Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast briefed the Security Council this morning on developments in Guinea-Bissau, in particular, the progress being made by its new Government, which was formed on 19 February after January elections, to promote the consolidation of democracy and depoliticize the military. The Council was last briefed on the situation on 23 February by the Secretary-General's Special Representative in Guinea-Bissau, Samuel C. Nana-Sinkam.
Mr. Prendergast, highlighting parts of the Secretary-General's report to the Council, said that the overall situation was peaceful and the humanitarian situation had noticeably improved, but the economic situation remained worrying and there were lingering difficulties redefining the relationship between the new Government and the military establishment in the post-electoral period.
He pointed out, however, that recently the difficulties between the Government and military establishment seemed to have progressed in the right direction. Following a meeting with the military on 22 March, the newly elected President announced that five posts of Minister for State without portfolio had been offered to members of the former military junta. That offer was accepted in principle and details were being finalized. A former member of the military junta had been publicly quoted as saying that there was now "not a single cloud between the new authorities and the military".
Addressing the Council following the briefing, the representative of the United States said that timely United Nations and international intervention had made a difference in resolving conflict and restoring order in Guinea-Bissau. The United Nations Peace-building Support Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNOGBIS) represented a good example of the critical role the United Nations could play in conflict resolution and post-conflict institution-building. The new Government of Guinea-Bissau could now begin to develop and implement programmes designed to further democracy and promote economic growth.
The representative of Bangladesh said the military junta maintained a high public posture and the continued circulation of small arms compounded the security situation. The ability of the Government to address immediate and medium-term economic and social needs of the population was critical for sustaining the gains made so far. Therefore, the United Nations and the international community had to remain vigilant for moves that would offset the process of institutionalizing democracy in Guinea-Bissau.
The representative of the Netherlands said the slow pace of demobilization, disarmament and reintegration was also of concern. It should be a high priority. Commenting on the same issue, the representative of Argentina said a new relationship between the Government and the military should be defined and the problem of small arms had to be tackled. A successful response to those challenges would be a test for the United Nations peace-building efforts.
Addressing the improvement of the human rights situation in Guinea-Bissau, the representative of Canada noted that technical assistance provided by United Nations bodies in building local judicial capacity had already contributed to expediting trials in a fair and transparent manner. He was also encouraged by the efforts of UNOGBIS to promote the rights of women through discussions with local women parliamentarians, and by the Government's commitment to creating an institute for women and children.
Statements were also made this morning by the representatives of Mali, China, Malaysia, Jamaica, France, Tunisia, Ukraine, Namibia and the United Kingdom.
The meeting was convened at 10:20 a.m. and adjourned at 11:25 a.m.
Council Work Programme
When the Council met this morning to discuss the situation in Guinea- Bissau, it had before it a report from the Secretary-General on developments in Guinea-Bissau (document S/2000/250), submitted pursuant to Security Council resolution 1233 (1999) of 6 April 1999. The report highlights the challenges confronting the new Government during the post-electoral period and the contributions of the United Nations Peace-building Support Office in Guinea- Bissau (UNOGBIS) in support of the Government's efforts.
Section II of the report, on political developments, covers the priorities set by the authorities in Guinea-Bissau meant to strengthen reconciliation among Bissau Guineans and to improve relations with neighbouring States and cooperation with the international community. Section III of the report, on military and security aspects, highlights the high public posture of the military, the continuing circulation of large quantities of small arms, and bilateral cooperation to resolve border security issues. Section IV analyses the human rights situation; Section V, humanitarian aspects; and Section VI, social and economic aspects.
The report states that with the electoral process concluded on 16 January, the investiture of President Kumba Yala, the inauguration of the new National Assembly and the formation of a new Government, the transitional institutions derived from the Abuja Accord (document S/1998/1028, annex) of 1 November 1998 have completed their role. The international community, through the efforts of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries (CPLP), the United Nations system and friendly Member States, rendered invaluable support to initiatives to restore peace to Guinea-Bissau.
Following consultations with a new Government, the report continues, the Secretary-General proposed, and the Security Council approved, the extension of the mandate of UNOGBIS for a year after its current one expires on 31 March.
Guinea-Bissau today represents a case where it can indeed be said that the United Nations, with the full cooperation of national actors and with the sustained support of the international community, can, at modest cost, make a meaningful contribution to a country's efforts to move from a state of war to one of peace and gradual return to constitutional order, the report states. The Secretary-General appeals for continued and additional support to enable the United Nations to continue to play its critical facilitation role in Guinea- Bissau.
