. Beginning in late 1986, the Government launched a
new series of reforms to promote long-term economic growth by
shifting from a state-run centralized economy to a free market
system. While the reforms resulted in strong growth of the
private sector and improved agricultural production, inflation
remained high, and urban residents witnessed a sharp drop in
their standard of living and purchasing power.
There was little change in the human rights situation in
1988. In March the Government released its most prominent
political prisoner, Raphael Barbosa, cofounder of the PAIGC,
on humanitarian grounds. Approximately 40 men remain
imprisoned on an island in the Bijagos Archipelago. Most of
these prisoners are serving sentences for complicity in an
October 1985 plot to overthrow President Vieira. There have
been no executions in Guinea-Bissau since six leaders of the
1985 plot, including former Vice President Correia, were
executed in July 1986.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
      a. Political Killing
There were no reports of politically motivated killing.
      b. Disappearance
There were no known cases of disappearance.
      c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The Constitution prohibits cruel and inhuman punishment.
However, security authorities employ severe interrogation
methods, and Amnesty International (AI) has, in the past,
received allegations of the use of torture in security cases
and deaths in custody due to mistreatment. Prison conditions
are unsanitary, and prisoners' families must routinely bring
them food and medical supplies to supplement scanty rations.
      d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Arrests in Guinea-Bissau are frequently arbitrary, as arrest
procedures are undefined and the use of arrest warrants is the
exception rather than the rule. The legal system, inherited
from the Portuguese colonial regime but modified by the
Constitution, includes important procedural rights, such as
the right to counsel and the right to a judicial determination
of the legality of detention. Bail procedures are observed
erratically. The Government has held persons, sometimes for
extended periods of time, without charge or trial, including
in incommunicado detention. For example, several years ago
the Government briefly detained without charge members of the
Yanque-Yanque movement, on the grounds the group's activities,
which included mutilation of members in initiation ceremonies
and killing enemies, posed a danger to society.
In August 1987, AI submitted a memorandum to the Government
detailing its concern about the long-term detention without
trial of suspected government opponents and allegations of
torture and ill-treatment of detainees. One of Amnesty's
concerns was the case of Raphael Barbosa. In March the
Government released Barbosa from a prison camp on the island
of Formosa. Barbosa had been serving a life sentence for
having collaborated with Portuguese secret security police
during Guinea-Bissau's independence struggle.
The Government has legal authority to exile prisoners but has
not done so in recent years. Conscientious objectors are not
exempt from military service.
For regard to forced or compulsory labor, see Section 6.c.
      e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Traditional law still prevails in most rural areas, and many
urban dwellers continue to bring judicial disputes to
recognized traditional counselors. The official judicial
system is based on the Portuguese model, with some exceptions.
Intervals between arrest and trial are often lengthy. All
defense lawyers are court appointed, as private legal practice
is prohibited. The judiciary is a part of the executive
branch. Trials involving state security usually are not open
to outside observers and are conducted by military tribunals.
FARP members are tried by military courts for all offenses.
The Supreme Court is the final court of appeal for both
civilian and military cases except those involving national
security matters, in which instance the Council of State
reviews all decisions. The 1986 treason trials of 56 accused
conspirators took place before the Superior Military Tribunal,
the highest military court. The 12 persons sentenced to death
appealed to the Council of State for clemency and, as a
result, 6 had their death sentences commuted to 15-year prison
terms. Of those convicted in the 1986 trials, an estimated 40
men remain incarcerated at a prison labor camp on an island in
the Bijagos Archipelago. Although isolated from outside
observers, the prisoners reportedly are able to move about the
island and are responsible for growing much of their own food.
      f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
Constitutional guarantees of the inviolability of domicile,
person, and correspondence are not generally respected in
cases of serious crimes or state security. The use of search
warrants, for example, is rare. International and domestic
mail is subject to surveillance and censorship.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
      a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of intellectual,
artistic, and scientific expression, with the significant
exception of cases in which these rights are exercised in a
manner "contrary to the promotion of social progress." In
fact, the Government controls all information media and views
the press as a vehicle of the party. Journalists are
government employees and practice self-censorship. However,
the media is permitted to criticize and question some
policies, although it may not criticize individual officials.
      b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and
association, and government approval is not required for
peaceful, nonpolitical assemblies and demonstrations.
However, all existing organizations and associations are
linked to the Government or the party, including the sole
labor union, the National Union of the Workers of
Guinea-Bissau (UNTG) , and antigovernment meetings are not
For a discussion of freedom of association as it applies to
labor unions, see Section 6. a.
      c. Freedom of Religion
Religious freedom is provided for in the Constitution and has
been respected. Christians, Muslims, and animists worship
freely, and proselytizing is permitted.
      d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Citizens are allowed to move freely throughout Guinea-Bissau.
