|By Admin1 (admin) on Saturday, June 14, 2003 - 5:19 pm: Edit Post
Human Rights in Guinea-Bissau by a RPCV
Human Rights in Guinea-Bissau by a RPCV
Human Rights in Guinea-Bissau
Recent thoughtfull e-mails have repeatedly asked two important questions - what specific attrocities and human rights violations have been committed by Senegalese troops in GB and what feasible alternatives are there to Nino's leadership? Answering these questions would make efforts to lobby for an end to US support of Senegal's military intervention in GB and to advocate for the best interests of Guinea-Bissau more effective.
I am a returned Guinea-Bissau Peace Corps Volunteer ('91-'94) who also did research in GB the summer of '96. I am currently a medical student, taking a year off to do research on tropical diseases and HIV at the NIH. I was in Guinea-Bissau July 25-August 8th, 1998. The trip had been planned as a vacation before the war began. I did not cancel my travel plans because I decided I really wanted to know how my friends and "family" in GB were doing. Although I had hoped to participate in relief work, delays caused by the Senegalese government made this impractical. I ended up really just visiting friends and "family". I did of course get to hear many war stories and political discussions along the way. I also happen to have many friends in the GB military. Although I know military on both sides of the conflict, I only was able to speak with friends in the Junta Militar. My trip to Guinea-Bissau was neither a human rights investigation nor a journalistic endevour. Also, I am not a Guinean. Despite these limitations I hope I can add a bit of information on the human rights and political situation in Guinea-Bissau.
Senegalese and Government Forces:
I had no encounters with Senegalese troops while in GB because I did not go to Bissau. My Guinean friends advised my strongly not to go. They feared the Senegalese would harass me, take away my camera, throw me in jail, or worse. The interior was full of rumors that even priests and nuns returning to Bissau during the first days of the cease-fire to investigate the state of their missions were being imprisoned. This means I did not personally witness any Senegalese abuses.
I did meet the owner of the guard service used by the US Embassy and many other organizations in Bissau. He confirmed the story many of you may have heard that two loyal guards who continued to try to guard the US embassy compound were brutally beaten by Senegalese troops. One of the guards died. When his family requested the body for burial, the Senegalese refused to give up the corpse and demanded a ransom. The owner of the guard service ended up paying 50,000 CFA (about $100) to release the body for burial.
I also met a boy, who claimed to be seventeen, but looked like he was only thirteen, who had just escaped from the Senegalese. He was staying in Bissau with his mother while his father was in the Junta Militar. After another boy informed the Senegalese that his father was in the Junta, he was captured and held in a makeshift jail. He was told he would be taken to Amura (the fort downtown) where they would force him to give information about the Junta. He escaped through a window in the makeshift jail before the Senegalese managed to transport him and made his way to Junta-held territory, wondering how to let his mother know that he was OK.
I met numerous people who had been held in Amura for one to five days for the offense of trying to drive their personal vehicles out of Bissau.
A journalist friend of mine was jailed for ten days for refusing to give the Senegalese the keys to the radio station, Radio Mavegro.
I spoke with people who had spoken with others who had suffered worse offenses.
One shocking account implicates Guinean government forces rather than the Senegalese. During the first days of fighting, some injured military on both sides of the conflict were treated at Simao Mendes Hospital downtown. A high Air Force officer (I'm sure some of you know who I'm talking about, but I would rather not say his name - "innocent until proven guilty") came into the hospital. He went from bed to bed, throwing the sheets off of each patient. If it appeared the patient was an antigo combatente or seemed like a military person, disloyal to Nino's government, he was taken out onto the grounds of Simao Mendes and shot. A young soldier, who had been in the hospital since before the war began due to complications following hernia surgery, heard the sounds of confusion followed by the sounds of gunfire progressing up the hall. He escaped the hospital and made it to Junta-held territory.
Other suspect injured were not shot, but were imprisoned in the Marinha. After having their IV's pulled they joined other military suspected of being disloyal in the infamous Marinha (Navy) prison. The cells in this prison empty and fill with water depending on the tides. At high tide, all the prisoners stand in water. Miraculously, a group of prisoners escaped by digging out of their cell and were able to join the Junta.
The Junta has purposely avoided targetting the Marinha and Amura, despite their strategic importance, because they fear killing political prisoners.
