Freedom in the World 2023 - Guinea-Bissau

/ 100
Political Rights 17 / 40
Civil Liberties 26 / 60
43 / 100 Partly Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.


Guinea-Bissau’s political system has been hampered in recent years by divisions between the president and the parliament, and within the main political party. Conditions for civil liberties have gradually improved as the country has recovered from the aftermath of a military coup in 2012, though police continue to disrupt some demonstrations. Corruption is a major problem that has been exacerbated by organized criminal activity, including drug trafficking.

Key Developments in 2022

  • In February, a group of armed men attacked the government palace, where President Umaro Sissoco Embaló was leading a cabinet meeting; Embaló was not harmed, but officials reported that 11 people were killed during the alleged coup attempt. Embaló described the attack as an assassination attempt, and claimed it was connected to the government’s fight against drug trafficking.
  • In response to the February attack, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) deployed a “stabilization force” to Guinea-Bissau in June to help protect government institutions and prevent further violence. Several of Embaló’s opponents expressed doubts that the attack represented a genuine coup attempt; some suggested that Embaló may have orchestrated the coup himself, possibly in the hope that ECOWAS would send troops to help his government keep power.
  • President Embaló dissolved the parliament in May, accusing its members of corruption, and appointed an interim government in June; the country’s largest opposition party, the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cabo Verde (PAIGC), was excluded from the transitional government after failing to reach an agreement with Embaló on the party’s participation. New parliamentary elections were initially planned for December, but were later postponed until 2023.

Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 2 / 4

The president is elected through a two-round voting system for up to two consecutive terms of five years. The prime minister is appointed by the president “in accordance with the election results” after consulting with the parliamentary parties, and the government must be dissolved if the parliament rejects its proposed budget.

Umaro Sissoco Embaló of the Movement for Democratic Alternation (Madem G15) party and a coalition of opposition parties, won the December 2019 presidential election’s runoff with 53.6 percent of the vote, defeating Domingos Simões Pereira of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cabo Verde (PAIGC), who won 46.4 percent of the vote. According to the National Election Commission (CNE), voter turnout was 72.7 percent. The African Union’s (AU) election observation mission found that the administration of the runoff vote was free and transparent, despite challenges with the first round of voting. International bodies such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) acknowledged Embaló’s victory in April 2020. The Supreme Court ultimately rejected an appeal by Pereira that September.

In February 2022, a group of armed men opened fire on the government palace, where the president was holding a cabinet meeting. The president went unharmed by the assailants, and remained in power following the incident, which has been labeled an attempted coup. Embaló has called the attack an assassination attempt, and claimed it was planned by drug traffickers. Several people arrested in connection with the attack remained awaiting trial at year’s end.

A2 0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 3 / 4

Members of the 102-seat National People’s Assembly are elected by popular vote for four-year terms. In the March 2019 elections, the PAIGC remained the largest single party with 47 seats, though it lost its outright majority. Madem G15 won 27, the Party of Social Renewal (PRS) took 21, the United People’s Assembly–Democratic Party of Guinea-Bissau (APU-PDGB) took 5, and the Union for Change (UM) and the Party for a New Democracy (PND) each secured a single seat.

In May 2022, President Embaló dissolved the parliament, accusing its members of corruption and citing “insurmountable differences” between the body and other branches of government. An interim government was appointed in June; the PAIGC, which could not reach an agreement with Embaló on taking part in a national unity executive, was excluded from the transitional government. New parliamentary elections were initially planned for December, but were later postponed until June 2023.

A3 0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 2 / 4

There are some problems with the country’s electoral laws and framework, including weak controls on campaign spending, vote buying, and a lack of legal provisions for domestic poll observers. Elections have been subject to delays in recent years, due in part to lack of funding and stalled voter registration processes.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 0-4 pts
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 3 / 4

There are no major constraints on party formation. Dozens of political parties are active in Guinea-Bissau, and 21 competed in the 2019 parliamentary elections, up from 15 in 2014. However, the political crisis since 2015—when former president Vaz dismissed then prime minister Pereira—has led to some instances of violence and intimidation among partisan groups.

PAIGC leader and former presidential candidate Pereira was repeatedly prevented from leaving Guinea-Bissau on dubious grounds during 2022. The government initially claimed that Pereira was barred from leaving the country because he was the subject of an ongoing judicial investigation. However, authorities continued to prevent Pereira from leaving the country in September, even after a court order revoked earlier restraining measures that had required him to stay in Guinea-Bissau. Pereira was ultimately allowed to leave the country later that month.

During 2022, the PAIGC was repeatedly blocked from holding a party conference, which was initially scheduled to be held in February. In February, PAIGC militant Bolom Conté legally challenged Pereira’s right to organize the congress, saying that his mandate as party leader had ended; the court sided with Conté, and issued an order forbidding the party to hold its congress. The court order was enforced in March when police violently raided PAIGC headquarters to prevent the congress from occurring, wounding at least seven people and arresting several others. Pereira accused President Embaló of pressuring the judiciary to block the congress, which was ultimately held in November and saw Pereira reelected as party leader.

