Guinea-Bissau: Human rights violations reach ‘unbearable peak’ – union leader

The secretary-general of the National Union of Guinea-Bissau Workers (UNTG), Julio Mendonca, said on Wednesday that the violation of human rights in the country had reached an “unbearable peak”.

“It is clear that it has once again become apparent that the level of human rights violations has reached an unbearable peak,” the leader of the country’s main trade union centre told Lusa after a protest was dispersed with tear gas.

“Unfortunately, the level of understanding of the rule of law by these people is terrible, and we have only to regret it,” Júlio Mendonça said.  

The union leader explained that UNTG had complied with all the formalities to hold today’s protest and that they were “surprised by the police apparatus”.

“The most serious thing was that they threw tear gas at people, including inside our headquarters,” he said, stressing that the people of Guinea-Bissau “must wake up”.

The trade union leader said some “three or four” demonstrators had been injured following the police intervention.

Julio Mendonca also said that the protest was marked as part of the celebrations of 3 August, a holiday in Bissau to mark the Pindjiguiti massacre, when Portuguese colonial police repressed a protest by Guinean workers, leading to the deaths of at least 50 people.

“It has become clear that what the people of Guinea are experiencing right now is worse than what they experienced in the colonial period. We are seeing the same performance with our compatriots who unfortunately do not understand how to do politics. They think that being a member of the government is to be omnipotent and do whatever they want. They don’t respect the principle of legality, nor are their actions based on that principle”, he said.

The trade union leader promised that he would continue with the struggle because he is clearly aware of the mission he has taken on.

Guinea-Bissau’s police today dispersed some dozens of people who were demonstrating peacefully in front of the headquarters of the country’s main trade union centre with tear gas as they demanded better working conditions.

A heavy police force surrounded the demonstrators and then moved away, only to start firing tear gas.

The demonstrators did not engage in a confrontation, only shouting slogans.

A police source at the scene told Lusa that the protest was not authorised.

Following the amount of tear gas launched, a nearby school had to be evacuated.

The National Union of Guinea-Bissau Workers (UNTG) has scheduled for today the start of a series of protests, which will run until August 3, after failed negotiations with the government.

The protest began at the UNTG headquarters in Bissau and ended at the People’s National Assembly.

Since December, the central trade union has called waves of general strikes in the civil service to demand the dismissal of employees hired without public tender, improved working conditions, and a doubling of the minimum wage from the current 50,000 cfa (€76).

The Guinean government has banned demonstrations because of the pandemic caused by the new coronavirus.

The decree extending the state of alert and in force until 24 July states that “meetings and demonstrations are permitted, provided that measures relating to the minimum physical distance of one metre between participants, the correct use of masks and hand hygiene are complied with”.

The decree recommends that the “events take the minimum amount of time necessary, to reduce the period of people’s exposure”.