A Junta member, dressed as a civilian, was stopped by government forces in Mansoa (when it was still controlled by the government) on his way back from a mission in the Gambia. He was tortured by having 30 needles pushed into his testicles and penis. He was in so much pain he could not talk. He has since recovered.
An incident reported in the Portuguese press, the killing of a civilian Junta sympathizer in Bissau by Senegalese trying to get information, was also discussed in the interior of Guinea-Bissau. People also talked about other suspected sympathizers being beaten while imprisoned. I also heard of an aquaintance of mine (another Air Force officer) unsuccessfully carrying out an extra-judicial killing ordered by another Air Force acquaintance of mine.
The rumors and Junta Radio reports of Senegalese raping Guinean women may be true, but I did not hear any details nor meet anyone who was raped. It was also reported that Senegalese tortured some civilians by lighting plastic bags and burning them with the molten plastic. One widely circulated rumor told of a deaf/dumb boy being tortured in this way for "entertainment". Amnesty International has reported this method of torture being used by Senegalese forces in the Casamance.
Some people I spoke with described their encounters with Senegalese in Bissau as being more annoying and aggravating than frightening. A common tale is returning to one's home to find embarrassed young Senegalese making themselves comfortable. Even more common is finding one's home completely looted and wondering whether this was the work of Senegalese troops or local thieves. Reports of Senegalese ships leaving Bissau with furniture and computers have added to many Guinean's anger. The image of Senegalese troops using documents from INEP (National Center for Studies and Surveys which houses most Guinea-Bissau related research of the past decades) to fire up their warga (tea) annoys me the most.
Despite their disfavor with the presence of foreign troops in Guinea-Bissau, many Guineans I spoke with actually expressed sympathy for the individual soldiers. Most of the Senegalese troops are young and relatively inexperienced. They were told they were going to GB to monitor peace. They arrived to find there was no peace to monitor and they were expected to actually fight a war against tough combatents with years of experience. One woman told of meeting a frightened pair of Senegalese soldiers. They had come to GB with a group of several hundred solidiers. They were the only two of their group left that they knew of. The rest had died, been injured, abandoned the fight, or had somehow become seperated from them. Many of the Senegalese soldiers sent to GB are from ethnic groups which also live in GB - Manjaco, Mancan, Balanta, Djola, Mandinga. For many Guineans, this heightens the sense of tragedy.
Even Radio Junta Militar has had some kind words for the Senegalese. The day after a woman was killed by a land mine in Bissau, the radio reported that Senegalese soldiers had warned two women of land mines in their path and had directed them away from them. They advised civilians going into Bissau to pay attention to Senegalese land mine warnings and praised the Senegalese for their humanitarian spirit even as they condemned the Senegalese for laying mines during the cease-fire.
Radio Junta Militar also tries to keep the foreign troops informed of their views by broadcasting in French and Wolof every evening.
Human rights violations by the Military Junta reported in the press and by Amnesty International have centered on their alledgedly holding civilians from Senegal and Guinea-Conakry hostage. Every Junta member I spoke with said this was silly. They had held some Guinean, mainly military, prisoners during the first days of the war. These prisoners were people whose loyalty to the Junta was suspect due to their reporting late to the Junta for duty. All of these early prisoners had been released. Now the very few prisoners (under ten) were soldiers who had committed some minor infraction (like going AWOL for a few days) or who were suspected of spying for the government side. The Junta denies having foreign prisoners, military or civilian. Even if they wanted to, they say they do not have the space, food, or personel to take care of prisoners. Senegalese military are either killed in battle or allowed to escape.
The biggest disatisfaction I heard from the general population was grumbling about the frequent road blocks. A trip from Canchungo to Joao Landim can easily include passing four road blocks, possibly having your baggage examined at each one. I only once saw anything disturbing happen at these checks. A small-time businessman from Guinea-Conakry was told that he could not get back on the candunga (bush taxi) because he did not have a Guinea-Bissau ID. The Junta member said that he would have to stay at the very remote checkpoint and wait for the next car (which may not have come until the next day). Some persuasion from us fellow travellers was all it took took - plus 1,000 CFA ($2.00) for cana.