The report urges those countries that pledged assistance for Guinea-Bissau at the May 1999 Geneva round table to support the Government's three-month transitional programme, pending the organization of a new round-table conference. Sustained support is crucial for the consolidation of the progress achieved so far, and for helping Guinea-Bissau lay a durable foundation for a better life for its people, says the Secretary-General.
KIERAN PRENDERGAST, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said the economic situation in Guinea-Bissau remained worrying. The Government still did not have resources to pay long overdue salaries to civil servants and to soldiers. There was also concern over the difficulties encountered in redefining the relationship between the new Government and the military establishment in the post-electoral period. Therefore, it was encouraging to note that negotiations, led by the Bishop of Bissau and others from civil society, between the Government and the former military junta were continuing. The 100-day transitional programme was critical for the credibility of the new Government, as it faced mounting pressure from ordinary citizens demanding basic services.
He stated that since completion of the report, the issue of the former military junta seemed to have progressed in the right direction. Through the mediation of the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Gambia, President Kumba Yala met on 22 March with members of the former military junta. Following that meeting, the President announced that five posts of Minister for State without portfolio had been offered to members of the former junta. The offer was accepted in principle, as details were being finalized. Military junta General Mane was quoted as saying that "there was not a single cloud between the new authorities and the military".
The first session of the National Assembly was also opened on 22 March, he said. In addition, before convening a new round-table conference on Guinea- Bissau, the Government was planning to hold, in that State, consultations with development partners on its overall strategies and priority areas on 11 April. It intended to present its major concerns, strategies and priority actions for lasting development at that forum.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE (United States) said that the report highlighted a situation where timely United Nations and international intervention had made a difference in resolving conflict and restoring order. Peace had been restored, free and fair national elections had been conducted, and efforts were under way to promote national reconciliation and to foster a favourable climate for economic development. His Government commended the people of Guinea-Bissau for their commitment to peace.
The UNOGBIS represented a good example of the critical role the United Nations could play in conflict resolution and post-conflict institution- building. The new Government of Guinea-Bissau could now begin to develop and implement programmes designed to further democracy and promote economic growth, but there were still many challenges. In particular, the Council and Member States had to support efforts to redefine the role of the military, he said.
As a matter of policy, he continued, his Government had suspended direct bilateral assistance to the Government of Guinea-Bissau at the time of the May 1999 coup. However, it was reviewing ways to recommence bilateral assistance efforts in the wake of the November and January elections, which were conducted in a free, fair and transparent manner.
He warned that the international community would react negatively should Guinea-Bissau return to military rule under any guise. The country needed peace, reconstruction and development, and nothing could hinder that more than renewed military intervention in governance, which he did not expect.
In a fragile subregion, fraught with many challenges and interlocking crises, the United Nations must continue to play a key role in assisting the Government and people of Guinea-Bissau to continue building a strong foundation for peace, he said.
MOCTAR OUANE (Mali) said the authorities in Guinea-Bissau had established a post-electoral regime that provided good governance for public affairs. Positive steps had been taken, but Guinea-Bissau must continue to improve its relationship with neighbouring States and the international community, as that would assist in the establishment of lasting peace and democracy, as well as the return of refugees.
A strong signal must be sent from the Council to the authorities in Guinea-Bissau, he continued. Also, globalization of the international community had to be swiftly accomplished, as that could provide urgent assistance to the situation. The draft presidential statement that would be presented later was prepared as a future guide. He also recalled the strong commitment of ECOWAS in consolidating the situation in Guinea-Bissau.
SHEN GUOFANG (China) said that the situation in Guinea-Bissau had remained stable and that relations with neighbouring states had improved. The new Government had committed to reform. Guinea-Bissau was now at a critical cross- road. Therefore, he called upon the international community to continue to give attention and support to the situation in the country and to support the peace process. Thanking the Representative of the Secretary-General and UNOGBIS, he expressed the hope that they would continue to work tirelessly for peace in Guinea-Bissau.
HASMY AGAM (Malaysia) welcomed the ongoing process of democratization in Guinea-Bissau. The success of the elections and subsequent establishment of a new government was full of promise and signalled a democratic and peaceful conclusion. It also brought closure to the situation there. The early identification by the Government of its post-electoral functions was reassuring. However, the military continued to maintain a high profile. The junta should recall its pledge to stay out of the political structure of Guinea-Bissau. It was important for the military to define its role in national defence.
