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A West African country bordering Senegal and Guinea, Guinea-Bissau achieved independence from Portugal in 1974 after nearly 20 years of guerilla warfare. The political situation has not yet stabilised, with the most recent military coup taking place in April 2012. In addition to the damage inflicted on human rights - particularly children’s - during the long years of conflict, this most recent change of government has been accompanied by new reports of violent repression and intimidation by state forces.
Guinea-Bissau is on the west coast of Africa and shares borders with Senegal to the north and Guinea to the south and east. The terrain is largely low coastal plains giving way to savannah in the east. The capital city is Bissau.
Population and language
The country is home to 1.5 million people, a figure that has risen steadily by just over 2 per cent per annum since the 1980s. The population is ethnically diverse, made up of Balanta, Fula, Manjaca, Mandinga and Papel peoples.
The official language is Portuguese, but Crioulo and indigenous African languages are more widely spoken.
History and politics
Guinea-Bissau achieved independence from Portugal in 1974 following a protracted guerrilla war, and the country has been in a persistent state of political instability ever since. In 1980, Joao Bernando Vieira seized power in a coup, but instituted multi-party democracy in 1991. Vieira went on to win the first Presidential elections in 1994, but the country descended into a bloody internal conflict in 1998, and Vieira was defeated in the subsequent elections. Political violence and instability continued until 2003, when a bloodless coup removed the elected President. In 2005 Vieira was re-elected President but was assassinated in 2009, amid allegations that he was responsible for the death of the chief of the military.
The current President is Malam Bacai Sanhá, who was elected shortly after the assassination of his predecessor, and internal political instability has continued under his administration. He caused controversy in 2010 by appointing a former coup leader as the head of national armed forces, a move that caused the EU to end its security mission in the country because of “political instability and the lack of respect for the rule of law in the country”.
Guinea-Bissau is among the poorest countries in the world, ranked 176th out of 187 countries for human development, with an economy largely reliant on agriculture. In 2011, the Paris Club cancelled $283 million of government debt, but the country remains deeply indebted. There is a substantial public sector work force, and inability to pay public employees has exacerbated political instability in the past. The country has also been criticised internationally for its role in the drug trade, particularly when the United States labelled a former navy chief as a “drug kingpin”.
Media and civil society
Reporters Without Borders (RWB) rated Guinea-Bissau 67 out of 178 in its 2010 Press Freedom Index, but has noted that press freedom in the country can vary significantly: the 2010 ranking demonstrated a 25 place improvement on the previous year. Recently, RWB has highlighted government threats to cancel newspaper licenses over disagreements about a national newspaper's editorial policies.
Human Rights and Children's rights
The armed conflict of 1998 and 1999 had a severe impact in terms of children's rights, as children were involved as combatants, victims of violence and more indirectly. National infrastructure suffered significant damage during the conflict, particularly in the areas of health and educational services.
- Ethnologue, "Languages of Guinea-Bissau
- BBC, Guinnea-Bissau President shot dead" 2 March 2009
- BBC, "Guinea-Bissau shrugs off latest coup attempt" 8 April 2010
- European Voice, "EU ends security mission in Guinea-Bissau" 3 August 2010
- BBC, " US warns Guinea-Bissau over drug barons in military" 5 June 2010
- Reporters Without Borders, "Stay of execution for newspaper" 22 April 2011
- Foreign and Commonwealth Office Country Profile: Guinea-Bissau
- BBC, various news items. See footnotes.
- Reporters Without Borders, World Press Freedom Index 2010
- World Bank Country Brief: Guinea-Bissau
- Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations, June 2007
- Ethnologue, "Languages of Guinea-Bissau"