Human Rights Day: Guinea-Bissau launches network of human rights defenders while people say accountability is obstacle to enjoyment of rights
The fortnight began on 1 December and ended on the 15th. It was marked by a series of activities, which included the launch of the National Network of Human Rights Defenders (RNDDH), which already has 43 organizations. The goal of the network is to provide "all possible protection to organizations and individuals that are targeted by civilian power, military power or by the communities themselves," said lawyer Fode Mané, chairman of the network.
The head of the Human Rights Section of UNIOGBIS and Representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Guinea-Bissau, Mireya Peña-Guzman, welcomed the initiative of the Guinean activists for the creation of the RNDDH.
According to Mireya Guzman, the latest UN report published in January on human rights defenders in the world warned of "consistent outrage attacks" on activists of this cause.
On 5 December, Casa dos Direitos (House of Rights), which brings together NGOs working in the field of rights, joined the Vice-President of the Guinean Human Rights League, Fernando Sá, the administrator of the Association of Friends of the Child, Fernando Cá and Aissatu Injai Camará of the National Network to Combat Violence on Women (RENLUV) in a debate on the rights of women and girls in this country.
The aim was to alert society to the various cases of violence against women by men, in particular forced marriage which is one of the most frequent rights violations in Guinea-Bissau.
From the debate came out the unanimous idea from the audience that "titanic efforts" have been made in denouncing facts that are detrimental to the basic rights of women, children and girls, but the political situation has prevented the application of laws.
The country has made some significant strides in combating violence against women by adopting a law prohibiting female excision, reproductive health law, and a domestic violence law in 2014. But none of these laws are being truly applied, in order to dissuade the perpetrators.
Lack of accountability is the biggest obstacle to the enjoyment of human rights.
UNIOGBIS/PIU has questioned the population of São Domingos (north), Buba (south) and Bafatá (east) about what they consider to be the greatest human rights problem in Guinea-Bissau. Some respondents said that, in the past, citizens used to have some respect for human rights, which has stopped in the current political climate. The lack of accountability was pointed out as one of the biggest problems.
"People are never held accountable for their acts. We have had information about allegations of corruption in the State apparatus, intimidation and beatings of demonstrators, and this is what has been negatively affecting the affirmation of human rights in the country while the Constitution says something else," said one inhabitant of São Domingos.
"Our Constitution reserves to citizens the right to freely express their ideas, opinions without being prevented by anyone. But recently, I participated in demonstrations in Bissau, where we were dispersed and mistreated by the forces of order," complained another inhabitant of São Domingos.
In the same city, a citizen accused the absence of justice as the source of the whole situation: "the march only takes place in Bissau, it was never held in the interior of the country. And, for political reasons, when people are beaten up at a demonstration in Bissau, those in the interior are perhaps dead and buried. I think the international community should step down and tell Guinea-Bissau - you signed (the Declaration), your duty now, is to respect what you signed," he explained.
According to Mamadou in Buba, those with disabilities are those whose rights are most disrespected: "at the national level, we constitute the layer that receives the most violence and ill-treatment." One woman, also from Buba, said for her part that "the most serious human rights problems in Guinea-Bissau occur in the education sector, where teachers work without receiving their salaries and the strike in (public) schools continues until now. Other serious facts are when POP agents do justice with bare hands, lack of potable water and inadequate sanitation."
Poor access to justice was also reported by a young man from a village in Buba, according to whom," the distance and cost to file a lawsuit discourages any attempt to assert the rights of citizens."
"In the Bafatá region, the hottest problem is female genital mutilation, which people are continuing to practice discreetly, girls are also still being prevented from going to school because of forced marriages, and during the harvest of cashew nuts, girls and boys are involved in campaigns," said a girl from Bafatá, where, according to her," men abuse women a lot claiming that women should not argue with men, and, that at home, only man can talk."