Some 30 people hold a peaceful demonstration in front of the national assembly, where the negotiations are taking place, on April 15, 2012 in Bissau, before soldiers violently disperse them. (Photo SEYLLOU/AFP/Getty Images)
Demonstrating again the worst employment record for job security, members of the military staged a coup last week, arresting the president and prime minister, in the small, west African nation of Guinea-Bissau.
Since independence, no democratically elected president has completed a 5 year term of office.
Reacting to domestic and international condemnation, including suspension by the African Union, the army is becoming increasingly repressive of the basic rights of freedom of movement and expression, particularly of the media.
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Waiting in line to vote. ©Amnesty International
As 2009 winds down, here’s a wrap up of the year’s highlights from the southern Africa region. From elections, to assassinations, to elections, to awards ,to elections, to boycotts, to elections, to what was all in all a fairly smooth year compared to what might have been, here are a few notes about human rights conditions in the 12 countries we monitor for Amnesty International USA.
Angola was supposed to hold presidential elections this year but didn’t. Current (and for the last 30 years) president, dos Santos, said constitutional reform must come first and this will take another two years. Constitutional reform=good. Using it as an excuse to delay democratic elections=bad.
Forced evictions continued in 2009 in Angola. Amnesty International continues to call for an end to illegal evictions and for just compensation for forcibly displaced persons in Angola.
On a positive note, Prisoner of Conscience Fernando Lelo was released this year. Lelo is a journalist imprisoned for criticizing above noted president. However, those who were tried and convicted with him remain incarcerated. Lelo directly credited Amnesty activists for their efforts on his behalf. Pat yourselves on the back for a job well done!
Botswana held elections this year. Khama was elected to a new term, after finishing out the term of his predecessor. Major concerns in Botswana continue to be media restrictions, repression of labor unions, displacement of indigenous persons and high HIV infection rates. But Khama does his fair share of criticizing regional leaders and tweaking the nose of Zimbabwe’s President Mugabe. He mailed a congratulatory letter to the ladies of Women of Zimbabwe Arise following their win of the RFK Human Rights Award this year.
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So far this year there have been two rounds of assassinations in Guinea-Bissau. Now there will be two rounds of elections.
The assassination in March of President Vieira forced elections to be held June 28th to determine the new leader. The vote occurred without violence and a 60% voter turn out, but the field of eleven candidates split the vote, leaving no candidate with a majority vote. Both of the remaining candidates are also going for their second round of Presidency. Ruling party candidate Malam Bacai Sanha was interim President from 1999-2000 following one of the many coups riddling Guinea-Bissau’s political history. Kumba Yala was President from 2000-2003 until he was deposed by a coup.
The run-off is projected to be on July 28th. Both candidates have promised to curb the drug trafficking in the country. It remains to be seen whether the army will involve itself in the election outcome.
Just in case you think the odds are slim that two government figures would be assassinated within a 48 hour period not just once, but twice, think again. And not only that, in the same country no less. In a ghoulish re-run of events in March, the interim Army Chief (replacing the one killed in a bomb) announced that two men linked to assassinated President Vieira were killed yesterday.
“The military confirmed the killings of former Defense Minister Helder Proenca and presidential candidate Baciro Dabo, saying the men were killed because they were plotting a coup against the current government.”
The murders occurred a day before campaigning was set to begin for Presidential elections scheduled later this month. Happily, Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Jr., interim President Raimundo Pereira (replacing the one killed in a hail of bullets) and defense minister Artur Da Silva are all out of the country at the moment. Perhaps they should consider extending their travels. Being doomed to endlessly traverse a traffic circle in London sounds infinitely more appealing than being caught in the vicious cycle of slayings back home.
Shout out to SNS, who alerted me to yesterday’s events.
Guinea-Bissau (GB) is a tiny little country on the western coast of Africa. It is a nation ravaged by grave health concerns, drug trafficking and an abundant access to weapons. It is racked by political instability. Elections originally scheduled for March 2008 were postponed. In August 2008, then-President Vieira dissolved Parliament and a new Prime Minister was appointed. Relatively peaceful elections occurred in mid-November, however, mutinous soldiers, apparently not happy with these governmental maneuvers, attempted to assassinate the former President in what is considered to be a coup attempt. This year started with a bang, literally, when General Tagme Ma Wai, army Chief of Staff, accused the President of attempting to assassinate him in January when his car was shot up. Making sure it was done right the next time, General Wai was killed when army headquarters were bombed on March 1st. And then because no deed of any kind goes unpunished in GB, President Vieira was promptly killed on March 2nd when his house was again attacked.
In case you think these were isolated incidents, or even new circumstances, let me hasten to disabuse you. GB is a highly volatile country, with a long history of coups and military rebellions. Since 2000, soldiers have killed three Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces, as well as other high ranking military officers. Those responsible for the killings were not brought to justice. Not surprising then, that human rights are less than prioritized in GB. On April 1st, making for a highly unfunny April Fool’s Day, Francisco José Fadul, a Court President and former Prime Minister of GB, ended up in intensive care after he was beaten by military personnel at his home in the early hours of the morning. This followed an assault by the military of well-known lawyer Pedro Infanda, who was arrested, severely beaten and tortured for four days by military officials before being transferred to police custody. He also spent time in intensive care. Coincidently, both men held press conferences during which the military was criticized shortly before they were attacked by military officials. Subsequently, members of the Human Rights League received threats after condemning the violent attacks.
President of the National Assembly, Raimundo Pereira, sworn in as interim President on March 2nd, is currently running the show in GB and new Presidential elections are scheduled for June 28th. Here’s hoping GB has free and fair elections with no more 48 hour tit-for-tat assassinations.