Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you, Assistant Secretary-General Zerihoun and Ambassador Vieira, for your briefings on the situation in Guinea-Bissau and the Secretary-General’s assessment of UNIOGBIS. We look forward to discussing that assessment with our Council colleagues as we negotiate the mission’s future next February.
Mr. President, in yet another Council meeting on Guinea-Bissau instead of focusing on the future of the country and the welfare of its people, we are faced with another self-imposed political wound and a delay in implementation of the Conakry Agreement. While this body addresses intractable issues every day, in Guinea-Bissau we have before us a problem for which there are immediate and tangible solutions.
Last spring, after waiting nearly four years of self-inflicted political gridlock, Guinea-Bissau’s frozen government appeared to thaw, but only after ECOWAS took the bold step to sanction 19 spoilers of the Conakry Agreement.
At that time, Mr. President, Guinea-Bissau’s president appointed a consensus Prime Minister and scheduled legislative elections for November 18. Given registration challenges, that date was delayed. And while we understood the logistical challenges that prompted the delay, the country’s leaders are once again capitalizing on a stalled process for their own selfish political objectives. Let us be clear, this has to end now.
We appreciate the recent announcement setting a date for elections; however, we are greatly concerned that the date set is well beyond the January timeframe set by ECOWAS. It is critical that there be no further delays or slippage for the legislative elections. Furthermore, we expect that the presidential elections should take place separately and as scheduled for summer 2019.
With the apparent improvement in the country’s political situation last spring, Guinea-Bissau’s partners and friends provided the necessary support to prepare for and execute these elections. We are pleased by the progress in voter registration seen over the last several months. However, like our partners in the region and the international community, we are very concerned over recent events in Bissau. Specifically, the actions of the Public Order Police in blocking visiting technicians from accessing the Technical Support Office for the Electoral Process headquarters.
We note that despite these actions and the ongoing delay, a frustrated and disappointed public has shown patience and the pre-election environment has remained relatively calm. However, this should not be construed as passive acceptance. We urge President Vaz, Prime Minister Gomes, PAIGC leader Pereira, and other stakeholders to follow through on their pledges to foster unity, continue implementation of the Conakry Agreement, and carry out elections without delay.
The United States also welcomes the Secretary-General’s Strategic Assessment of UNIOGBIS. We appreciate that this report provides a frank assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the UN’s work in Guinea-Bissau over the last several years. We also appreciate that the report ties its recommendations for the reprioritization of tasks and options for a future UN presence to conditions that must be met.
While further detailed discussions will be required within the Security Council prior to the February mandate renewal, we support in principle the concept of a three-phase drawdown and transition of UNIOGBIS to a UN Country Team.
Mr. President, what is clear is that for this transition to be possible, Guinea-Bissau’s electoral process must be credible and must proceed on schedule. Further, Guinea-Bissau must avoid a return to extended political gridlock.
We also agree with the sentiment expressed in the Strategic Assessment that, given the significant investment the UN has made in Guinea-Bissau over the past two decades, utmost care must be taken in designing a transition process that maintains the gains achieved and identifies the appropriate parts of the UN system to assume any remaining tasks.
We reiterate the need for stakeholders to take the right action and put the people of Guinea-Bissau first with an immediate rescheduling and holding of critical legislative elections.
Thank you, Mr. President.