GENEVA (14 December 2023) – Authorities in Guinea-Bissau must protect the rule of law and judicial independence, a UN expert said today, pointing to an ongoing crisis in the country’s Supreme Court, attempts to transfer civilians to military court, and the harassment of lawyers, prosecutors, and judges to demonstrate the gravity of the situation.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Margaret Satterthwaite, expressed serious concern over detainees who have been held in pre-trial detention for over a year and eight months, reportedly under poor conditions and without adequate access to legal counsel. The individuals are being held in connection with the alleged coup attempt that took place in Guinea-Bissau on February 1, 2022. Legal proceedings into the case have reportedly been unduly delayed, including through attempts to transfer the case to military jurisdiction. Lawyers, prosecutors and judges involved have reportedly faced intimidation and harassment.
On 19 September 2023, an armed contingent of the Military Police entered the cells of the Second Station of the Public Order Police where some of the detainees were held and forcibly moved them to detention cells of the Military Air Base, without a court order.
“I am extremely concerned about reports that these detentions are taking place without judicial supervision, and that court orders for release have not been complied with. If these reports are accurate, they amount to violations of the right to due process and fair trial guaranteed by international human rights standards, and those related to the independence of the judiciary,” Satterthwaite said.
The Special Rapporteur recalled that a fundamental principle of judicial independence was that judges and their lawful decisions must be respected by all actors.