Guinea-Bissau at the Crossroads: UN Role in Overcoming Political Impasse
Looking at Special Political Missions
On 24 August, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuiding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS), Modibo Ibrahim Touré, told the Security Council that after reaching a new peak earlier in the year, the political crisis in the country had recently quieted down. Mr. Touré’s statement was a reminder of the country’s turbulent political history and the local and international efforts to achieve stability. In this first in a series looking at the work of Special Political Missions, our colleagues from UNIOGBIS survey the UN’s work in the young state and how the mission interacts with local leaders, officials and civil society to sustain peace.
At first glance, the picture of United Nations involvement in Guinea-Bissau seems mixed. UN support to the country goes back to Guinea-Bissau’s liberation from Portuguese colonial rule in 1974. This is a period that has been marked by instability: In over 43 years of independence, no president has finished a full mandate.
Given the pace of progress over that period, some Bissau-Guineans voice frustration over the UN presence in the country. But a majority of the population looks positively on the UN’s peacebuilding efforts and even asks for firmer action.
“We have already lived in various political situations that have brought us conflict and I think that UNIOGBIS has a preponderant role in affirming peace,” Mamadou, a native of the east of the country, told the UN Radio programme ‘Perspectivas’ on 17 August. “And I think that what has been done is very important and only needs to be redoubled so that the political actors can understand that they are not the owners of the land but the land belongs to the people.”
UNIOGBIS was established in 2009 following the assassination of President Nino Vieira and a surge in drug trafficking and organized crime in the country.
The mission is led by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Modibo Ibrahim Touré, and includes 140 civilian personnel and 20 United Nations Police (UNPOL). UNIOGBIS is deployed throughout the country. The UN Country Team, coordinated by Deputy-Special Representative of the Secretary-General, David McLachlan-Karr, comprises 10 agencies, funds and programmes with 130 staff members.
UNIOGBIS’ mandate, running through February 2018 in accordance with Security Council resolution 2343 (2017), focuses on supporting and assisting the country in the creation of conditions to implement structural reforms, particularly in the areas of justice, defense, security, constitutional reform, and on preparing the upcoming elections. UNIOGBIS also provides technical advice and support to national stakeholders in the promotion and protection of human rights, and in the fight against drug trafficking and transnational organized crime.
“The resources available to carry out our many tasks are limited,” says SRSG Touré. “In addition most of our political work is sensitive and not visible, therefore it is normal that we sometimes face criticism. In our work we are guided by the UN charter, its principles, and in particular impartiality, and I believe we are making a difference.”
Together with other international partners and hand in hand with civil society, UNIOGBIS supports and facilitates political dialogue to find a solution to the political impasse, supports the reconciliation process and assists in combating impunity for past crimes.
To strengthen the rule of law, UN police officers and judicial advisers work with their national counterparts to improve investigations, ethics, law enforcement, border control, prosecution and the delivery of justice in general. In coordination with the UN Country Team, new regional courts are being built, new police stations implementing community policing are functioning and regional councils are being formed to prepare the country for decentralization.
UNIOGBIS human rights officers visit prisons, hospitals and courts regularly to monitor human rights, working with the state authorities to improve the situation as well as the capacity of these authorities to protect the human rights of the population.
UNIOGBIS also works with civil society and national stakeholders to provide information and training on the functioning of state institutions, rule of law, and human rights. The mission and the Country Team put special emphasis on the role of women and youth, as they represent the majority of the population. “It is well known that women’s empowerment has a compounding effect on stability and sustainable development”, says SRSG Touré.