Guinea Bissau: Drug smugglers receive record 16-year-jail sentences as justice system strengthened by UNODC


A court in Guinea-Bissau convicted 12 people to record prison sentences for cocaine smuggling on 2nd April 2020 following a 1.9 tonne-seizure last year during Operation NAVARA. The drug hidden in rice sacks, was the largest haul in the West African nation’s history.

The group’s two ringleaders are still on the run, but they were both sentenced in absentia to 16 years in prison for drug smuggling, money laundering and criminal organization charges, the regional court said. Ten others, who are in custody, received prison sentences of between four and 14 years. The group comprised citizens of Colombia, Mexico, and Guinea-Bissau, the court said.

Operation 'NAVARA' led by Guinea-Bissau's Judicial Police with the support of Transnational Crime Unit (TCU) and the Joint Air Interdiction Task Force (JAITF – AIRCOP) in Caio and Caxungo in NW Guinea Bissau (2nd Sept 2019) 

Ten others, who are in custody, received prison sentences of between four and 14 years. The group comprised citizens of Colombia, Mexico, and Guinea-Bissau, the court said.

Speaking to Reuters, Antonio Mazzitelli, the head of the regional United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime office, congratulated Guinea-Bissau for what he called a bold verdict.  “We salute this important step toward the consolidation of the rule of law,” Mazzitelli said. “We stand ready to continue the UN support to Guinea Bissau.

UNODC remains committed to supporting authorities in Guinea-Bissau in line with the development of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, in particular Goal 16, which aims to ‘Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels’.

Late last year, on 15th November 2019, the Regional Tribunal of Bissau sentenced three people - one to 15 years of imprisonment, the other two to 14 years - after police made an 800 kg haul during Operation CARAPAU, in March 2019.  It was the first time in recent history that the justice system in Guinea-Bissau managed to successfully prosecute a big drug trafficking case.

                                             The seized cocaine was incinerated on 7th Septembre 2019

Considering the prosecution of other high profile cases, the Minister of Justice called on UNODC assistance to provide the country with high-security prison wardens.

On 9 December 2019, the Government officially presented its first-ever National Integrated Strategic Plan (NIP) on Drug Trafficking, Organized Crime and related risks. The Plan was developed with the assistance of UNODC and was approved by the Council of Ministers on 18 February 2020.

UNODC supports Bissau-Guinean authorities through a number of national and regional projects. One of them, the West Africa Coast Initiative (WACI), a multi-stakeholder partnership between UNODC, UNOWAS/DPA, DPKO and INTERPOL, supported the establishment of a Transnational Crime Unit in Bissau in 2011.

The Airport Communication Project (AIRCOP), jointly implemented by UNODC, INTERPOL and the WCO, established a Joint Airport Interdiction Task Force (JAITF) at the Osvaldo Viera Airport in April 2018, which has since registered the highest number ever of cocaine seizures trafficked by air through Bissau. 

The UNODC Global Maritime Crime Project (GMCP) deployed a maritime law enforcement mentor to Guinea-Bissau in 2018 and 2019.

A joint project between UNODC and IOM currently provides assistance to child trafficking victims in Guinea-Bissau to enhance the capacities to detect, investigate and prosecute cases of trafficking in persons.

Two new projects were recently approved in support of Guinea-Bissau's justice and security sector response to drug trafficking and transnational organized crime, funded by the Peacebuilding Fund (PBF) and the Peace and Development Fund, respectively.

Finally, a cross-border Crime Project supports the enhancement of cooperation and investigation between Senegal, Guinea-Bissau and The Gambia.