Guinea-Bissau is a multiparty republic. The country has endured prolonged political gridlock punctuated by periods of turmoil. Aristides Gomes is the seventh prime minister since 2015. In March the country held legislative elections, which included all 102 seats in the National Assembly. Presidential elections held in November resulted in two finalists: Domingos Simoes Pereira, and Umaro Sissoco Embalo. The National Elections Commission of Guinea-Bissau declared Umaro Sissoco the winner of the December 29 presidential runoff election. International observers considered all elections in the 2019 cycle to be free and fair.
National police forces maintain internal security. The Judicial Police, under the Ministry of Justice, has primary responsibility for investigating drug trafficking, terrorism, and other transnational crimes. The Public Order Police, under the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for preventive patrols, crowd control, and maintenance of law and order. Other police forces include the State Information Service (intelligence), Border Police (migration and border enforcement), Rapid Intervention Police, and Maritime Police. The army is responsible for external security but also has some internal security responsibilities. The armed forces may be called upon to assist police in emergencies. Civilian authorities maintained control over the security forces.
Significant human rights issues included: harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; lack of judicial independence and due process; official corruption exacerbated by government officials’ impunity and suspected involvement in drug trafficking; trafficking in persons; and crimes of violence against women and girls, including female genital mutilation/cutting.
While the government took steps to investigate and punish officials who committed abuses, impunity remained a serious problem.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, including for the press; however, there were reports the government did not always respect this right.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. There were several private newspapers in addition to the government-owned newspaper No Pintcha, but the state-owned printing house published all of them.
Violence and Harassment: The government took no steps to preserve the safety and independence of media or to prosecute individuals who threatened journalists. During the parliamentary elections in March, supporters of the political party Movement for a Democratic Alternation harassed a journalist. The journalists’ union publicly condemned the incident.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were no cases of censorship in public media, but political considerations often caused journalists to self-censor news content.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; the government, however, failed to respect these rights.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
f. Protection of Refugees
The country hosted thousands of long-term refugees and asylum seekers from Senegal’s Casamance Region. Many residents maintain ethnic and family ties on both sides of the country’s poorly marked northern border with the Casamance, rendering the nationality of many individuals in the region unclear.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting of asylum or refugee status. The government did not grant refugee status or asylum during the year, and there were no reported requests for either. The UNHCR office in Bissau facilitated the issuance of refugee cards.
Durable Solutions: In December 2018 President Jose Mario Vaz granted citizenship to more than 7,000 linguistically and culturally assimilated refugees living in the country for more than 25 years. The decree is in conformity with international agreements on migration and asylum. At year’s end the government had issued official identification to more than 5,000 of these individuals. Most of these refugees were originally from Senegal’s Casamance Region, with minorities from Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties of one month to 10 years in prison for corruption by officials. The government did not implement the law effectively, and officials in all branches and on all levels of government engaged in corrupt and nontransparent practices with impunity.
Corruption: Members of the military and civilian administration reportedly trafficked in drugs and assisted international drug cartels by providing access to the country and its transportation infrastructure. The failure to interdict or investigate suspected narcotics traffickers contributed to the perception of government and military involvement in narcotics trafficking. Trafficking in illegally cut timber was also an issue involving military and civilian authorities.
Financial Disclosure: By law high-level public officials are required to disclose their personal finances before the Court of Audits, and these disclosures are to be made public. The court has no authority to enforce compliance, and penalties are not specified for noncompliance. By year’s end no public officials had disclosed their personal finances.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Commission on Human Rights is a government human rights organization. It was independent but remained inadequately funded and ineffective.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides all workers the freedom to form and join independent unions without prior authorization, with the exception of the military and police.
The law does not provide for the right to bargain collectively; however, the tripartite National Council for Social Consultation conducted collective consultations on salary issues. Workers and employers established most wages in bilateral negotiations.
The law provides for the right to strike, but workers must give 72-hour prior notice. The law also prohibits retaliation against strikers and does not exclude any group of workers from relevant legal protections. Many sectors of the economy were on strike at some time during the year, typically because of low salaries. Workers in the education, media, and public sectors struck during the year. A national teachers’ strike that began in October 2018 over nonpayment of wages continued intermittently throughout the year. Public-sector workers demanding an increase in the minimum wage carried out weekly strikes during the year.