In May 2022, UM party leader Agnelo Regala was shot at outside his home by unknown individuals. The Attorney General’s Office (PGR) announced that the matter would be investigated.

B2 0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 2 / 4

Guinea-Bissau has a limited record of democratic power transfers between rival political parties, as the PAIGC or military rulers have governed for most of the period since independence. In 2014, Vaz succeeded an independent who had served as acting president in the wake of the 2012 coup. Nevertheless, opposition forces increased their representation in the 2019 legislative elections. President Embaló of the new party Madem G15 succeeded former president Vaz of the PAIGC following the 2019 presidential election. However, Embaló’s use of the military to complete his installation in office raised concerns.

B3 0-4 pts
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? 1 / 4

The military has apparently refrained from interfering in politics since 2014, though it was used by President Embaló to complete his installment in office. The choices of voters and politicians continue to be influenced by corruption and patronage networks. Organized crime linked to drug trafficking and money laundering has contributed to the country’s political instability in recent decades.

In February 2022, while President Embaló was leading a cabinet meeting at the government palace, a group of armed men surrounded the building and opened fire. Officials reported that 11 people—mostly government security personnel—were killed during the alleged coup attempt. Several people were arrested in connection with the attack, which Embaló claimed was planned by drug traffickers. The trial of 25 people allegedly involved in the attack was initially scheduled to take place in December, but had been postponed as of year’s end.

Several of Embaló’s opponents—including PAIGC leader Pereira and Luís Vaz Martins, the former president of the Guinean League of Human Rights (LGDH)—have expressed doubts that the attack represented a genuine coup attempt. Some analysts believe Embaló may have orchestrated the coup himself, possibly in the hope that ECOWAS would send troops to help keep his government in power. In response to the February attack, an ECOWAS “stabilization force” was deployed to Guinea-Bissau in June to help local law enforcement protect public officials and government institutions and prevent further violence.

B4 0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 2 / 4

Women enjoy equal political rights, but cultural obstacles limit their participation in practice, and they are underrepresented in leadership positions. Just 14 women won seats in the March 2019 parliamentary elections. A 2018 law requires 36 percent of candidates on party lists to be women.

Ethnicity plays a role in politics, reducing the extent to which all groups’ interests are represented. For example, one of the country’s larger ethnic groups, the Balanta, has traditionally dominated the military and cast votes for the PRS.

C Functioning of Government

C1 0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 1 / 4

Governance has been impaired by the political crisis that began in 2015, and election delays have undermined the democratic legitimacy of incumbent officials. The original term of the parliament that was replaced by the March 2019 elections had expired nearly a year earlier. The full legislature has convened only sporadically in recent years.

In early 2020, a constitutional crisis emerged when Embaló organized his inauguration unconstitutionally. The PAIGC, which had a slim parliamentary majority but lost the presidential election, ignored Embaló’s inauguration and appointed an interim president, Cipriano Cassamá. However, Cassamá resigned after one day in office, saying he feared for his safety. Embaló was eventually recognized by the parliament.

C2 0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 1 / 4

Corruption is pervasive, including among senior government figures. Both military and civilian officials have been accused of involvement in the illegal drug trade. Critics of past corruption investigations targeting former high-ranking officials have argued that they were politically motivated.

C3 0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 0 / 4

There are no effective legal provisions to facilitate public access to government information, and government officials do not disclose their personal financial information as required by law. The political impasse and related parliamentary dysfunction have further obstructed oversight of government spending in recent years. The lack of transparency contributes to chronic budget shortfalls, frequent delays in public-sector wages, and doubts about the management of foreign assistance.

Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 1 / 4

The constitution provides for freedom of the press, and there is some media diversity. However, journalists regularly face harassment and intimidation, including pressure regarding their coverage from political figures and government officials. Journalists and media facilities have been the target of violence.

In recent years, armed men—some dressed in military clothing—have repeatedly attacked the privately owned Radio Capital FM station, which is allied to the opposition PAIGC, vandalizing its offices and destroying broadcasting equipment. In one such attack in February 2022, several people were injured while fleeing from the assailants, who were firing weapons in the broadcaster’s office.

Privately owned radio stations are subject to steep annual licensing fees; nonpayment of fees can incur harsh criminal penalties, including up to three years’ imprisonment for the station’s owner. In April 2022, the government ordered the closure of 79 radio stations for nonpayment of broadcast licensing fees. The country’s journalists’ union denounced the closures as an attack on press freedom. All but two of the stations resumed broadcasting later that month after civil society organizations helped them negotiate staggered payments to the government.

D2 0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 3 / 4

Religious freedom is legally protected and usually respected in practice. Government licensing requirements are not onerous and are often disregarded. Some Muslims have reportedly raised concerns about the influence of foreign imams who preach a more rigorous or austere form of Islam, threatening religious tolerance.

