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“Climate of Fear” Pervades Guinea-Bissau as Elections are Again Postponed

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 26 2013 (IPS) - Elections in Guinea-Bissau, already pushed back to March of next year, are threatened by “continued human rights violations and impunity” and “the climate of fear caused by the unlawful behavior of the defense and security forces,” UN envoy José Manuel Ramos-Horta told the Security Council Tuesday.

“Further delay would cause more social tension and misery,” the Nobel Prize winner and former President of Timor Leste told reporters.

In April 2012 a military coup threw the former Portuguese colony into disarray only two weeks before presidential runoff elections were to take place.

It was the most recent in long line of military interventions. In Guinea-Bissau’s history, no elected leader has finished a full term in office.

“I am deeply concerned by the recent increase in the number of human rights violations and acts of violence in Guinea-Bissau,” wrote Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in a report to the Security Council.

The report also listed a cholera outbreak and general strikes as impediments to the electoral process.

Regional body ECOWAS has committed 300 troops in addition to 400 already in the country.

But election preparations, including implementing digital voter registration, have taken longer than expected.

Voting was originally set for November 24 but earlier this month, interim president Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo announced it would be postponed until March 16, 2014.

The elections are being financed by international donors, including fellow Lusophone country Timor Leste, which is advising and providing technical assistance alongside 6 million dollars in assistance.

Ramos-Horta said a proposed amnesty for coup plotters could “encourage impunity” but that it was still a possibility.

Since the coup, the Guinea-Bissau has become a haven for drug traffickers flying cocaine from South America to European markets. In April, federal authorities in New York indicted the country’s army chief of staff, Antonio Indjai on drug and weapons charges.

Indjai’s proclamations that he will never relinquish power have worried election observers who fear the military may be hesitant to support a civilian government.

In October, a human rights officer from the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS) was “beaten by armed men” in the capital, Bissau.

The country of 1.6 million is one of the poorest countries in the world and relies heavily on donor funding. According to the World Bank, more than three quarters of the population lives on less than 2 dollars a day.

The Secretary General’s report said that without a stable elected government, it would be hard for donors to “formalize long-term assistance plans for the country.”

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