The wide circulation of small arms was also of concern, he said. He supported the small reform package encouraging civilians to turn in their weapons. The improvement in human rights and the overall military situation in the country was important. Also important was the relationship between that country and its neighbours for the return of refugees. However, related United Nations activities were dependent on the support of the international community.
M. PATRICIA DURRANT (Jamaica) said that the events in Guinea-Bissau were testimony to the fact that the United Nations, with the support of the international community, could make a contribution to a country's effort to move from civil strife to peace. The United Nations could be proud about the proactive steps taken. Emphasis had to be put on peace-building. She commended the members of ECOWAS and the Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries for their key role in successfully implementing the Abuja Accord.
The accord reached between the Government and the former military junta was a welcome one, she said. Efforts must now be made to confront the challenges, such as the consolidation of democracy, demobilization, the return of refugees and the relaunching of the economy. The international community should mobilize financial support for building State institutions. Cooperation between the United Nations system and the Bretton Woods institutions should be encouraged in such sectors as health and agriculture.
JEAN-DAVID LEVITTE (France) said he was satisfied with the activities of the Organization and the Secretary-General's Special Representative and head of UNOGRIS, Samuel C. Nana-Sinkam, among others, in establishing constitutional order in Guinea-Bissau. It had led to re-establishing respect for human rights and the rule of law, a vital role of the United Nations. The first objectives set by the President of the new Government seemed to lead in the right direction and had the support of the international community.
He said France would participate in the upcoming round-table conference on Guinea-Bissau. It was important for the civilian power to be endowed with all the respect it needed to carry out its functions. The Abuja Accord had called for the dissolution of the military junta. He hoped that it would be disintegrated and reintegrated into civilian life. Highlighting the positive role of the Gambia, he hoped that the agreement reached on 22 March would be put into effect. Adoption of confidence-building measures put forward by ECOWAS and others would also help the progress towards democracy. Additionally, it was important to energetically reinforce the arms recovery programme.
MICHEL DUVAL (Canada) said that the office of the United Nations in Guinea-Bissau could build on the recent success of the democratic process and on the formation of a broad-based government, to assist civil society and government in the consolidation of peace. The reaffirmation by military leaders of the supremacy of the country's Constitution, and their non-interference in the recently completed elections, suggested an encouraging respect for civilian rule. Relations between the country and its neighbours continued to improve, in large part due to the exemplary work of Mr. Nana-Sinkam and the Chairman of ECOWAS, Malian President Alpha Oumar Konare.
He said that the human rights situation had improved substantially, and noted the technical assistance provided by United Nations bodies in building local judicial capacity, which had already contributed to expediting trials in a fair and transparent manner. He was also encouraged by the efforts of UNOGBIS to promote the rights of women through discussions with local women parliamentarians, and by the Government's commitment to creating an institute for women and children.
SAID BEN MUSTAPHA (Tunisia) expressed his satisfaction at the gradual return of Guinea-Bissau to democracy after elections. It was necessary for the international community to support the State in that return. Guinea-Bissau required large-scale national, international and subregional support. It was also up to the nationals of the country to ensure lasting peace and democracy.
He said that in extending the mandate of UNOGBIS, the Security Council, as well as the international community, had reaffirmed the necessity of taking action that would lead to consolidation of peace and stability in Guinea-Bissau. Also, the international action that had taken that country from a state of war to one of peace was commendatory. He hoped that the peaceful end to the conflict there would provide an example and encourage protagonists of other conflicts.
ALPHONS HAMER (Netherlands) said that, despite the positive developments described in the report, there were concerns about the economic situation in Guinea Bissau. That subject had to be kept on the agenda, in order to consolidate peace and democracy. The return to constitutional order and democracy was now complete. There still remained concern about the military junta, which must be told in no uncertain terms that its role had come to an end. The international community would not tolerate its revival in any form.
The slow pace of demobilization, disarmament and reintegration was also of a concern, he said, and it should be a high priority. He called on the World Bank to intensify its help in that regard. As a member of the Friends of Guinea Bissau, his Government had pledged 500,000 Dutch guilders to help the country in its post-conflict efforts.