In July 2022, a Catholic church in the city of Gabú was vandalized by a group of unknown individuals. Though both Christian and Islamic groups in Guinea-Bissau condemned the attack, President Embaló controversially dismissed the crime as inconsequential. Police opened an investigation into the incident, but the perpetrators had not been held accountable as of December.

D3 0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 3 / 4

Academic freedom is guaranteed and generally upheld, though the education system is poor in terms of access, quality, and basic resources. Public schools were closed for much of 2018 and 2019 due to ongoing teachers’ strikes, and in 2020 and 2021 as a consequence of COVID-19 restrictions.

D4 0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 3 / 4

Individuals are relatively free to express their views on political topics in the private and social sphere, though some more public figures have faced the threat of arrest or charges in retaliation for their remarks in recent years.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 1 / 4

Freedom of assembly is frequently restricted. The authorities repeatedly interfere with demonstrations linked to the political tensions between the presidency and the legislature. The state of emergency enforced due to the COVID-19 pandemic banned assemblies of more than 25 people during 2020. The restrictions were prolonged by President Embaló for most of 2021 and prevented protesters from gathering during a period of high political tension.

E2 0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 2 / 4

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are generally able to operate. Some groups have faced intimidation and other obstacles, particularly those that are associated with street demonstrations.

Several activists who criticized the government reported facing harassment, arbitrary detentions, and physical assaults throughout 2021, including Luís Vaz Martins—a lawyer and the former president of the LGDH—who was the target of an assassination attempt that August. Martins accused the president of ordering the attack.

E3 0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 3 / 4

Workers are allowed to form and join independent trade unions, but few work in the wage-earning formal sector. Private employers sometimes engage in improper interference with union organizing and other activities. The right to strike is protected, and government workers frequently exercise it.

Several strikes took place during 2022, with workers protesting against unpaid wages and poor working conditions.

F Rule of Law

F1 0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 1 / 4

Judges are highly susceptible to corruption and political pressure, and the court system as a whole lacks the resources and capacity to function effectively.

F2 0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 0 / 4

Corruption is common among police, and officers often fail to observe legal safeguards against arbitrary arrest and detention. Very few criminal cases are brought to trial or successfully prosecuted, partly due to the limited material and human resources available to investigators. Most of the population lacks access to the justice system in practice.

In November 2022, government critic Marcelino Ntupé, acting legal representative for 18 people accused of taking part in the alleged coup attempt in February, was kidnapped from his home and severely beaten by a group of armed men. The president condemned the attack, which the LGDH attributed to “institutional violence” in the country.

F3 0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 2 / 4

Conditions in prisons and detention centers are often extremely poor, and law enforcement personnel generally enjoy impunity for abuses. Because of its weak institutions and porous borders, Guinea-Bissau has become a transit point for criminal organizations trafficking various types of contraband. The armed forces and other state entities have been linked to drug trafficking. In recent years, authorities have made some progress in combating the drug trade and organized crime.

A low-intensity conflict in Senegal’s Casamance region occasionally affects security across the border in Guinea-Bissau, where Senegalese rebels sometimes operate.

F4 0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 2 / 4

Women face significant societal discrimination and traditional biases, despite some legal protections. They generally do not receive equal pay for similar work and have fewer opportunities for education and employment.

There are virtually no effective legal protections against discrimination on other grounds, including ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity, though same-sex relations are not specifically criminalized.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 2 / 4

There are few formal restrictions on freedom of movement, but widespread corruption among police and other public officials can limit this right in practice, as can criminal activity. At times, Senegalese rebel activity may restrict movement in the border area.

G2 0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 1 / 4

Illegal economic activity, including logging, by organized groups remains a problem. The quality of enforcement of property rights is generally poor, and the formal procedures for establishing a business are relatively onerous.

Women, particularly those from certain ethnic groups in rural areas, face restrictions on their ability to own and inherit property.

G3 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 1 / 4

There are multiple constraints on personal social freedoms. Early and forced marriages remain common, especially in rural areas. The government, international organizations, and community leaders have worked to eliminate female genital mutilation (FGM), though nearly half of the country’s women have suffered from such violence. Despite the existence of legislation to address gender-based violence, the problem is reportedly widespread; victims of rape and domestic abuse rarely report the crimes to authorities.

G4 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 1 / 4

Guinea-Bissau is one of the world’s poorest countries, with most families relying on unstable employment in the informal economy or remittances from migrant workers abroad. Public services have deteriorated in recent years amid irregular payment of public-sector workers.

Boys are vulnerable to organized exploitation through forced begging and to forced labor in sectors including mining and agriculture. A rising number of Muslim children from Guinea-Bissau are trafficked by money-making schemes disguised as religious Quranic schools, particularly into Senegal.

Girls are frequently victims of sexual exploitation or domestic servitude. Government officials have been accused of complicity in trafficking activity, including sex tourism schemes in the Bijagós islands.