Foreign travel is not restricted, nor is citizenship revoked
for political reasons. Thousands of persons have emigrated
for economic reasons. Return of expatriates is encouraged,
although the 1986 deaths of two opposition members in a car
accident during their forced repatriation from Senegal
convinced some government opponents that they would not be
welcomed back to Guinea-Bissau. While sympathetic to the
principle of asylum, Guinea-Bissau does not host significant
numbers of refugees.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
Citizens do not have the ability peacefully and legally to
change the Government or the form of government.
Guinea-Bissau is led by the PAIGC party and military elite,
headed by President Joao Bernardo Vieira. By the terms of the
Constitution, all political activity takes place within the
party/state structure. The 1984 electoral slates for the
National Popular Assembly at the district, regional, and
national levels were party-prepared lists. The President,
members of the Council of State, and National Popular Assembly
deputies are elected to 5-year terms. There are provisions
for constitutional amendments and national referendums to be
initiated by the National Popular Assembly, but the Assembly
has never taken such an initiative. No single ethnic group
dominates party or government positions, but Papel and Creole
(mixed-race) groups, predominantly located in and around the
capital of Bissau, are disproportionately represented in the
Government. Women have legal equality with men and hold some
influential jobs within the party and the Government. The
current Minister for Labor and Social Security and the
President of the National Assembly are both women.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
Although international human rights groups have visited
Guinea-Bissau, their visits have always been tightly
controlled. The Government invited an AI mission to visit in
1986. AI delegates held discussions in June 1986 with
President Vieira and many other officials and attended one
session of the treason trial. The Government's response, if
any, to AI ' s 1987 memorandum on human rights has not been made
public. There are no local human rights groups in
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, or Social Status
The population of Guinea-Bissau comprises diverse tribal
groups, each with its own language, customs, and social
organization. The Fula, Mandinga, Balanta, Manjaca, and Papel
are important groups. Creoles enjoy an advantageous position
within the society, due to their generally higher level of
education and their links abroad. Although the President and
other influential leaders regularly urge the nation to
overcome ethnic differences, economic dominance by Creoles
(and to a lesser extent Fulas) has created resentment among
other ethnic communities. Most of the defendants in the 1986
treason trial were members of the Balanta, the largest ethnic
group (30 percent)
Discrimination against women, while officially prohibited,
continues within certain ethnic groups, especially the Muslim
Fulas and Mandingas of the North and East. Among those groups
female circumscision is still practiced, despite official
prohibition and educational campaigns against this custom.
Women enjoy higher status in the societies of the Balanta,
Papel, and Bijagos groups living mainly in the southern
coastal region.
Section 6 Worker Rights
      a. The Right of Association
Approximately one-half the population of Guinea-Bissau is of
working age. While the Constitution provides for freedom of
association, only one labor union, the National Union of the
Workers of Guinea-Bissau (UNTG) , is organized in Guinea-
Bissau. With strong ties to the PAIGC, the UNTG more closely
resembles a mass organization than a union. The UNTG has
neither aggressively nor effectively promoted worker rights.
The UNTG is affiliated with the Communist-controlled World
Federation of Trade Unions and is a member of the Organization
of African Trade Union Unity. Strikes, while not specifically
forbidden, do not occur. Since the Government's use of force
to disperse students attempting to strike in 1981, the
public's perception has been that strikes, like antigovernment
meetings, would not be tolerated.
      b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Of the 25,000 salaried workers in the country, approximately
60 percent are employees of the Government. Only 4,000
persons comprise Guinea-Bissau's small manufacturing sector.
The scarcity of salaried jobs has forced employees to focus on
obtaining and keeping employment rather than on organizing and
bargaining. While public employees are permitted to join the
UNTG, the union's activities do not encompass organizing
employees (whether public or private) for the purpose of
collective bargaining. The Constitution and labor laws do not
provide a right to organize and bargain, and, at present, the
right is neither protected nor practiced. There are no export
processing zones in Guinea-Bissau. Labor laws are applicable
throughout the country.
      c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
There is no forced or compulsory labor in Guinea-Bissau.
      d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The Government in 1987 approved a new labor code which set a
minimum age of 14 for general factory labor and of 18 for
heavy or dangerous labor, including all labor in mines. In an
overwhelmingly rural and agricultural society, traditional
division of labor practices both between sexes and age groups
continues to prevail. Children in all rural communities work
in the fields and at home for no pay. The Government does not
attempt to discourage this practice and, in fact, delays the
opening of schools until the rice season has ended.
      e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Even in the small wage sector, labor laws are ill-defined and
unevenly enforced, due primarily to the extreme economic
underdevelopment of the society. However, there are
government regulations covering such matters as job-related
disabilities and vacation rights. The normal workweek is 35
hours. Although not consistently enforced, a minimum wage of
approximately $11 per month has been established by the
Ministry of Civil Service, Labor and Social Security. That
wage is inadequate to maintain even a minimum standard of
living. Existing legal health and safety standards for
workers are not enforced in a uniform and comprehensive manner