VOLODYMYR YU. YEL'CHENKO (Ukraine) recalled the hardships in the country and pointed out that the United Nations was there, ready to help the country create a friendly environment for restoring peace, national reconciliation and democratic principles. Credit must be given to the people of Guinea-Bissau, to the demonstrated political will of the parties involved, to ECOWAS, to the Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries and to UNOGBIS. The signing of the Abuja Accord and other related agreements was being translated into meaningful steps towards restoring democratic rule and constitutional order.
Following the transitional period, the new Government would face new and pressing challenges in various spheres, including the consolidation of democracy, promotion of the demobilization and reintegration of the military into civil society, strengthening a fair judicial mechanism for those detained following the events of May 1999 and energizing the economy. Moreover, the creation of social and economic conditions for the return of refugees and internally displaced persons should remain among the priority tasks for the young constitutional Government.
PAGLI (Argentina) said that a second round of elections in January and the investiture of the new President, Kumba Yala, had marked the successful close of the transitional phase. The general situation in Guinea-Bissau had improved and the country had returned to the rule of law. The military situation had improved, as had the situation of the refugees, many of whom had returned to their country. The Representative of the Secretary-General, Mr. Nana-Sinkam, and personnel of UNOGBIS had been especially helpful in that matter.
The tasks facing the new Government were daunting, he said. A new relationship between the Government and the military had to be defined and the problem of small arms had to be tackled, among other things. A successful response to those challenges would be a test for the United Nations peace- building efforts. He urged the international community to provide all the support required for those tasks. MARTIN ANDJABA (Namibia) said the situation in Guinea-Bissau had been high on the United Nations agenda during the past year and would continue to remain there until lasting peace was established. The foundation of a broad-based government was indicative of the people's commitment to establishing democracy and promoting national reconciliation, inculcating good values and the rule of law. Those were good tenets for prosperity and improving the quality of life for the people of Guinea-Bissau. Therefore, he welcomed the tireless efforts of UNOGBIS and supported the critical role it played in the progress towards democracy.
He called on the international community to continue to support the reconstruction process in that country. It needed a dependable defence force. To that end, it must recruit members who had no track record of gross human rights violations, as well as those who were never involved in any form of political activity. He also noted his concern about the flow of small arms.
Sir JEREMY GREENSTOCK (United Kingdom) shared the note of optimism expressed by other members of the Security Council. He stressed, however, that the post-conflict situation had to be handled in the right way. In particular, special attention had to be focused on the police and the armed forces. There was also a regional aspect. Too often in Africa, progress made in one part of a region had become undone by influence from other parts of the same region. That was often due, in great part, to the flow of small arms, and the Council should not turn its back to that problem.
The President of the Council, ANWARUL KARIM CHOWDHURY (Bangladesh), speaking in his national capacity, welcomed efforts to ensure the early return of remaining refugees from the Boke region in neighbouring Guinea, as well as the focused attention to issues relevant to women and children. Since the challenge now being faced was the consolidation of peace and stability, the role of the United Nations in that country was also changing. That transition was signified by the revised mandate of UNOGBIS.
He stated that the situation was still precarious. The military maintained a high public posture and the continued circulation of small arms compounded the security situation. Also, the ability of the Government to address the immediate and medium-term economic and social needs of the population was critical for sustaining the gains made so far. Therefore, the United Nations and the international community had to remain vigilant for moves that would offset the process of institutionalizing democracy in Guinea-Bissau. The supportive role of the Council would aid in promoting depoliticization of the military and upholding a constitutional system and rule of law.
The Government would also need assistance in implementing its plans for economic and social development, as well as in addressing the immediate needs of the population, he noted. It would be important to identify areas for assisting the Government in implementing the transitional programme for the first three months and in developing a medium- to long-term strategic plan.
Mr. PRENDERGAST, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, responding to remarks made during the debate, said that he had detected a widespread view among the members of the Security Council that there were solid grounds for hope. He had also noted the wide and strong support for the ongoing process of democratization and welcomed the emphasis being put on consolidation of the democratization process and its civilian nature.
Noting the concern about the danger of small arms to the region, he welcomed the emphasis being put on post-conflict peace building. In that area, there was no time to "rest on our laurels", he said. Nearly 60 per cent of conflicts slid back into turmoil after settlement, and the question of demobilization and reintegration was often treated as something of a Cinderella. It was, however, a question of particular importance.