The law allows unions to conduct their activities without government interference. Laws on unions provide protection only for trade union delegates, while the constitution provides for workers’ rights to free speech and assembly. The law prohibits employer discrimination against official trade union representatives. The law requires reinstatement of workers terminated for union activity. The law does not apply to domestic workers.
The government did not effectively enforce applicable labor laws, and penalties were insufficient to deter violations. Authorities generally respected freedom of association in the formal sector. Worker organizations were not independent of government and political parties, employers, or employer associations, which sometimes sought to influence union decisions and actions.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce the laws. Prescribed penalties were sufficiently stringent, but the government did not use these or other relevant laws to prosecute cases of forced labor. There were reports forced child labor occurred in the informal sector, including forced begging, selling food on urban streets, and domestic servitude (see section 7.c.).
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The legal minimum age is 14 for general factory labor and 18 for heavy or dangerous labor, including labor in mines. Minors are prohibited from working overtime. The law prohibits children younger than age 18 from conducting heavy work, work in unhealthy or dangerous conditions, work at night, and underground work; however, the government has not established a list of hazardous work.
The Ministries of Justice and of Civil Service and Labor and the Institute of Women and Children did not effectively enforce these requirements, particularly in informal work settings. Resources, inspections, and remedies were inadequate. Penalties usually took the form of minimal fines that have not been adjusted to reflect the adoption of the CFA franc and were insufficient to deter violations. The government provided no services of any kind, besides inspections, and did not arrest or prosecute any violators.
Forced child labor occurred in domestic service; begging; agriculture and mining; shoe shining; and selling food on urban streets. Some religious teachers, known as marabouts, deceived boys and their families by promising a Quranic education but then put the boys to work or took them to neighboring countries for exploitation as forced beggars. The small formal sector generally adhered to minimum age requirements, although there were reports minors worked overtime despite the prohibition.
The national NGO Association of the Friends of Children was the main organization in the country working to receive and reintegrate returning talibes (students).
Children in rural communities performed domestic labor and fieldwork without pay to help support their families. Minors in these situations as well as those who received some pay were frequently subjected to violence and sexual assault. According to an NGO survey, nine in 10 domestic workers suffered sexual abuse. A 14-year-old domestic worker who reported regular beatings from her employers suffered serious injuries after her employer doused her with boiling water in December 2018.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law and regulations do not prohibit discrimination regarding race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin, citizenship, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, HIV-positive status or having other communicable diseases, or social origin.
Women faced considerable pay gaps and, because employers preferred to avoid paying maternity benefits, were less likely to be hired than men. The constitution provides for equality for all, but LGBTI persons faced discrimination in hiring, and persons with disabilities faced discrimination in hiring and access to the workplace. Documented discrimination in the other foregoing categories with respect to employment and occupation was not available.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The Council of Ministers annually establishes minimum wage rates for all categories of work. Although the minimum wage of public-sector workers was above the World Bank’s international poverty line, the lowest minimum wage for private-sector employees was substantially below the poverty line. This minimum wage was not observed in the informal sector, which includes an estimated 80 percent of workers.
The law provides for a maximum 45-hour workweek. The law also provides for overtime work with premium pay, and overtime may not exceed 200 hours per year. There is a mandatory 12-hour rest period between workdays. The law provides for paid annual holidays.
In cooperation with unions, the Ministries of Justice and Labor establish legal health and safety standards for workers, which the National Assembly had not adopted into law by year’s end. The standards were current and appropriate for the main industries. Workers, including foreign workers, do not have the right to remove themselves from unsafe working conditions without losing their jobs.
The inspector general of labor is responsible for enforcing the law but did not do so effectively. Although the number of labor inspectors nearly doubled in 2018, it remained insufficient to detect and deter violations. Wage and occupation, safety, and health regulations were not enforced in the informal sector, which included the vast majority of workers. Penalties, which usually take the form of minimal fines that have not been adjusted for inflation, were not sufficient to deter violations. Many persons worked under conditions that endangered their health and safety.