The Junta has been guilty of seizing cars for their use. They feel this was justified in the beginning, when they really had insufficient means of communication and transport. Now, even some Junta members think it could be getting out of hand. Young drivers with little experience suddenly have a car to drive and the urge to show off. This has had some disasterous results. Junta physicians say more lives have been lost to car accidents than to bullets.
The Junta seizure of cars is one reason it was so difficult to get cars out of Bissau while I was there. Government forces wanted to prevent more vehicles from getting into Junta hands. The Junta usually returns cars to their owners eventually, and of course, if you know the right people or grease the right palms, you can keep the Junta from borrowing your car.
Who has laid land mines? The Junta says that the Senegalese did. The Senegalese say the Junta did. Reports in today's (10/10/98) media highlight this split. Agence France Presse and the BBC (maybe they used AFP as their source) said yesterday's shooting was triggered by Junta troops laying land mines. The Portuguese press says the incident was triggered by Junta troops attempting to demine an area being shot at by the Senegalese. I do not know if one side or the other or both are laying land mines. I have heard that it makes more sense to lay land mines if you are facing retreat and are trying to hold a position than if you are advancing. When the cease-fire first went into effect July 26th, the Junta was advancing and GB government forces were facing retreat. Although this may not be clear from the media, the truth of that last sentence seemed pretty clear while I was in Guinea-Bissau.
Amnesty International and Liga de Direitos Humanos:
On my way back to the US, I went through Dakar. There I spoke to Fernando Pereira, a Guinean journalist, and Fernando Gomez, leader of Liga de Direitos Humanos, a GB human rights organization. I told them some of things in this e-mail and they said they had heard many of the same things from other Guineans. Both men were on their way to Lisbon. Fernando Gomez said that he would be meeting with Amnesty International there. He would be urging them to implement the human rights investigation trip to Bissau they were considering. Amnesty International was also in Dakar at the time, investigationg the situation of GB refugees. We were both very encouraged by the fact that Amnesty International seemed to be interested in the Guinea-Bissau situation. We hoped that their work would lead to increased awareness of the situation in GB.
Since returning to the US I have not noticed any new GB info on the Amnesty web page, but I have also failed to pursue plans of getting in touch with them to see if they were carrying out a GB investigation and to encourage their work. Since I've written this long e-mail, I will go ahead and send it to them as well. Does anyone know the current status of Amnesty's involvement with GB issues?
Two last thoughts on Human Rights:
The violation of human rights is just one reason that the presence of Senegalse troops is not helping to bring about a peaceful resolution of the crisis in Guinea-Bissau. Even if they were all perfectly behaved, I would till argue for their departure as a necessary element of any peace plan.
"Fome i arma mas forti."
"Hunger is the strongest weapon." This sentiment was expressed by a resident of Suzana, where there was no rice for sale at the time in the whole village. The closure of Senegal's border with Guinea-Bissau to commerce and the impeded passage of aid have led to a shortage of food in many parts of Guinea-Bissau, especially areas controlled by the Junta. Senegal's and Guinea-Bissau's government policies have deprived some people in Guinea-Bissau of the most basic human necessity, food.
UPDATE OCTOBER 1998:
I was wrong. At least my Junta sources were wrong when they told me the Junta was not holding any foreign prisoners. They have in fact released twenty-five military prisoners from Guinea-Conakry in a show of good will. They allegedly still hold about 118 Guinea-Conakry prisoners. According to a source at Amnesty International, the prisoners were treated well after initial questioning. Were my sources lying to me? I do no think all of them were. The official Junta policy and official line spoken by Ansumane Mane while I was there were that they had no foreign prisoners. Most of the Junta members I spoke to were staying at the Air Force Base or in the countryside. The prisoners at the Air Force Base were the Guinea-Bissau prisoners I mentioned earlier. My sources probably had not seen the foreign prisoners themselves and were relying on official Junta information when answering my questions.
|By U.W.Balde (dialup-62-0-72-23.jlm.netvision.net.il - 126.96.36.199) on Monday, May 29, 2006 - 7:06 am: Edit Post
Good time visitors.
My name's Balde Jr.
Nationality of Guinea Bissau, living in israel.
I'd like to know about the actual situation of ex. Junta militar membeers, are they being procecuted,are tey still wanted by the state, If there are some in Jail, how many are they?
you can send it to one of the following E mails:
Thank you and best regards.